back to article 50 years ago today Apollo 11 slipped the surly bonds of Earth to put peeps on the Moon

On 16 July 1969, Apollo 11 launched from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida on an eight-day mission to the Moon and back. The launch, the sixth of a Saturn V, came less than two weeks after the second attempt by Russia to send its own monster rocket, the N-1, on a jaunt to the Moon. The second N-1 and the …

  1. The March Hare

    Further reading

    I can recommend Gene Krantz's "Failure is not an Option" book - a bit dry and technical but does give a very good idea of the mindset of the people involved

    1. jason 7

      Re: Further reading

      That is an amazing book.

      It sets the standard for "What a PROPER Manager should do!"

      If you lead this book. Then you'll know how crap you are as a manager.

      You might get a bit better though.

  2. Marty McFly Silver badge

    Back when men were men...

    ...and safety was secondary to achievement.

    1. Martin Gregorie

      Re: Back when men were men...

      .... but safety was not nearly as secondary a consideration in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs as it was for the Shuttle, where only the first launch, with just the two pilots on board, had a proper escape system - ejector seats. These were removed for all subsequent flights. Read Mike Malone's "Riding Rockets" for the full story.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Back when men were men...

        John Young in an interview I saw with him talked about those ejector seats. He said that if he'd used it during launch, "I'd have been a crispy critter."

        I guess it was there for landing.

        They could have kept them for the guys on the upper deck, and they'd have been useful for landing if the something screwed up at low speed. Mission specialists, being downstairs, would still have been out of luck.

        Then again the Vulcan bomber had ejector seats for the pilots, and the other crew had to take their chances bailing out through a hatch.

        After Challenger they did fit a parachute system. It was bugger all good in a lot of circumstances, because the astronauts had to stand up and connect their suit to an ejector pole, that took them out sideways (and down I think) to avoid the wings and tailplane. But you can tell how useful everyone thought that system was, as NASA made it a crew choice as to whether they bothered to train for it or not. It was put in to make Congress happy.

    2. Jay Lenovo
      Thumb Up

      Re: Back when men were men...

      Safety very much was a focused concern. Placing the first dead men on the moon wasn't going to cut it.

      There's a calculated bravery when you are the first to believe you can make metal boats float in water, planes rise above air, or have spaceships land on the moon with parts purchased from the lowest bidder.

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: Back when men were men...

        with parts purchased from the lowest bidder

        Money wasn't much of a problem so selecting the lowest bidder wasn't necessary. The major systems were farmed out to different contractors, for some based on expertise but largely to keep everyone involved.

        1. defiler

          Re: Back when men were men...

          Not convinced that it was "to keep everyone involved" so much as they had a mountain of work to do and a deadline. I expect it was more like spreading the load.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: Back when men were men...


            Work had to be spread round the USA, in order to get the crucial votes in Congress for NASA's budget.

            As the saying goes, "No bucks, no Buck Rogers."

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Back when men were men...

      not so much SAFETY being secondary... more like overcautiousness.

      In other words, they weren't playing "CYA my job is on the line" or "we can't succeed yet, we want MORE FUNDING". It was FAR more goal oriented, and the people generally supported the space program.

      Unlike now, where WAY too many people fail to see the value in buying rockets and doing cool heroic stuff.

    4. jason 7

      Re: Back when men were men...

      Read Krantz's book. Safety was ultimate after Apollo 1. I think Apollo 1 was in fact a major factor in the huge success of Apollo. Had it not happened the lack of renewed focus on safety would have bitten hard later on.

      So let's take a minute to thank those of Apollo 1. Their loss was mankind's gain.

  3. MrMerrymaker

    Amazing achievement

    Amazing, one of the greatest things we've ever done.

    Doubly sad for the tin foil hat brigade. And offensive to the fine men who made it happen (and no not Kubrick!)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Amazing achievement

      " And offensive to the fine men who made it happen"

      Not just men, you know. Plenty of women were involved. The film "Hidden Figures" deals with the role three particular women - not just women, but women who weren't even white! - played in the US space programme in the earlier days.

      For Apollo, Margaret Hamilton was one of the more crucial programmers:

      - and by the way, the code she (and others wrote) was literally hard-wired into read-only memory by a process which was basically knitting. That job was also done by women.

    2. TonyJ

      Re: Amazing achievement

      Pah! We all know Kubrick faked the landing and the only reason that the budget was so horrendous was his insisting it was all filmed on location....

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    I watched them take off

    and I watched them land on the moon, and I watched them splash down. There is not enough of this for the folks that made this possible->

    1. Hollerithevo

      Re: I watched them take off

      I too watched, and had watched the launch and everything else they showed. My dad was an engineer and so I understood that a rocket leaving earth had millions of fiery gallons or explosive stuff to lift a needle where, at the tip, three men sat. I knew what bravery was at that point.

      Hard to understand a civilisation that achieved this and then went 'yawnsville' shortly after. It wasn't until I saw the photos of the Mars horizon from its surface that I knew the wonder of humanity's achievements again.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: I watched them take off

        "Hard to understand a civilisation that achieved this and then went 'yawnsville' shortly after"

        I can go on for HOURS as to why, but I think a recent politician summed it up when he suggested that we'd get "tired of winning all of the time".

        But there's also a sinister side to this: politicians have the power of the purse, and buying rockets and astronauts achieving heroic accomplishments doesn't get THEM re-elected... [but lying and manipulating people into spending 10 times as much per year and GOING INTO DEBT with _WORTHLESS_ SOCIAL PROGRAMS _DOES_ get them re-elected, and that's what we get INSTEAD of a space programl]

        avoiding the rest of what I want to say. I think everyone can fill in the blanks by now.

        Instead I'll say WELL DONE, SIR! to The Astronauts of the Apollo Space Program, the engineers who designed and built the rockets, and the science fiction authors that often inspired them.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I watched them take off

          Go on, bombastic bob, what are the "worthless social programs" you speak of? Far be it for any government to try to ensure a basic safety net of any kind for the least fortunate in society, eh?

  5. Joe W Silver badge

    Nahnahnah, Dick Nixon has the cooties!

    Never get too close to politicians....


  6. Alan J. Wylie

    Follow the mission here: Apollo 11 in real time

    1. gujiguju

      And, Don’t Forget The Last Moon Mission, As Well

      Enthrall to with real-time multi-channel audio and real-time vídeo & photos.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This is great, of course, but I'm annoyed that it's wrong by an hour (someone got the DST calculations wrong, I think).

  7. Zebo-the-Fat

    BBC Podcast

    BBC Podcast about the landing, very interesting, lots of technical stuff, interviews, recordings etc.

    1. DiViDeD

      Re: BBC Podcast

      +1 for 13 Minutes! Just listened to the whole series in one go and was entirely enthralled.

      1. Cynical Pie

        Re: BBC Podcast

        +2... Listed to ep 11 (The actual 13 minutes in real time) on the way to work yesterday.

        Truly spine tingling even though you know what happened!

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: BBC Podcast

          I'm three episodes behind, due to time wasted spent on Tour de France podcasts. Though that's going pretty excitingly too and the Moon stuff is less time critical (as I know the result).

  8. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Slip the surly bonds of Earth and punch the face of God.

    1. ibmalone Silver badge

      Is it Birling Day already?

      1. DiViDeD

        Re: Birling Day

        Ah yes! Birling Day and the Tallinger thefts.

        As an aside, one of my favourite dialogues from that show. Cue Arthur & Douglas:

        - Here you go, Douglas, nice hot cup of tea

        - Oh, it's cold

        - Nice cup of tea

        - Eurgh! it's horrible!

        - Cup of tea

        - I'm not even sure it's tea

        - cup

  9. swm Silver badge

    I remember watching the descent live when I was in college. During the final descent the real-time computer gave alerts, the pilot said nothing, and the co-pilet just continuously read off elevation, fuel remaining, and descent velocity.

    An amazing achievement!

    1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      "the real-time computer gave alerts, the pilot said nothing"

      And thus began the tradition of just clicking the OK button and carrying on.

      1. deadlockvictim

        Such is the power of that dialog that I went to click 'OK' to close it...

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge

        keep in mind that the flight computer was heading the LEM towards a dangerous landing spot, and Armstrong had to switch to manual mode, which is why Buzz had to read off the numbers like that. Armstrong was too busy trying NOT to crash, and was running out of fuel. I think they had less than 10 seconds' of fuel left on landing. Sorta like ending the final boss battle with only one health point left... (and no spare healing items).

        yeah nobody ever did THAT, right? FFXIII-III was particularly difficult in that regard (well you DID have to defeat GOD after all...). I guess another way to put it is that when your life is TRULY on the line, and you TRULY ALMOST DIED in the process, the sense of accomplishment is even GREATER.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          They thought they had 25 seconds left, but in fact they had 50 seconds left: the low fuel alert went off prematurely because of fuel slosh, which was dealt with on later missions by baffles (or more baffles) in the tank.

          That time remaining is also not the time until they just run out of fuel, it's the time remaining until an abort back to orbit using the LEM upper stage would become unsafe: if they'd run out of time they would have aborted, not died.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Also, I think because they'd lost telemtry at the start of the landing sequence, they missed their opportunity to measure the fuel on board the LEM. When the burn first started, it was done at very low speed, partly in order to settle the fuel in the tanks, so they could get a measure of it.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              I think it should be the case that the amount of fuel in the descent stage was the amount it was fueled with, as it was not cryogenic, so I don't think fuel or oxidizer boils away. This is not to say you're wrong: I'm sure they did want to measure it (because, well, wouldn't you?) and I also remember that the communications conditions were awful at the start of the descent.

              1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge


                Yup, you're correct. They should still have had the fuel they left Earth with. But wanted to double check, as you would - if you could.

                1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

                  Oh, and from Episode 9 of '13 Minutes to the Moon', Gene Kranz said that there was a guy back in Mission Control who'd worked out a sort of mental algorithm to track fuel use from the telemetry. And in sumulations he'd got so good at it that he was only ever about 10 seconds out on the low-fuel alarm. So he was sat there looking at the readouts to see what control inputs Armstrong was using, with a stopwatch, and desperately calculating away to give them a backup to their sensors.

                  No pressure...

        2. Andy Taylor

          It wasn't manual control, just manual adjustment of the descent speed.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Andy Taylor,

            Sure he had an adjustment control for descent speed, but he was also flying it sideways - and I believe that was a manual process.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes but

      "During the final descent the real-time computer gave alerts, the pilot said nothing"

      But Mission Control - hooked up to MIT which provided the computer - did look at the issue and did tell them it was okay to continue.

  10. Joe Gurman

    Nice article

    But the After Apollo's author's name is John Logsdon.

  11. NeilPost Silver badge

    13 Minutes to the Moon

    The BBC’s 13 Minutes to the Moon

    is a very compelling PodCast listen on the Apollo programme and the Moon Landing. Some of it is pretty hair-raising stuff.

    Can’t recommend it enough.

  12. Timmy B

    To mark the event...

    My other half will be building the rather excellent Lego Apollo 11 lander. This will go on display alongside her Lego Saturn V.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: To mark the event...

      back in the 60's there were tons of really good quality plastic model kits during the space program. I had a nice one of the gemini capsule, and another that had the apollo command module and detachable LEM. As I recall you could build the LEM with the legs extended or folded (your choice).

      not sure if you can get that sort of thing any more..

      1. EBG


        I made it with the legs extended. And a lunar surafce from a polystyrene ceiling tile, craters melted into it using a glue (which melted it) then painted gey.

  13. Red Ted

    That's a lot of fuel to burn in two and a half minutes

    "four and half million pounds of propellant"

    If you're going to insist on using imperial measurement system, then use appropriate units as that's 2009 tons or 486 KiloJub!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That's a lot of fuel to burn in two and a half minutes

      ' "four and half million pounds of propellant"

      If you're going to insist on using imperial measurement system, then use appropriate units as that's 2009 tons or 486 KiloJub!'

      The units are almost certainly US customary measures rather than Imperial, and one good reason for using pounds rather than tons is to avoid any confusion over which particular ton you're talking about - the US customarily uses the 2000 lb short ton, while the Imperial (long) ton was 2240 lb, and then there's the metric ton(ne) of 1000 kg, which is approx 2204.6 lb.

      Give me SI, or give me a headache...

  14. Tim 49

    Omega Tau podcasts

    Worth listening to several of the Omega Tau podcasts for the interviews with David Woods & others. Useful in case you ever need to tell someone how to start an F1 rocket engine.

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