Space Mission: Apollo 11

The primary objective of Apollo 11’s mission was to perform a crewed lunar landing on the Moon and return to Earth.

Additional flight objectives included scientific exploration by the lunar module, or LM, deployment of a television camera to transmit signals to Earth, deployment of a solar wind composition experiment, seismic experiment package and a Laser Ranging Retroreflector. During the exploration, two astronauts were to gather samples of lunar-surface materials for return to Earth. They also were to photograph the lunar terrain, scientific equipment, and each other.

Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy on July 16, 1969, carrying Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin into an initial Earth-orbit of 114 by 116 miles.

A televised image witnessed by millions, heard Armstrong’s describe the event as he took “…one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” on July 20, 1969.

Neil Armstrong, Commander
Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module Pilot
Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot

July 24, 1969; 12:50 p.m.
Pacific Ocean
Recovery Ship: USS Hornet

Spaceflight: In the beginning

Planet Earth viewed from Space…

The year was 1957, and Sputnik’s Chief Designer Sergei Korolyov watched as a modified Russian missile launched into space from Kazakhstan’s lonely steppes carrying a very special payload. 

Sputnik 1 (“traveling companion” in Russian) was about the size of a basketball and weighed about 180 pounds. It was equipped with two radio transmitters and four long antennas that broadcasted a constant beep while circling the Earth for 21 days. 

Sputnik’s launch stunned the world and changed it, too. It heralded in dramatic fashion a new “space age,” created an identity crisis in the United States, led to the creation of NASA and began a flurried race between the world’s two superpowers to place a human on the moon. 

Sputnik touched all walks of life. For politicians, its launch provided a new and powerful way to stir up patriotism. Winning the space race was not only a matter of national security, they said, but of national pride. 

For engineers, the space age represented a new set of daunting technological hurdles to be overcome. The engineers were the group tasked with inventing machines capable of escaping Earth’s gravity and reaching the moon, as well as ways to keep humans alive in space and to communicate with them from the ground. 

For people of a military mindset, Sputnik represented an awesome and frightening new way of waging war. The same technology needed to loft a satellite into space could also be adapted to hurl a nuclear warhead at your enemies from half a world away.  

For environmentalists, the photographs of our planet in full that came out of the space age were a powerful propaganda tool. The “Blue Marble” image taken by the crew of Apollo 17 spoke volumes about Earth’s fragility and the interconnectedness of life and humanity. 

But all of these things would come later. Arguably the first people to fully grasp Sputnik’s significance and to exploit its technology were scientists for whom the beeping metal ball represented a radical new way of studying our planet and the universe.  

Scientists made their first major discovery of the space age a mere three months after Sputnik’s launch. American scientist James Van Allen convinced engineers to strap a Geiger counter his team had designed to the first American satellite, Explorer 1, launched on January 31, 1958. The experiment confirmed the existence of Earth’s magnetic field by detecting a doughnut-shaped region of high- energy particles encircling the planet. Scientists now know Earth has two such “Van Allen Belts” which can be hazardous to both satellites and astronauts. 

Boost for science Sputnik’s launch forced Americans to rethink the notion that they were the world’s most technologically advanced nation. “Many people were flabbergasted that the Russians, of all people, could do it,” recalled William Burrows, author of This New Ocean, a detailed chronicle of the space age.  

“The Communists bragged that they invented the airplane, radio, television, rockets and so on, so Americans made jokes that [they] probably also took credit for inventing baseball and bubble gum,” Burrows said. “We laughed and ridiculed them. Then Sputnik. POW! They really did have muscle.” 

What followed was an unprecedented push in the United States to educate the nation’s youth in science and mathematics. In 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act to provide scholarships for aspiring scientists, engineers and mathematicians. 

“Sputnik made everybody think about science and technology more seriously,” said David Thompson, an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. 

Aspiring astronomers 

The U.S. government’s push for scientific education was made easier in many ways by Sputnik. The satellite was a technological marvel that inspired an entire generation of students—and not just aspiring engineers. Some astronomers trace their interest in space to the Sputnik-era. 

“Everybody was going out to try to see these satellites that had just been launched and I went out and said ‘You know, these other things in the sky are more interesting,'” Thompson said. “There are stars out there and planets.'” 

“I was a kid and it sounded very exciting,” said Mario Livio, a senior astronomer at the Space Science Telescope Institute in Maryland. “At the time, the first name that I remembered for this was an ‘artificial moon.’ That of course had its own feelings that went with it: ‘Humans have created their own artificial moon.'” 

Lasting legacy 

For many scientists, Sputnik’s greatest legacy is the space observatories such as Hubble that it paved the way for. 

Space telescopes “opened up new wavelength regimes or bettered the capabilities in a given regime by a factor of ten” compared to ground telescopes, Livio told

“The studies of the microwave background from space started with COBE and continued through to WMAP,” said Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics who works at the University of Texas in Austin. “That has really made cosmology into a precision science and given us our best evidence about inflation.” 

Others think Sputnik’s contributions to science are more subtle. The space age also encouraged scientists in all disciplines to entertain new ideas, said spaceflight historian Roger Launius, chair of the Division of Space History at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. 

“We had no idea in the past until we started to explore space what the potential hazards as well as opportunities there were out there,” Launius said. “When did the theory that the dinosaurs had a sudden mass extinction as a result of an asteroid emerge? Had we not flown in space, we would never have even considered that as a possibility.”

Flight History 1901-2000

Orville and Wilbur Wright stepped forward to be counted in the history of flight… or should I say powered flight.  They spent three years testing their designs on gliders, and how to control them at their base at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. 

By 1902 they had perfected their glider shape, and by 1903 perfected a twelve horsepower engine.

On the 17th December 1903 at 10.35 am in North Carolina the “Flyer” took to the air, and they proved flight was possible, but it suffered from teething problems.   On the 5th October 1905 the “Flyer III” flew for 39 minutes piloted by Wilbur Wright at Huffman Prairie, covering some 24 miles.  History had been made… man could indeed fly.

Thanks to the Wright brothers, with their perfectly designed aircraft, powered by their own twelve horsepower water-cooled, four-cylinder engine, none of this would have been possible.  They proved without doubt, that powered flight was indeed possible, and they had opened the way for a new era in flight.

On the 18th March and 19th March 1906 Traian Vuia flew his self-designed self-propelled fixed-wing aircraft in France.  On the 12th September 1906 Jacob Ellehammer flew his monoplane in Denmark and on the 13th September 1306 Alberto Santos-Dumont made a flight in Paris, and on the 12the November set the first world record.

In 1908 Wilbur Wright gave flight demonstrations in France, attracting thousands, showing why the Wright brothers were superior in the air.

Louis Bleriot (1872-1936) a former engineer, who in 1900 turned his attention to flight. On the 25th July 1909 Louis Bleriot won fame for his solo flight across the English Channel, taking 36 mins travelling at an average speed of 40mph.

It didn’t take long before the military could see practical uses for these flying machines in battle.  The leading manufacturers of fighter planes were, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, whose planes saw action in World War One (1914-1918). 

The new era between the first and second world war saw young fighter pilots eager to show off their skills, in county air shows, and air races like the “Schneider Trophy.”

In 1924 Imperial Airways offered passenger flights to exotic destinations, and in 1927 Pan-Am offered non-stop luxury trips.

In 1927 aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh made history, flying “The Spirit of St.Louis” across the Atlantic Ocean; New York to Paris in 33 hours and 30 minutes non-stop.

In 1935 Howard Hughes designed and built the “H-1” racer.  With him at the controls, his plane became the fastest plane beatinf all speed records.

On the 5th March 1936 the Spitfire underwent its maiden flight and entered service with the Royal Air Force (1938-1955).  She was joined by other planes Bristol Blenheim (1937) Mosquito (1941) Lancaster (1942) Gloster Meteor (1944) and of course the Americans B-17 Flying Fortress (1940), just to name a few.

World War Two saw the need for fighter escorts in the shape of Heinkel HE178 (1939) Heinkel HE219 (1943) and Messerschmitt ME262 (1944) to accompany Junkers JU88 (1940) and the JU388 (1944) German Bomber planes during strategic bombing raids on English soil.                                                            

Other names go down in history for their achievements in the world of flight. Amelia Mary Earhart who in 1928, joined an expedition to fly across the Atlantic Ocean with Wilmer “Bill” Stultz (pilot) and Louis E “Slim” Gordon ( co-pilot and mechanic).  They left Trepassey Harbour, Newfoundland in a Fokker F7 on June 17 1928, and arrived at Burry Port, Wales 21 hours later.  Their landmark flight made headline news. 

From then on, Earhart’s life revolved around flying.  She came third in the Cleveland’s Women’s Air Derby.

President Herbert Hoover awarded her a gold medal from the National Geographical Society, and Congress awarded her a Distinguished Flying Cross for her achievement.

In the years that followed, Earhart continued to break records, one after another…  On 11th January 1935, she flew solo across the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu to Oakland, California.  Later that year, first to solo from Mexico City to Newark.

In 1946 after World War Two the “Bell X-1” was the first plane capable of breaking the speed record by breaking the sound barrier.

In 1957 the “Boeing 707” came into service described as sleek, fast and fuel-efficient.

With speeds getting faster and faster, the safety of the pilot became an issue in planes built for combat.  In 1958 ejection seats were fitted, which thrust pilots vertically clear of the plane in seconds.

In 1966 “The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird” came into military use reaching speeds three times the speeds of sound at heights of 100,000 feet.

In 1969 the “Boeing 747” came into service capable of carrying a little over four-hundred passengers, giving the air industry what they wanted, the ability to move large numbers in a single flight.

The first test flight of Concorde 001 took place on the 2nd March 1969 from Toulouse, and supersonic flight commenced on the 1st October 1969, with scheduled flights starting on 21st January 1976 with the London to Bahrain and Paris to Rio routes.

In May 1976, London to Washington, then in 1977 Paris and London to New York in less than 3½ hours.

Concorde went on to make history by circumnavigating the world in thirty-one hours and fifty-one minutes, starting out on 1st November 1986.

In May of 1987, a 19 year-old German pilot; Mathias Rust, flew solo in his Cessna from Helsinki in Finland, eastwards to Moscow in Russia. He eluded Russia’s Soviet Air-Defence System and landed alongside Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square.

Flight History up to 1900

When we look back at the history of flight from the beginning of time so to speak, it is amazing how far we have travelled… We have learnt to fly in the sky like birds have done so for centuries.

We gaze up into the heavens, and wonder what mysteries await us… Man would gaze up at the sky, and observe the flight of birds, and desire to fly like them in the sky.  In early times man would cover his body in feathers, or light weight wood attached to one’s arms to test their ability to fly.

Early attempts to fly were often a disaster, often causing serious injury or deaths as they leapt from towers, flapping their arms in belief they could fly.  Much of man’s failure was his lack of understanding issues of stability, lift and control.  You could say if we were due to fly, why weren’t we born with wings to fly.

According to an ancient Greek legend, Icarus made wings of wax and feathers, proving flight was possible.  Yet he made an error by flying too close to the sun; the wax in his feathers melted, and his feathers fell apart, and poor Icarus plunged to his death.

An ancient Greek engineer named Hero from Alexandria devised a scheme using air pressure and steam to create power.  In one of his experiments, he placed a sphere upon a water kettle and fire below the kettle turned water into steam, which created thrust and rotation to the sphere.

The Chinese discovered around 4th – 5th century BC that kites could fly, and larger versions were capable of lifting a man into the air.  By the 3rd century BC, they discovered hot air rises, and they used their new found knowledge on the development of hot air balloons.

Leonardo da Vinci started his studies into the question of flight and whether man could actually fly around 1480, constructing many theories in the process.

The “Ornithopter” flying machine designed by Leonardo showed how it was possible for man to fly, without even building the machine.  The modern helicopter flown to-day is based on his early concept of design.

The modern era of flight, began in the early part of the 17th century, when Galileo proved that air actually had weight.  Cyrano de Bergerac wrote that if bags of weight were dropped from a balloon, it would rise in height, much as we do to-day.

The first officially documented flight in Europe was carried out by Bartolomeu de Gusmao a Portuguese priest on the 8th August 1709 in Lisbon.  It was a simple but effective experiment using a hot-air balloon constructed out of paper, with fire burning beneath, forcing it to lift itself from the ground some thirteen feet.

In 1783, Joseph Michael and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier were one of many hot-air balloon designers.  Their design used smoke from a fire, which would blow hot-air into the balloon, and in 1783, during a test flight rose 6,000 feet with a sheep, rooster and duck as passengers.

Their first manned flight was on the 21st November 1783 and the passengers were Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent.  It had its problems; sparks of fire could alight the balloon, so water buckets were needed to douse any fires .

Another hot-air balloon was the brainchild of Professor Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers who used hydrogen gas.  On the 1st December 1783, their manned balloon ascended to 1800 feet, travelling some twenty-two miles in a little over two hours.  This was followed by an elongated design which undertook its maiden flight on the 19th September 1784; Paris to Beuvry.

Genuine advances were taking place in the history of flight, with airship designs.  For it was on the 9th August 1884, Charles Renard and Arthur Constantin Krebs flew the French Army electric-powered airship “LaFrance.”

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin founded Zeppelin and the “LZ1” was born and made its maiden flight on the 2nd July 1900.

Alberto Santes-Dumont built controllable air-ships proving that one could steer it easily and went on to win the “Deutsch de la Meurthe” prize on the 19th October 1901, with a fight from Saint-Cloud, round the Eiffel Tower and back to Saint-Cloud.

The airship had arrived, and took its place in history for manned passenger travel.

George Cayley aged ten studied the physics of the bird as it flew across the sky… ever intent on understanding the principles of flight.

In 1799 he set down the early design of the modern aeroplane, as a fixed wing flying machine with separate systems for lift, propulsion and control.

In 1804 his research took him further with the construction of a model glider having a layout which resembles the look of a modern plane.  It had an inclined wing towards the front and adjustable tail at the back with tail plane and fin.

He conducted ever more scientific experiments which would give one better understanding of drag, streamlining, movement of the centre of pressure and by curving the wing one would increase flight.  He demonstrated a manned glider, flying through the air.  His design being that of a fixed wing, fuselage and tail assembly.

In 1846 he was called the “Father of the Aeroplane” for his research and experiments, these that other inventors would find of use in later years.

Henson improved on Cayley’s work in 1842 by designing a mono-plane with a 150 feet wing span, complete with two propellers powered by a steam engine… it was the first in history to have a plane driven by propellers.

He collaborated with John Stringfellow and in 1886 the “Aeronautical Society of Great Britain” was founded in 1890. Stringfellow was awarded a £100 prize for a steam engine with the best power-to-weight ratio at the world’s first Aeronautical Exhibition held at Crystal Palace in London.

In 1871 Wenham and Browning created the first wind tunnel and learned that cambered styled wings generated more lift than expected.  This clearly demonstrated the possibility of building heavier-than-air flying machines.

Otto Lilenthal known as Germany’s “Glider King” or “Flying Man” produced a series of gliders, and in 1871 became the first person to make control glides on a regular basis, this made him one of the early pioneers in flight.

In England Percy Pilcher, built several gliders in the 1890’s and in 1899 constructed a prototype of a powered aircraft.  He died in a glider accident before he was able to test out his theories.

In 1891 Samuel Langley an astronomer deduced if man was ever to fly for long distances he would require power.  He built a model plane, the “Aerodrome” which stayed in the air using a steam-powered engine.  He received a $50,000 grant to build a full size version, it was too heavy and crashed on its trial run.

Octave Chanute published “Progress in Flying Machines” in 1894, containing much of the advancements getting man into the air, and man’s achievements so far.