Out of all the objects in the solar system, man has only landed and walked on the Moon. Out of all the landings on the lunar surface, six crewed landings were accomplished by NASA’s Apollo missions. Here, we will focus on the Apollo Moon landings.
The Apollo Program
The Apollo Program was the third manned spaceflight program by NASA. The program was initiated when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States of America
It was supposed to be a three-man spacecraft following the one-man Project-Mercury that put the first American in space. When President John F. Kennedy challenged landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth, the Apollo program was re-focused to making this challenge a reality.
How a Typical Apollo Moon Landing Mission Went
Each of the Apollo spacecrafts was composed of the Lunar Module (LM) and the Command Service Module (CSM). On a typical Moon landing mission, the LM separated from the CSM and went on to land on the Moon’s surface while the CSM continued in orbit.
Each mission had a crew of three- the LM commander and pilot, and the CSM pilot. Only the LM commander and pilot landed on the Moon and walked on its surface on each mission. The CSM pilot went into lunar orbit.
Once the landing mission was over, the LM would lift off from the lunar surface and dock with the CSM. The crew would return to Earth aboard the CSM. The LM would then be jettisoned and crash land on the Moon’s surface after a few hours.
The Apollo Program Moon Landings
There were six moon landings in the Apollo program with the first occurring in 1969 and the last in 1972. Twelve astronauts landed and walked on the Moon on these missions including the first and last man on the Moon. Here is an overview of each of the Apollo Moon landings.
Apollo 11 Moon Landing
Apollo 11 was the first manned spacecraft to land on the Moon.
Launched on 16 July 1969 from Cape Canaveral on a Saturn 5 launch vehicle, the Apollo 11 lunar module `Eagle’ commanded by astronaut Neil Armstrong and piloted by astronaut Buzz Aldrin landed on the surface of the moon on July 20 1969 in the Mare Tranquilitatis area also refereed to as the Sea of Tranquility.
The two men stepped on the surface of the Moon with Armstrong going first and Aldrin following 19 minutes later. Armstrong and Aldrin became the first and second man to land and walk on the surface of the Moon. The third crew member Michael Collins piloting the command service module remained in lunar orbit.
Armstrong collected a small sample of lunar material as soon as he stepped on the lunar surface. Aldrin described the surface of the Moon as `magnificent desolation’.
The Apollo 11 lander carried the Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package (EASEP) that the astronauts deployed on the Moon’s surface to collect samples and conduct experiments. They unveiled the plaque, planted the American flag and conversed with President Nixon through a radiotelephone. They also took images of the surroundings, collected lunar rock and soil samples and then went back to their ship.
The LM left the Moon’s surface on 21 July 30. After docking with the CSM, the LM was released into lunar orbit. Scientists are not sure what happened to the Lander. They assume it crashed into the lunar surface after a few months. The astronauts landed on Earth safely on July 24.
Apollo 12 Moon Landing
Commanded by Charles P. Conrad and piloted by Alan L. Bean, the Apollo 12 Lunar Module (LM) `Intrepid’ was the second manned spacecraft to land on the moon with the crew becoming the third and fourth man to land and walk on the Moon’s surface.
The Apollo 12 spacecraft launched from the Earth to the Moon on 14 November 1969. It landed on 19 November 1969 in the Oceanus Procellarum region, located just about 180 meters from the Surveyor 3 spacecraft location.
The two astronauts performed two walks on the Moon deploying experiments on the surface of the Moon, taking photos and collecting rock, soil and solar wind samples to bring back to Earth. They also carried out soil mechanics investigations, visited the Surveyor 3 landing site and collected some parts of the Surveyor 3 spacecraft to return to Earth for examination.
After being on the Moon for 31 hours 31 minutes, the LM left on 20 November, and docked with the CSM commanded by Richard F. Gordon. The LM was jettisoned and crashed into the moon creating the first recorded artificial moonquake.
Apollo 14 Moon Landing
The Apollo 14 Lunar Module (LM), referred to as `Antares’, was the third manned landing on the Moon. The commander Alan B. Shepard Jr. and the pilot Edgar D. Mitchell made history as the fifth and sixth human beings to land and walk on the Moon. The CSM was commanded by Stuart A Roosa.
The LM carried the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), which contained experiments the astronauts were to deploy and leave on the Moon’s surface and tools for collecting and storing samples.
Having launched on 31 June 1971, the LM separated from the CSM and landed on 5 February 1971 in the Fra Mauro highlands.
Shepard and Mitchell performed two moonwalk extra-vehicular activities (EVAs). They deployed the ALSEP plus other experiments in the first EVA and walked collecting samples in the second EVA. Shepard also hit two golf balls during this second and final EVA before returning to their ship.
They spent 33 hours and 31 minutes on the surface of the Moon. The LM lifted off the surface of the Moon on February 6 reuniting with the CSM. The LM was released and impacted on the moon between the Apollo 12 and Apollo 14 stations.
Apollo 15 Moon Landing
Falcon, as the Apollo 15 lunar module was named, made the fourth manned landing on the Moon. It was commanded by David R. Scott with James B. Irwin acting as the pilot. The two astronauts became the seventh and eighth men to walk on the Moon’s surface.
The LM brought to the Moon a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) experiments and sample collection suite. It was the first time for an LRV vehicle to be used on a Moon landing,
The LM left the CSM, and landed on 30 July 1971 in the Mare Imbrium region located at the foot of the Apennine mountain range.
The two astronauts walked on the moon three times collecting samples of lunar soil and rocks.
During the first walk, the astronauts unloaded and set up the LRV, which was meant to explore the area around the landing site and had a successful performance. They also took photos of the surface, collected geological samples, and deployed the ALSEP towards the end of the walk.
On the second EVA, the astronauts drove the LRV for a distance of 12.5km along the base of the Appenine Mountains before returning to the ALSEP site.
During the third and final EVA, the LRV was driven a distance of 5.1 km west.
Scott also made a standup EVA where he described and imaged the surrounding lunar landscape from the LM’s upper latch. Scott made a televised demonstration of a hammer and feather dropping at the same rate in the lunar vacuum.
The astronauts planted a plaque and a small figure on the surface in honor of the astronauts who had died on space exploration missions before that.
After completing the Apollo 14 mission successfully, the LM left the Moon on August 2 having been on the Moon for 66 hours and 55 minutes.
Apollo 16 Moon Landing
The Apollo 16 lunar module dubbed `Orion’ was the fifth manned spacecraft to make a landing on the Moon. Its two astronauts, Commander John W. Young and pilot Charles M. Duke Jr., became the ninth and tenth men to walk on the Moon. The CSM was piloted by Thomas K. Mattingly.
After the launch on 16 April 1972, the LM landed on the Moon on 21 April 1972 in the Descartes highlands. Aboard the LM were a Lunar Roving Vehicle and an ALSEP suite.
The two astronauts made three moonwalk EVAs exploring 11 sites and covering 27 KM. On the first EVA, they deployed and set up the ALSEP suite of experiments and sample collection apparatus, deployed the LRV and explored the nearby craters. Unfortunately, Young tripped on a cable rendering the heat flow experiment impossible. On the second EVA, they explored a ridge and mountain slope. They visited the North Ray Crater during the final EVA.
The astronauts also took photos of the surface, carried out soil mechanics investigations, collected samples of solar wind, measured heavy cosmic rays using a cosmic-ray detector, made Lyman-alpha astronomical observations, and studied local magnetic sources.
After spending 71 hours 23 minutes on the Moon, the LM left on 24 April on its trip back to earth
Apollo 17 Moon Landing
The Apollo 17 lunar module named `Challenger’ was the sixth and last Moon landing in the Apollo program. The Commander Eugene A. Cernan and pilot Harrison H. Schmitt became the eleventh and twelfth men to land and walk on the surface of the Moon. Schmitt also made history by becoming the first scientist-astronaut to walk on the Moon. The CSM was piloted by Ronald E. Evans.
The LM landed on 11 December 1972 on the southeastern rim of Mare Serenitatis (The Sea of Serenity). Onboard the LM was an ALSEP suite and LRV for carrying out experiments and collecting samples.
The two astronauts accomplished three moonwalk EVAs covering 30 km. On the first EVA, the LRV was deployed and driven, the ALSEP was set up and other scientific experiments carried out.
On the second EVA, the astronauts set up the active seismic experiment and Schmitt found a patch of orange soil. On the third EVA, they traversed more exploring the Moon and collected samples. They unveiled a plaque on the LM. Gene Cernan was the last man to step off the lunar surface.
The LM left the surface of the Moon on 14 December to dock with the CSM and begin its return trip back to Earth. The Apollo 17 mission marked the completion of the first exploration of the Moon in the Apollo program.