50 Years Ago: One Month til Apollo 11 Liftoff


June 17, 2019

50 Years Ago: One Month til Apollo 11 Liftoff

The achievement of President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth was just one month away. Between May 18 and 26, 1969, Apollo 10 astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, Eugene A. Cernan, and John W. Young successfully carried out a dress rehearsal for the Moon landing mission. On June 3, they met with the Apollo 11 crew of Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins to describe their mission to them and pass along all the lessons they learned. As Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins intensified their training for the historic mission, NASA was preparing to support the mission as well as the return of the crew from the Moon. On June 5, Armstrong and Aldrin conducted a simulation of the lunar surface Extravehicular Activity (EVA) at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), now the Johnson Space Center in Houston. On June 11, Apollo Program Director at NASA Headquarters Lt. Gen. Sam C. Phillips announced that it was NASA’s intention to carry out the first human lunar landing during the Apollo 11 mission in July pending successful completion of all required preflight activities. The decision was based on the results from the successful Apollo 10 mission and the readiness of mission preparations for Apollo 11. The launch would take place on July 16 and the landing on July 20.

apollo_11_crew_meets_w_apollo_10_crew apollo_11_lunar_eva_trng_msc
Left: Apollo 10 and 11 astronauts (clockwise from left) Collins, Aldrin, Cernan, Stafford, Armstrong, and Young meet to discuss the lessons learned from the Apollo 10 mission. Right: Apollo 11 astronauts Aldrin (left) and
Armstrong during a training session for their lunar EVA at MSC on June 5.

On June 5, NASA and the US Navy designated the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CVS-12) as the prime ship to recover the Apollo 11 astronauts and their Command Module (CM) following splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The Hornet had previously recovered the unpiloted Apollo 202 CM on Aug. 25, 1966, after that spacecraft completed three-quarters of an orbit around the Earth. The Hornet had returned to its home port in Long Beach, California, on May 12, 1969, from its third and final deployment in the western Pacific Ocean, and immediately began preparations for its new role to recover the first humans to have walked on the Moon. As part of a normal change of command rotation, Captain Carl J. Seiberlich became Hornet’s new commanding officer, and as such also commander of all recovery forces in the primary landing area. The Apollo 11 recovery was the most complex one for two reasons – special back-contamination procedures including the use of Biological Isolation Garments (BIGs) in effect for the returning astronauts and the presence of President Richard M. Nixon onboard Hornet to welcome home the first lunar landing crew. Heightened media attention on the flight meant that reporters from a variety of news agencies would also be onboard the ship. While Hornet was in dock in Long Beach, workers loaded communications and other gear to support these activities. Fortuitously, the USS Princeton (LPH-5), the prime recovery ship for Apollo 10 in May, was also docked in Long Beach. This allowed personnel from Princeton to personally pass along their after-action report and lessons learned from the recovery operations to Hornet’s crew, and also eased the transfer of specialized equipment required for the recovery. US Navy Frogmen from Underwater Demolition Team-11 (UDT-11) had recovered Apollo 10 and were also assigned as the primary recovery team for Apollo 11. During the month of June, they used Princeton as a staging platform to practice the unique recovery operations required by the Moon landing mission using a boilerplate Apollo CM.

apollo_11_uss_hornet_cvs apollo_11_egress_eval_pacific
Left: The aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CVS-12) as it appeared in December 1968. Right: Members of US Navy’s UDT-11 wearing BIGs practicing special recovery procedures required for Apollo 11 by back-contamination requirements. Credits: U.S. Navy.

To safeguard against the remote possibility that astronauts returning from the Moon might harbor potentially harmful microorganisms, NASA put in a place a stringent postflight back-contamination and quarantine program for the crewmembers, their spacecraft, and the lunar samples they brought back. The quarantine took place at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL) at MSC, but additional measures were required for the time period between splashdown and the crew’s arrival at the LRL. The Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF), a highly modified 35-foot Airstream trailer, housed the returning astronauts, along with a flight surgeon and an engineer, from their arrival aboard the prime recovery ship to their return to the LRL. The MQF would be offloaded from the prime recovery ship, flown aboard a transport aircraft back to Houston, and finally trucked to the LRL. On May 29, personnel at the LRL simulated the arrival of Moon rocks, film, and other samples from the first lunar landing mission.  On June 16, they simulated the arrival of a MQF at the LRL, including “docking” the trailer to the LRL, which involved setting up a collapsible tunnel between the two to maintain the biological barrier that the quarantine protocols required. The simulation also included processing of lunar samples and crew reception area operations in the LRL.

apollo_11_lrl_sim apollo_11_mqf_loading_and_lrl_interface
Left: Simulation of the arrival of Moon rocks, film, and other samples at the LRL. Right: Simulation of the arrival and “docking” of the MQF at the LRL.

On June 6, NASA managers approved the resumption of astronaut training flights in the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) at Ellington Air Force Base near MSC. The LLTV simulated the flight characteristics of the Lunar Module (LM) and was used by astronauts to train for the final 200 feet of the descent to the lunar surface. The decision was made after reviewing findings from the Review Board headed by astronaut Walter M. Schirra that investigated the crash of LLTV-1 on Dec. 8, 1968, as well as results from flights in LLTV-2 made by MSC test pilots Harold E. “Bud” Ream and Jere B. Cobb. Between June 14 and 16, Armstrong flew LLTV-2 eight times to complete his training program with the vehicle. Watch a video of Armstrong flying the LLTV. He had previously completed 12 simulated Moon landings in the LLTV and its predecessor, the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV), narrowly escaping the crash of LLRV-1 in May 1968.

lltv_w_ream_and_cobb apollo_11_armstrong_lltv_flt_951 apollo_11_armstrong_lltv_flt
Left: MSC pilots Ream (left) and Cobb after Cobb completed a test flight with LLTV-2 at Ellington Air Force Base. Middle: Armstrong flying the LLTV-2 (NASA 951) in June 1969. Right: Armstrong in the cockpit of LLTV-2 (NASA 951) shortly after completing one of his eight flights in June 1969.

At the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), engineers completed the Flight Readiness Test (FRT) on June 6 with the Saturn V rocket and the Apollo spacecraft perched on Launch Pad 39A. The three-day FRT ensured that the launch vehicle and spacecraft systems were in a state of flight readiness. Ground systems provided power to the launch vehicle, but all electrical connections on the rocket itself were as if during flight. After the FRT, Apollo 11 crewmembers performed emergency egress walk-throughs at the launch pad.  On June 17, top managers from NASA Headquarters and the Directors of MSC, MSFC, and KSC held the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) at KSC. The meeting reviewed all aspects of readiness for the launch and mission. At the conclusion of the FRR, managers agreed that KSC could proceed to the next milestone, the Countdown Demonstration Test (CDDT), essentially a dry-run for the actual countdown for launch. The CDDT was completed in early July.

apollo_11_crew_ksc_lm_mockup apollo_11_lunar_eva_sim_ksc
Left: Apollo 11 crew (left to right) Collins, Armstrong, and Aldrin pose in front of the LM mockup at KSC. Right: Armstrong (left) and Aldrin practice their lunar EVA at KSC on June 18.

Also at KSC, the Apollo 11 astronauts continued training for their mission. On June 18, Armstrong and Aldrin rehearsed their lunar surface EVA in the Flight Crew Training Building, including practicing deploying the Early Apollo Surface Experiment Package (EASEP) suite of experiments. The investigators for the experiments were present to observe the simulation. The astronauts also spent much time in the LM and CM simulators, to rehearse various phases of their upcoming mission. For many of these simulations, the team of flight controllers in Mission Control at MSC in Houston also participated.

apollo_11_armstrong_in_lm_sim_ksc apollo_11_collins_in_cm_sim_ksc
Left: Armstrong in the LM simulator at KSC on June 19. Right: Collins in the CM simulator at KSC on June 19.

John Uri NASA Johnson Space Center

Last Updated: June 17, 2019

Editor: Kelli Mars

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Eric McCoo
June 20, 2019 2:12 pm

‘Armstrong, who rarely gave interviews, regaled his audience with news of how he thought Apollo 11, which carried him, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon, only had a “50-50 chance” of landing safely on its surface and a 90% chance of returning home.


Hey kids, don’t forget that uncle Neil and uncle Buzz might hit the lunar surface at 200 mph, so don’t get upset if they do.

Reply to  Eric McCoo
June 20, 2019 7:47 pm

As I understand it, the LM only had 20 seconds worth of lander fuel remaining, after Armstrong was forced to pause the descent and traverse manually, searching for a spot without large rocks.

Reply to  brians356
June 21, 2019 8:49 am

Recently watched a documentary made up entirely of actual footage and communications from the mission. They were actually under 15 seconds of fuel remaining and had passed the point in mission planning where they were supposed to abort the landing by lighting their ascent stage rocket. There’s a transmission (which I had never heard before) from Neil to Houston explaining why he went so dangerously close to running out of fuel.

Tom Halla
June 20, 2019 2:32 pm

Good bit of history.

Hocus Locus
June 20, 2019 3:09 pm

BREAKTHROUGH: Manned Space Travel Achieved Using 50-Year Old Technology!

Paul Rosenberg has uncovered some surprising new evidence that manned space travel is not only possible, it has actually been achieved using ludicrous decades-old technology! Almost 50 years in the making, this is a tale too amazing to remain untold. With a few quaint photographs he asks, could we build this today? The short answer is no. Or is it? It is uplifting to read that “Productive humans have been delegated to mute observance as their hard-earned surplus is siphoned off to capital cities, where it is sanctimoniously poured down a sewer of cultured dependencies and endless wars…” and that makes perfect sense, for it must have been something really compelling to prevent us from reaching the stars.

Stay tuned for the 2052 headline of tomorrow: BREAKTHROUGH: Manned Space Travel Achieved Using 80-Year Old Technology! I can hardly wait!

There is only one proper response to erudite claims that robotic space exploration should supplant human.

It starts with flared nostrils, increased heart rate. The eyes widen and adrenaline surges, releasing a flood of emotions focused into rage. Direct eye contact and beating with fists on the chest to signify readiness for aggression, then a single step forward to firmly establish to the other that ‘fight’ is more likely than ‘flight’.

Next, a primal scream of rage that serves to demonstrate that the time for debate on philosophical topics that serve to delay human space exploration and space colonization has ended. Someone has crossed the line and they’re going to get their butt kicked.

If the proposal to abandon human space exploration for some namby-pamby robotic solution was the result of a contractor lobbyist and funded research grant, the next logical step is to rip the grant out of the filing cabinet through the wall and crush the responsible organization into rubble. And pee on the remains to assert dominance.

ANY organized group that gets in the way of continued human space exploration should be completely surrounded by an angry mob of stick waving concerned persons, in the hope that they will see that they are treading on shaky ground because this is an existential threat.

To put it kindly, an evolutionary dead end.

Because once you come into awareness that we exist within a window of time between slate-wiping asteroid impacts, and our ticket may be punched at any moment, the planet of origin is like unto a theater aflame and long term survival of the species depends on our ability to race out into space to built the tools to successfully divert asteroids and colonize other places.

It is no time to remain calm.

Reply to  Hocus Locus
June 20, 2019 4:31 pm

Actually, much of the new space engineering is tested robotically when possible. The Lunar missions certainly were, with Gemini and early Apollo missions. Even the manned portions prior to Apollo 11 were trial runs.

Its also happening today.

Bill Murphy
Reply to  CoRev
June 20, 2019 6:22 pm

And don’t forget Mercury Astronaut (A monkey made the first flight) Ham. So we made the leap from Chimps to robots as test pilots. Ain’t technology grand?

Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
Reply to  Hocus Locus
June 20, 2019 5:51 pm

I remember the news of Sputnik, and recall the first (and failed) televised launch attempt of Vanguard. What set the course of my life was watching Alan Shepard’s launch on May 5, 1961, at 8:34 a.m. Central Daylight Time, on a black-and-white TV one of the mothers had brought in to my 2nd grade classroom. In that moment, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

Last Friday, I retired as Chief Engineer of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. I’d like to think that I had a positive effect there, but the office is now overrun with career (and clueless) FAA politicians who will form the biggest road block to commercial space transportation that it has ever seen.

The hope we have for the future lies with SpaceX and Blue Origin. Elon Musk has actually done things NASA only studied (endlessly), and Jeff Bezos “gets” commercial space transportation in a way that its techno-geek advocates don’t. Will they succeed? It depends, I think, on how aggressive they are in bullying the FAA, both directly and legislatively. Both seem quite adept at it, but there is a much deeper change that needs to take place. The Commercial Space Transportation Act, which established the FAA’s office, states that the agency is empowered to “regulate to the extent necessary to protect the public…” FAA always insists on rewriting this to say “to ensure public safety…” The only way to do that is to not launch, period.

If space transportation is ever to be an actual mode of transportation, it can’t require federal government permission, on the condition of proving that no third party will be harmed, every time it leaves or returns to the earth. No other mode of transportation levees that requirement, including aviation. No other mode of transportation would exist today if it was developed under such a requirement.

That NASA has lost the ability to conduct human exploration of space is a consequence of making astronaut safety its number one priority (which is possible only because space exploration isn’t important to NASA). A colleague of mine has written an excellent book on this subject. It deserves wide readership in the space community.

Russ Wood
Reply to  Hocus Locus
June 22, 2019 4:18 am

I rather liked a poster that said: Asteroid Impacts. Nature’s way of asking “How’s that space program going?”

June 20, 2019 3:53 pm

Thanks for the interesting summary.

In the near future earth orbiting satellites and, before too long, the Moon will become important destinations for affluent tourists. What will be the impact of lunar tourism? We know that everywhere tourists have gone on Earth they have changed it, not always for the better. Nowhere is safe, not even Mount Everest so we must expect the same to eventually occur on the Moon.

What will become of the six Apollo landing sites? They are in a way historic or even sacred sites for humanity as they represent our first forays beyond our terrestrial home. They will be important landmarks for our species for thousands of years, long after we have spread our space wings and established colonies on Mars and other celestial bodies. Every footprint those 12 men made are still there just as they were 50 years ago and we know that, undisturbed, they will remain in their pristine state for hundreds of thousands of years. Yet, the impulse to visit will be strong. What for example, would a piece of Apollo 11 hardware from the Moon be worth on Ebay? How can we stop this plundering from taking place? There are no international treaties to protect such sites and, in any case, just who will be the policemen?

Certainly there could be a strong case made for bringing a sample of every type of material on those landers back to Earth to see how just they have fared in such a harsh environment for half a century. This will be immensely important to those who will eventually construct future Moon or Mars bases. Logically these samples should be collected by Americans and returned to the US as it was the American taxpayer, not anyone else, who funded that $ 20 billion (now $215 billion) back in the 1960s.

We have six of these unique sites. Perhaps at least one, Apollo 11, should be set aside and fenced off somehow forever so that no one ever tramples on those precious first steps mankind took on another world.

June 20, 2019 4:07 pm

I remember it like it was yesterday. (Actually, remembering yesterday isn’t as easy as it once was, but I digress.) I can still recite the exact words and cadence of the countdown to liftoff from the 15 second mark. (It was once called “blastoff” but that term had some rather negative connotations.)

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  PaulH
June 20, 2019 5:17 pm

Ok, now, raise your hands if you imitate the NASA Apollo countdowns for the last ten seconds of the microwave, with echo included…

Reply to  PaulH
June 20, 2019 8:22 pm

I was in the west Pacific on an ammunition ship (the USS Wrangell AE-12) and saw the landing live on B & W TV of course….I was Damage Control Officer – Assistant.
I will never forget that. . .

Reply to  Jon P Peterson
June 21, 2019 4:18 am

On land, I was fortunate enough to know someone who actually owned a color TV, and watched the liftoff, along with a large group of others, on color TV. For the landing, though, we only had a small B&W TV, and moved it out to a driveway to watch it, again with a group of others. I remember the landing. I have no clue why we moved the YV out to the driveway where it was barely visible in the sun. We clearly heard, though, the, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Reply to  Tom
June 21, 2019 5:50 am

My parents got our first color TV in time to see the parade for the Apollo 11 astronauts.

June 20, 2019 4:28 pm

Why are you making a big deal about an elaborate hoax! [sarc].

Really, Dean Armstrong, the brother of Neal Armstrong, was a neighbor of ours when I was growing up so I got the meet Neil a year after his return from the Moon. The niece of Paul Tibbets lived across from us and so I got a chance to meet him also when I was a kid.
Great read or audio book narrated by the author about being an Apollo 11 astronaut and his various missions is:
Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys

June 20, 2019 4:33 pm

I watch a lot of movies, but rarely go to a movie theater because the sound is too loud for my ears — maybe once every five years.

Earlier this year I saw the Apollo 11 documentary / movie, wearing earplugs, and I highly recommend it.

June 20, 2019 6:23 pm

A major and intentional violation of the quarantine occurred when the astronauts moved from the spacecraft bobbing in the ocean to a life raft, then to the carrier deck, then into the MQF. NASA had decided that astronaut safety came first.

Joel O'Bryan
June 20, 2019 6:35 pm

Love the group photo with John Young smoking a cigar and ashtrays on the table. Try that today.
To think how we’ve regressed.
The NASA can’t even put a man in space right now if it had to, but they can tell us 1936 keeps getting colder somehow with each GISTEMP rev.

Flight Level
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
June 20, 2019 6:44 pm

Right Joel O’Bryan ! I remember grumpy old captains tossing a cigarette pack once established en-route right before the coffee ritual.
Being the lowest life form on deck never felt that good…

Flight Level
June 20, 2019 6:36 pm

Rather amazing VTOL pilot and photographic skills. Imagine, jump from the 20th floor while holding a fire hydrant pointed downwards to arrest your fall.

And then, despite all other rather intensive workload, manage to shoot quality mostly well framed & staged pictures at dramatic rates:
Apollo 11 one photo every 15 seconds
Apollo 12 one photo every 27 seconds
Apollo 14 one photo every 62 seconds
Apollo 15 one photo every 44 seconds
Apollo 16 one photo every 29 seconds
Apollo 17 one photo every 26 seconds
Total, 4834 minutes “moon time”, 5771 pictures taken!

Another Ian
June 20, 2019 8:40 pm

For an indictment of NASA find yourself a copy of Flying July 1989 issue which had a 20 year report. And read “Moonstruck” by Gordon Baxter (pages 39 – 42).

When he rang Johnson Space Centre he found that the public relations department didn’t know who Collins, Aldrin and Armstrong were

Reply to  Another Ian
June 20, 2019 9:27 pm

lol – I believe that… but not really funny…

Reply to  Another Ian
June 21, 2019 4:07 am

If you had of asked who Kim Kardashian was they would have been all over it. Probably says more about the staff than anything else.

June 20, 2019 9:16 pm

July 1969 doesn’t seem that long ago on the other hand in 1969, 1919 seemed a world away.
For instance in July 1919 the Weimar German Republic was established, President Wilson delivered Treaty of Versailles to the US Senate, the Fokker aircraft factory was established and a dirigible crashed through a bank skylight killing 13 in Chicago:

Craig from Oz
June 20, 2019 10:57 pm

Topic of the Apollo missions came up today during a group meeting.

I made the mistake of casually commenting “yeah, but they had to send all the camera crews up their first” and for my sins was strongly glared at.

Reply to  Craig from Oz
June 21, 2019 12:07 pm

Well, people don’t want to admit/accept that they were nearly certainly faked. All of the Apollo missions.

What’s the old saying. It’s much easier to fool people than to convince them they’ve been fooled.

Gerald the Mole
June 21, 2019 2:18 am

A bit of trivia that may be of interest. They took a pocket slide rule with them as back-up for a computer failure.

June 21, 2019 5:54 am

One of my least favorite laments:

We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t cure the common cold.

Uh, no. I point out that we haven’t been able to put a man (or woman) on the moon since the end of 1972 after Apollo 17.

Then I feel compelled to mention the US can’t even put a person into low Earth orbit without hitching a ride from the Russians.

June 21, 2019 6:26 am

There are a few things to quibble with about https://io9.gizmodo.com/the-real-story-of-apollo-17-and-why-we-never-went-ba-1670503448 but it’s a good summary of Apollo as a political project first, and foremost.

Once I figured that out, I quit looking ahead to a moon base or even radio telescope. That was about 1973.

Coach Springer
June 21, 2019 6:37 am

Witnessing an Apollo launch tops the list of doable things I did not do, but wish I had.

June 21, 2019 6:46 pm

all you guys never wonder why we haven’t gone back in 50 years? Really? Critical thinking skills anyone? We’ve gone from rotary phones to iphones? huh? We should be going weekly by now if we went 6 times 50 years ago.

Anybody ever tell you guys the temperature on the moon? -250 degrees and +250 degress. yopm.

The different forms of radiation on the moon? You think Buzz Aldrin’s magic suit had the battery power to keep him both warm and cool? and safe from radiation? Much less the LM? HA HA HA HA HA

where are those batteries at boys? Where’s that magic suit? Where’s that magic air conditioner? HA HA HA HA

All drawings of Saturn 5 lost? yup. All drawings of the LEM lost? yup. The command module docking with the ascent module at 4,000 miles an hour working with a computer with the power of a watch? OK SURE!!!

Really? O yeah- BTW Santa Claus is coming on 12/25! Merry Christmas!

[???? .mod]

Reply to  bob
June 22, 2019 6:52 am

“People love the lie more than they love the truth.” Bart Sibrel

Forget that we haven’t gone back. We haven’t even attempted the first leg of the mission in 50 years, which is to go through the Van Allen radiation belt just above the Earth. No one else anywhere in the world has either. Yet, if the Apollo missions really happened, it would have proved going through was no problem at all since none of the astronauts (some of which allegedly went more than once) have suffered even the slightest in radiation sickness or poison.

There was an alleged interview not long ago with two Russian astronauts or space tech engineers, in which they were asked why they, i.e. Russia, never went and/or haven’t gone to the Moon. Their immediate answer: “Can’t get through the radiation belt….you know…we don’t-a-have a Hollywood (and they chuckled to one another)”. Says it all.

Hocus Locus
Reply to  RW
June 22, 2019 8:08 am

I’ll bet you have a lot to say about Fukushima, the reason why Japan is a barren wasteland today… and Chernobyl, which destroyed Eastern Europe and everyone in it, and how there is a sad pile of dead Eskimos and mutant polar bears under the Aurora Borealis.

Reply to  Hocus Locus
June 23, 2019 7:45 am

Not really, no. I fail to see any relevance.

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