Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Apollo 11 Facts: 40 Years Later

On the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, get the facts on Apollo 11's historic trip, from initial skepticism to lunar firsts and the implications for returning humans to the moon.

More Apollo 11 Moon Landing 40th Anniversary Coverage

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APOLLO 11 PHOTOS: First Manned Moon Landing
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July 16, 1969: The world watched in anticipation as three men were hurtled skyward in a rocket bound for the moon.

(Read about the Apollo 11 moon-landing mission in a 1969 National Geographicmagazine article.)

The Apollo 11 launch date had arrived with just months to spare: Nine years earlier, U.S. President John F. Kennedy had said that by the end of the decade the country would put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth.

The successful Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, ushered in an era of moon exploration that has so far gone unrivaled (Apollo 11 quiz).

(Find out about NASA's plans to return humans to the moon in Naked Science: Living on the Moon, which airs Thursday, July 23, at 10 p.m. ET/PT.)

Moon Race

President Kennedy's moon mandate came at the height of the space race—a kind of subplot to the Cold War between the United States and what was then the Soviet Union.

(Hear sounds of the space age, including the Apollo 11 mission, with an interactive version of a pressed vinyl record that was included in the December 1969 issue of National Geographic magazine.)

The U.S.S.R. had made the opening gambit, sending the first artificial satellites into orbit, starting with the 184-pound (83.5-kilogram) Sputnik I in October 1957.

The Soviets followed that success a month later with the first animal in space, Laika the dog, which did not survive the experience. (See pictures of monkeys and other primates sent into space.)

Things came to a head in April 1961, when the Soviets sent the first human to space. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin made a 108-minute suborbital flight in a Vostok 1 spacecraft and returned safely to Earth.

A month later Alan Shepherd became the first American in space with his suborbital flight aboard the Freedom 7 spacecraft.

From there the two countries started upping the ante by increasing the number of orbits per flight. Meanwhile Kennedy's moon directive had signaled a change in tactics for the U.S.

more on National Geographic

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