365daysDate: July 20, 2009

Title: The Eagle Has Landed


Podcaster: Ted Haulley


Description: On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. 40 years later we look back on the Apollo 11 mission. This podcast will describe some of the basics about the mission, along with some things about Apollo 11 that may not be as well known.

Bio: An amateur astronomer and historian, Ted is proud to provide his third contribution to the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast. He lives in Waldorf, Maryland with his wife, Tammie, and two daughters, 5 year old Tanda and Trillian, who was born on January 15, the same day as the premiere of his first podcast. Ted still hopes to become a teacher or have some other career in public history so he can share his joy of teaching and love of learning with as many people as possible.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by Valcato Hosting. To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy, Valcato Hosting is offering one year of free web hosting for any and all astronomy web sites! All accounts come with tools to make it easy to set up blogs, forums, photo galleries, and more. Sign up now, and start sharing your astronomy experiences with the rest of the world! For more information, please visit


President Kennedy gave that speech to Congress in May of 1961 barely three weeks after Alan Shepard became the first American in space with a 17 minute sub-orbital flight. The United States did not even have the ability to put Shepard into a full orbit, yet Kennedy was talking about going to the moon. Kennedy would not live to see it, but with less than 6 months left in the decade NASA was within reach of meeting that challenge.

(Eagle Audio)
Several hours later Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Lunar Module and into history.
(Armstrong Audio)

Hello again! I’m Ted Haulley, talking to you from Maryland, USA and it’s time for another anniversary. 40 years ago today the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle landed on the moon, and a few hours later Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. My apologies to those listeners outside of the Americas. For most of the world Armstrong’s walk was on July 21, but here in the States it was the evening of the 20th. NASA used Central time, Eastern time, and Universal time in their reports, but for official timing NASA used what they called ground elapsed time so according to NASA Armstrong’s walk was at 109 hours, 7 minutes, 35 seconds, so it is all relative anyway.

Apollo 11 was the fifth manned flight in the Apollo program. After the tragic fire that killed three astronauts in Apollo 1, there were three unmanned flights to test the various components that would eventually put a man on the moon.

Then came Apollo 7, the first manned flight that tested the Command Module in Earth’s orbit. Apollo 8 took three astronauts in orbit around the moon. Apollo 9 was the first test of the Lunar Module in Earth’s orbit. Apollo 10 was a full dress rehearsal, with the Lunar Module going to an altitude of 50,000 feet above the lunar surface. Apollo 11 would get the honor of the landing.

Apollo 11 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center at 9:32am Eastern Time, July 16, 1969 carrying three astronauts. The Mission Commander, 38-year old Neil Armstrong, was a civilian. A former Naval Aviator who flew 78 combat missions during the Korean War, he was a test pilot for NASA before being selected for the astronaut program. He had one other spaceflight, Gemini 8 in 1966. For those of you familiar with Government pay scales, Armstrong was a GS-16, Step 7 making $30,000 a year.

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Michael Collins was the Command Module pilot. Also 38, he was a graduate of West Point, and was a test pilot for the Air Force before being selected for the astronaut program in 1963. His prior spaceflight was Gemini 10, also in 1966.

Air Force Colonel Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. was the Lunar Module pilot. 39 and a graduate of the Military Academy at West Point, he flew 66 combat missions in Korea and received a doctorate from MIT. His prior spaceflight was the final flight of Project Gemini, Gemini 12 in November, 1966.

These three were not specifically chosen to land on the moon; it just happened that the mission they were assigned to over a year previously became the one that would conduct the first landing.

Instead of just recounting the mission itself, I’m going to go over some of the lesser known aspects of the mission that you may not be as familiar with.

Let’s start with the spacecraft itself. All Apollo missions except 7 and 8 consisted of two separate spacecraft; the Command Module and the Lunar Module. The Lunar Module was originally called the Lunar Excursion Module, known by the acronym LEM. The word ‘excursion’ was considered redundant and taken out, so it became the Lunar Module. But the use of the acronym LEM was so common that it remained in use through the entire Apollo program. The third part of the spacecraft was the Service Module which contained the oxygen tanks, fuel cells, and other equipment. It remained attached to the Command Module until just before splashdown when it was jettisoned just prior to reentry and burned up in the atmosphere.

When the LEM separated from the Command Module there had to be a way to distinguish between the two in communications. The tradition of pilots naming their aircraft is as old as aviation, and NASA continued that tradition in the Mercury program. The Mercury astronauts each gave names to their spacecraft to be used as call signs during the mission. They stopped using call signs for the Gemini spacecraft. The first Gemini mission, Gemini III, was given the name Molly Brown by Gus Grissom, but this was not used officially and the other Gemini missions did not have use call signs for their spacecraft.

The call signs returned with Apollo as the way to distinguish between the two spacecraft. The astronauts of Apollo 9 called their Command Module Gumdrop, and the Lunar Module Spider based on their appearance. Apollo 10 would be snooping near the moon’s surface, so they gave their Lunar Module the name Snoopy. It was only natural that the Command Module be given the name Charlie Brown.

Apollo 11 was going to land on the moon with a worldwide audience of perhaps billions of people. NASA wanted the spacecraft names to have a little more dignity. The astronauts were still allowed to name them, but were advised to give them names worthy of the event. They chose Columbia for the Command Module and Eagle for the Lunar Module.

The mission schedule had the first moon walk occurring about 10 hours after the landing. That time was going to be taken up with safety checks, prepping the spacesuits, and, get this, sleep. Whose idea was that? You’re the first human being to land on another planet and the first thing you do is take a nap? Armstrong received approval to skip the sleep period, but it was still almost 7 hours before the first moon walk took place.

Eagle spent 21 hours, 38 minutes on the moon and the astronauts made one moonwalk, called and Extra Vehicular Activity, or EVA, of 2 hours 31 minutes. They covered about 250 meters and collected almost 22 kilograms of moon rocks. By the end of the Apollo program in 1972, Apollo 17s Lunar Module Challenger was on the lunar surface for just under 75 hours, and the astronauts made 3 EVAs totaling 22 hours. They covered 30 kilometers with the help of a Lunar Rover, and returned with 110 kilograms of moon rocks.

One of the artifacts left on the moon by Apollo 11 was a plaque that was on one of the legs of the Lunar Module. It had a map of the Earth, the signatures of the three astronauts and President Richard Nixon, and the inscription “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.” Originally it was written in the present tense; “We come in peace for all mankind. “ President Nixon himself suggested changing it to the past tense.

Apollo 11 splashed down in the South Pacific, 950 miles southwest of Hawaii, on July 24. The recovery ship, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet, was 11 miles away. The crew could see the fireball of the Columbia as it reentered the atmosphere. The astronauts had to wear biological isolation garments and immediately put in quarantine so any lunar organisms they might have brought back could contaminate the planet.

Three days later they were transferred to a different quarantine facility in Houston, Texas and were not released until August 10. 17 days isolated in quarantine, after 8 days isolated in space. When the subject of the quarantine facilities came up during one of the crew debriefing that took place on July 31 the only comment Michael Collins could make was “I want out.” The quarantine procedure would be repeated for Apollo 12, but missions after that would not be quarantined. Command Module Columbia was also quarantined until August 10, and can now be seen at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D. C.

President Nixon, like Presidents Johnson and Kennedy before him, was a great supporter of the space program. He spoke to the astronauts when they were on their EVA, and was aboard the Hornet when the astronauts were recovered. He was also a pragmatist. He had two drafts of a speech prepared in case the astronauts were killed while on the mission. One draft would be used if bodies were recovered, and the other draft was in case the astronauts were lost in space.

The New York Times summed up Apollo 11 with these words: “The great achievement of the men on the moon is not only that they made history, but that they expanded man’s vision of what history might be. One moon landing doesn’t make a new heaven and a new earth, but it has dramatized the possibilities of doing so.”

I want to thank everyone who emailed me after my first two podcasts. You can write me at T – H – a – u – l – l – e – y at If there is some astronomical concept you would like to hear the history of, or a historical figure you would like to hear a biography of in a possible future podcast, please let me know. Thanks for listening.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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