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The first Apollo First moon landing took place in 1969.

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The first Moon landing by a human was that of the United States' Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 mission, accompanied by Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin. On July 20 (or 21st in time zones east of and including GMT) 1969, while fellow crew member Michael Collins piloted the command module Columbia, Armstrong landed the lunar module Eagle on the surface of the Moon at 4:17:42 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Moon Landing.
The historical plaque on the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle, still remaining on the Moon.

The successful Moon landings carried out by Project Apollo, similar to the Luna missions, occurred as the USSR and the US were in a Cold War contest to be the first on the Moon, which became known as the space race. In subsequent years a small movement formed accusing the U.S. government of hoaxing the moon landings, claims that have largely been discredited by scientists.

Moon landings and the Lunar missions.

The Moon.
The Moon as photographed by the Galileo probe.

Unmanned missions to the moon.

The Soviet Luna program had launched Luna 1, the first Spacecraft to fly past the Moon on January 4, 1959. Its successor, Luna 2, was the first spacecraft to land on the Moon, while Luna 3 took the first photos of the far side of the Moon on October 7, 1959. Luna 9, launched by the USSR on February 3, 1966, performed the first "soft landing" on the Moon; and Luna 10 became the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon on April 3, 1966.

The Americans focused their efforts on sending a probe to the Moon with their Pioneer program. However, three designs of probe on three different rocket launchers all failed in a total of ten attempts.

Several missions of the Ranger program crashed into the Moon (as intended). The robotic Surveyor program was part of the American effort to locate a safe site on the Moon for a human landing. Five of Surveyor's seven missions were successful, helping to find the best target for the Apollo Astronauts. Apollo 8 carried out the first manned orbit of the Moon on December 24, 1968 laying the groundwork for placing a man on the Moon.

First human on the moon.

The U.S. Moon exploration program originated during the Eisenhower administration. In a series of mid-1950s articles in Collier's magazine, Wernher von Braun had popularized the idea of a manned expedition to the Moon to establish a lunar base. A manned Moon landing posed several daunting technical challenges to the USA and the USSR. Besides guidance and weight management, atmospheric re-entry without ablative overheating was a major hurdle. After the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik, von Braun promoted a plan for the U.S. Army to establish a military lunar outpost by 1965. This idea did not proceed because the United States government believed that the potential for scientific or military reward failed to justify the expense of such an operation.

Buzz Aldrin poses on the moon.
Buzz Aldrin poses on the Moon, allowing Neil Armstrong to photograph both of them using the visor reflection. (NASA).

After the early Soviet successes, especially Yuri Gagarin's flight, U.S. president John F. Kennedy looked for an American project that would capture the public imagination. He asked vice president Lyndon Johnson to make recommendations on a scientific endeavor that would prove U.S. world leadership. The proposals included non-space options such as massive irrigation projects to benefit the Third World. The Soviets, at the time, had more powerful rockets than the United States, which gave them an advantage in some kinds of space missions. Advances in U.S. nuclear weapons technology had led to smaller, lighter warheads, and consequently, rockets with smaller payload capacities. By comparison, Soviet nuclear weapons were much heavier, and the powerful R-7 rocket was developed to carry them. More modest potential missions such as flying around the Moon without landing or establishing a space lab in orbit (both were proposed by Kennedy to von Braun) were determined to offer too much advantage to the Soviets, since the U.S. would have to develop a heavy rocket to match the Soviets. A Moon landing, however, would capture world imagination while functioning as propaganda.

Mindful that the Apollo Program would economically benefit most of the key states in the next election, particularly his home state of Texas due to NASA's base in Houston, Johnson championed the Apollo program. This superficially indicated action to alleviate the fictional "missile gap" between the U.S. and USSR (Kennedy claimed in his 1960 win over Richard Nixon. The Apollo project allowed continued development of dual-use technology. Johnson also advised that for anything less than a lunar landing the USSR had a good chance of beating the U.S. For these reasons, Kennedy seized on Apollo as the ideal focus for American efforts in space. He ensured continuing funding, shielding space spending from the 1963 tax cut and diverting money from other NASA projects. This dismayed NASA's leader, James E. Webb, who urged support for other scientific work.

Moon landings: In conversation with Webb, Kennedy said:

Everything we do ought to really be tied in to getting on to the moon ahead of the Russians [...] otherwise we shouldn't be spending that kind of money, because I'm not interested in space [...] The only justification for [the cost] is because we hope to beat [the USSR] to demonstrate that instead of being behind by a couple of years, by God, we passed them.


Whatever he said in private, Kennedy needed a different message to gain public support to uphold what he was saying and his views. Later in 1963, Kennedy asked Vice President Johnson to investigate the possible technological and scientific benefits of a Moon mission. Johnson concluded that the benefits were limited but, with the help of scientists at NASA, put together a powerful case, citing possible medical breakthroughs and interesting pictures of Earth from space. For the program to succeed, its proponents would have to defeat criticism from politicians on the left, who wanted more money spent on social programs, and on those on the right, who favored a more military project. By emphasising the scientific payoff and playing on fears of Soviet space dominance, Kennedy and Johnson managed to swing public opinion: by 1965, 58 percent of Americans favored Apollo, up from 33 percent two years earlier. After Johnson became President in 1963, his continuing defense of the program allowed it to succeed in 1969, as Kennedy had originally hoped.

Soviet strategy on the moon.

Meanwhile, the USSR showed more ambivalence about going to the Moon. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev did not relish "defeat" by any other power, but equally did not relish funding such an expensive project. In October 1963 he said that the USSR was "not at present planning flight by cosmonauts to the Moon", while insisting that the Soviets had not dropped out of the race. Only after another year would the USSR fully commit itself to a Moon-landing attempt, which ultimately failed.

Soviet Soyuz rockets.
Soviet Soyuz rockets like the one pictured above became the first reliable means to transport objects into Earth orbit.
Earthrise, 24 December 1968 (NASA).

At the same time, Kennedy had suggested various joint programs, including a possible Moon landing by Soviet and American astronauts and the development of better weather-monitoring satellites. Khrushchev, sensing an attempt by Kennedy to steal Russian space technology, rejected the idea: if the USSR went to the Moon, it would go alone. Korolyov, the RSA's chief designer, had started promoting his Soyuz craft and the N-1 launcher rocket that would have the capability of carrying out a manned Moon landing. Khrushchev directed Korolyov's design bureau to arrange further space firsts by modifying the existing Vostok technology, while a second team started building a completely new launcher and craft, the Proton booster and the Zond, for a manned cislunar flight in 1966. In 1964 the new Soviet leadership gave Korolyov the backing for a Moon landing effort and brought all manned projects under his direction. With Korolyov's death and the failure of the first Soyuz flight in 1967, the co-ordination of the Soviet moon landing program quickly unravelled. The Soviets built a landing craft and selected cosmonauts for the mission that would have placed Aleksei Leonov on the Moon's surface, but with the successive launch failures of the N1 booster in 1969, plans for a manned landing suffered first delay and then cancellation.

Moon landings: Apollo 11 gets there first.

While unmanned Soviet probes did reach the moon before any U.S. craft, American Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the lunar surface, after landing on July 20, 1969. Commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong received backup from command module pilot Michael Collins and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin in an event watched by over 500 million people around the world. Social commentators widely recognize the lunar landing as one of the defining moments of the 20th century, and Armstrong's words on his first stepping onto the Moon's surface became similarly memorable:

That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.

Actual transcript of entire landing is at: http://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/frame.html.

While many people believe that the mission was specifically planned so that a civilian, Armstrong, would be the first to set foot on the Moon, this is not true. One of the original flight plans had the lunar module pilot (Buzz Aldrin) coming out first.

The astronauts set up an American flag, and Buzz Aldrin was photographed saluting it. They also unveiled an inscribed plaque and left it affixed to the lunar lander which remained on the Moon. The sentiment expressed set forth America's attitude about the landing and subsequent landings. Signed by Richard Nixon, President of the United States the plaque reads: "Here men from the planet earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind" (the plaque is also signed by Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin).

Other aspects of the Moon landing

Unlike other international rivalries, the Space Race has remained unaffected in a direct way regarding the desire for territorial expansion. After the successful landings on the Moon, the U.S. explicitly disclaimed the right to ownership of any part of the Moon.

President Richard Nixon had then-speechwriter William Safire prepare a condolence speech for delivery in the event that Armstrong and Aldrin became marooned on the Moon's surface and could not be rescued.

In the 1940s writer Arthur C Clarke forecast that man would reach the Moon by the year 2000, an idea experts dismissed as rubbish.

On August 16, 2006 the Associated Press reported that NASA is currently missing the original Slow-scan television tapes (which were made before the scan conversion for conventional TV) of the Apollo 11 Moon walk (see Apollo TV camera). Some news outlets have mistakenly reported that the SSTV tapes were found in Western Australia, but those tapes were only recordings of data from the Apollo 11 Early Apollo Surface Experiments Package. (See Apollo program missing tapes.)

List of manned Moon landings.

  • Apollo 11 - July 16, 1969. First manned landing on the Moon, July 20.
  • Apollo 12 - November 14, 1969. First precise manned landing on the Moon.
  • Apollo 14 - January 31, 1971. Alan Shepard, the sole astronaut of the original Mercury Seven astronauts to land on the Moon, walks (and golfs) on the Moon.
  • Apollo 15 - 26 July, 1971. First mission with the Lunar rover vehicle.
  • Apollo 16 - April 16, 1972. First landing in the lunar highlands.
  • Apollo 17 - December 7, 1972. Final Apollo lunar mission, first night launch, only mission with a professional geologist.

In total 24 Astronauts travelled to the Moon.

Moon Landing hoax accusations.

Apollo moon landing hoax accusations

Some conspiracy theorists still insist that the lunar landing was a hoax. These accusations flourish in part because, while many enthusiasts predicted that Moon landings would become commonplace, except for the several ensuing Apollo landings in the next decade, such predictions have not yet come to pass. Many scientists, technicians and space enthusiasts who have commented on the accusations have rejected them as baseless.

Two groups of debunkers exist with respect to the Moon landing: those who attempt to debunk the Moon landing itself (a good summary of these arguments is presented by Eric Hufschmid) and those who attempt to debunk the debunkers (a good summary of these arguments is presented by Robert A. Braeunig). Members of the second group occasionally label the first group conspiracy theorists. The biggest alternative explanation of the moon landing states that it was artificially orchestrated in an attempt to intimidate the Soviet Union as part of the space race.

According to a 1999 poll conducted by the The Gallup Organization, 6% of the American public believes the landing was faked, while a large majority of 89% believe that it did in fact occur. Hoax claims are widely dismissed as baseless by mainstream scientists, technicians and engineers, as well as by NASA, and have been widely analyzed by debunkers such as this analysis by Philip Plait.

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