In 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared “we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket… before this decade is out.” On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched by a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center.
Mission commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the lunar module Eagle on July 20, 1969. On July 21, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. While on the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin collected 47.5 pounds of moon rock samples to bring back to Earth. In less than a day, Armstrong and Aldrin left the moon’s surface and reconnected with the Columbia and Michael Collins, pilot of the command module, in lunar orbit.
The heroes returned to Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. The astronauts were recovered by the USS Hornet. In accordance with the recently accepted Extra-Terrestrial Exposure Law, the men were quarantined to make sure that they did not inadvertently transport any lunar pathogens that they may have been exposed to during the moonwalk. After three weeks in confinement, the astronauts were declared healthy.
This huge success occurred during the Space Race with the Soviets. The Soviets, in fact, on July 13, three days before Apollo 11’s launch, launched their own Luna 15, an unmanned aircraft. The Luna 15 was the Soviet’s second attempt to bring lunar soil back to Earth and would have given the Soviets a larger lunar sample collection than the Americans had. The Soviet craft actually reached lunar orbit first but the Americans landed on the moon first. About two hours before Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong lifted off from the moon’s surface, the Luna 15 malfunctioned during descent, and crashed.