Straining against Earth's gravity, the powerful Saturn V rocket took off 45 years ago today (July 16) carrying the first astronauts that would set foot on the moon.
From Launch Pad 39A at Cape Kennedy, Florida, commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Mike Collins and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin blasted into space in front of an estimated local audience of one million people, including half the members of the United States Congress.
The Apollo 11 launch took place in flawless weather, and the ground equipment had only two correctable problems — a bad signal light and a leaky valve, NASA officials said in a retrospective account of the event.
The astronauts took their seats in the spacecraft at 6:45 a.m. EDT following a breakfast of steak, scrambled eggs, toast, coffee and orange juice and a ride to the launch pad in an air-conditioned van.
Following the launch at 9:32 a.m., the Saturn V jettisoned its first two stages as planned and retained the third for further maneuvers. The crew safely entered an elliptical Earth orbit 12 minutes later.
The astronauts did a checkout of their command module, Columbia, before firing their third-stage Saturn V engine again to head toward the moon. Their initial speed was 24,200 mph (38,946 km/h). Once on their way, the astronauts separated Columbia from the third stage and turned around to dock with the lunar module, Eagle, which was packed inside.
The rest of the day proceeded smoothly, with the crew not needing to fire the engines to do a course correction as NASA had planned. The crew went to bed two hours early, at 8:52 p.m., as their spacecraft continued the journey to their destination: a spot on the moon known as the Sea of Tranquility.