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Moonwalk Memories | Apollo history
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Homepage for One Small Step. One Giant Leap. Man's first moonwalk, 40 years later

The Apollo Program began before the first American was launched into space. In July, 1960, NASA announced that a program to fly Astronauts around the moon would follow the planned Mercury program, but with President Kennedy's famous speech on May 25, 1961, the focus on the Apollo missions shifted to a lunar landing and came into sharper focus with the concrete goal of achieving this before the decade's end.

Many people feel that the Apollo program stands as mankind's greatest technological achievement. In all, six missions landed on the surface of the moon, and three others orbited the moon without landing, including the ill-fated Apollo 13.

The spacecraft was in three parts: The conical Command Module where the crew ate and slept on its way to the moon and home; the Service Module, supplying electricity, maneuvering power and thrust to get home from lunar orbit, and water to the spacecraft; and the Lunar Module, or LM, a two-part, totally self-contained spacecraft that used its own rockets to land on and take off from the surface of the moon, and even served as its own launch pad.

Apollo missions were launched atop two different boosters, the Saturn 1B used for the Earth orbiting missions (including Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz), and the mighty Saturn V, the rocket to the moon.

Apollo started in tragedy, when a fire on the launch pad in the Command Module of Apollo 1 claimed the lives of our second man in space and first Gemini astronaut, Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, our first space walker, Edward White, and rookie astronaut Roger Chaffee on January 27, 1967, in a routine training exercise for what had been scheduled to be the first Apollo mission. A detailed description of the ill-fated Apollo 1 mission is available from KSC.

Although the spacecraft had to be modified to prevent any chance of a recurrance, Apollo 7 was readied for flight by October, 1968, after an unoccupied test (named Apollo 4, the first flight of the Saturn V). Following its success, Apollo 8 , the first human flight of the Saturn V, was launched around the moon in December, and by the following July, Apollo 11 actually placed a man on another celestial body and brought him home again.

Twelve men in all walked on the moon before Apollo was done. The last three missions featured the Lunar Rover, which permitted the astronauts to drive about and explore various terrains too rough for the LM to attempt to land upon. On the last Apollo mission to the moon, the astronauts spent 22 hours in moon walks and camped out on the moon for three days total.

Sadly, Apollo 18, 19 and 20 were cancelled due to budget limitations. One of these missions had been scheduled to explore the scientifically intriguing crater Aristarchus, where astronomers through the ages had witnessed geological (or, more properly, "lunalogical") activity through their telescopes and wondered whether or not it might be volcanism. We are still wondering.

We have never yet returned to the moon. How sad. The Apollo spacecraft was used for four later missions, the three long-duration Skylab missions the final Apollo flight, the Apollo-Soyuz linkup with the Soviet Soyuz 19.

Source: NASA Web site