When Did Apollo 11 Reach the Moon? A Timeline of the First Moon Landing

Tristan Hughes

Cold War Twentieth Century
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Just 66 years after humans first lifted off from the surface of an aeroplane, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon. It was one of the most remarkable moments in human history, a watershed moment.

Below is a timeline, highlighting some of the key events from the first moon landing. All times are done in UTC.

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14 July

At 21:00 the terminal countdown started at T-28 hours. There would be two scheduled holds of 11 hours and 1 hour 32 minutes.

16 July

At 13:32 the Apollo 11 Saturn V lifted off from the Kennedy Space centre carrying three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin.

19 July

At 17:21 Apollo 11 entered lunar orbit. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were now over 240,000 miles away from the nearest humans. For 24 hours they prepared for the final stage.

The crew of Apollo 11. (From left to right) Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edward ‘Buzz’ Aldrin.

20 July

At 12:52 Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong entered the lunar module Eagle in preparation for the descent to the Moon’s surface. Michael Collins remained in the command module.

At 17:44 the Eagle separated from Columbia, the command module. Collins would be on his own in Columbia for over 24 hours – having space just took another level.

At 17:49 computer program alarms start going off inside the Eagle. The guidance computer could not complete all its tasks, and so prioritised the most important. Houston reassured the astronauts that it was safe to continue the descent.

At 20:05 the final critical landing phase of the Apollo 11 mission began.

At 20:10 Armstrong and Aldrin reported a 1202 programme alarm going off inside Eagle. It was a warning that the core processing system had been overloaded. Mission Control decided to continue the mission.

At 20:14 3,000 feet from the Moon’s surface Armstrong and Aldrin were faced with another alarm, this time a 1201 programme alarm. Mission Control reassured them that they could continue the mission.

At 20:15 Mission Control acknowledged another computer alarm code.

 

Noticing that the computer seemed to be guiding them towards a rocky landing site near a large crater, Armstrong decided to take manual control of Eagle.

At 20:16 available fuel for landing the lunar module reached 5%. Aldrin could now see the module’s shadow on the Moon’s surface, as Armstrong manually guided Eagle towards a clearer landing site.

At 20:17 after a high-pressure final descent, the Eagle landed on the Moon’s surface and Armstrong radioed to Control the now immortalised words: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed”.

They landed roughly 30 seconds before Mission Control would have sounded the ‘Bingo Call’, the moment where the lunar module would have had to land immediately or abort.

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21 July

At 02:39 Armstrong and Aldrin opened Eagle’s hatch and prepared to walk on the Moon.

At 02:51 millions of people back on Earth watch as a TV camera on the Eagle recorded Neil Armstrong begin his descent from the module to the surface.

At 02:56 the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived. Armstrong took a foot off the ladder and placed it on the Moon’s surface. ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’.

At 03:15 Buzz Aldrin became the second person to set foot on the Moon when he joined Armstrong on the surface. He described the scene he witnessed simply as ‘Magnificent desolation’.

The Eagle lunar module on the Moon.

At 05:53. after setting up the US flag, taking samples, speaking to President Nixon, erecting an Apollo 1 mission patch and several other actions, Armstrong and Aldrin re-entered the Eagle and prepare for the lunar ascent.

At 17:54 after a period of rest and preparation, fears of being stranded on the surface ended when the Eagle successfully lifted off.

At 21:24 the Eagle successfully rendezvoused with Columbia, docking 11 minutes later and soon after began their return journey to Earth.

24 July

At 16:50 Saturn V splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

Tags: Apollo Program

Tristan Hughes