Launched from Earth on July 16, 1969, the three astronauts of Apollo 11 arrived in orbit of the moon on July 19. The following day, Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin climbed into their lunar module “Eagle” and achieved humanity’s first landing on another celestial body.
Mission Commander Neil A. Armstrong was born Aug. 5, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Armstrong became interested in flight while still a child. In 1950, Armstrong flew combat missions for the U.S. Navy. He became an astronaut in 1962 and commanded Gemini VIII in 1966.
Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. was born Jan. 20, 1930, in Montclair, New Jersey. Aldrin got his nickname “Buzz” as a child. Aldrin flew combat missions for the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War. He became an astronaut in 1963 and piloted Gemini XII in 1966.
Command Module Pilot Michael Collins was born Oct.. 30, 1930, in Rome. Collins became a pilot of jet fighters and experimental planes for the U.S. Air Force. He became an astronaut in 1963 and piloted Gemini X in 1966.
To escape from Earth, the astronauts needed the three-stage Saturn V rocket to boost their spacecraft to a velocity of more than 25,000 miles per hour. The lunar lander was tucked safely into the top of the third stage, and the astronauts rode in the Apollo command module atop the stack.
The fragile-looking lunar module was just tough enough to keep two astronauts alive and carry them to the surface of the moon. The top half of the vehicle had its own rocket engine, which was fired to lift the astronauts back into lunar orbit to rejoin the command module.
At the time of landing, the moon was in a waxing crescent phase as seen from Earth. This was so that the sun would be rising over Eagle’s landing site. The morning’s long shadows would aid the astronauts in identifying landmarks.
On final descent, Armstrong noted that the automatic landing system was guiding Eagle toward the boulder-strewn floor of a crater the size of a football field (”West Crater,” not shown below). Armstrong took manual control and skimmed over the crater, landing in a flat plain beyond. Eagle had only about 30 seconds’ worth of fuel left at touchdown.