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The Apollo Programme

Updated on January 4, 2017

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would land a man on the Moon before 1970. The method chosen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was known as the "lunar-orbit rendezvous" method.

A Saturn V rocket would launch the three-man Apollo spacecraft, weighing about 45,000 kilograms, on course to the Moon. The spacecraft was built in three sections : command module,service module and lunar module. After the 2day journey to the Moon, the spacecraft would be put in lunar orbit. The lunar module, with two astronauts aboard, would then "undock" from the mother ship and descend to the surface of the Moon, leaving the third man in orbit in the command module. After landing, the astronauts would make scientific observations and collect samples. They would then take off from the Moon in the top half, or "ascent stage" of the lunar module and rejoin the orbiting command module. After "re-docking" the astronauts would discard the lunar module and blast out of orbit for the return to Earth. Only the conical-shaped command module was designed to return to Earth for a "splashdown" landing in the sea.

The programme received a setback in 1967 when fire broke out in an Apollo spacecraft during ground tests, killing three astronauts working inside. Design changes were made and a number of unmanned Apollo craft were launched before Apollo 7 made the first manned flight in Earth orbit in 1968. Later that year Apollo 8 flew round the Moon, making ten Moon orbits before returning to Earth. In March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module in space for the first time and in May 1969 Apollo 10 made 31 Moon orbits. Two astronauts descended in the lunar module to within 15 kilometres of the surface.

The climax of the programme came in July 1969 with the Moon landing of Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin made a safe touchdown in the Sea of Tranquillity. In November came a second landing by Charles Conrad and Alan Bean in Apollo 12.

Disaster almost overtook Apollo 13 in April 1970. The spacecraft was damaged more than 320,000 kilometres from Earth and had to fly round the Moon and return without attempting a landing.

Apollo 14, with Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell, made a successful Moon landing in January 1971. In July 1971, Apollo 15 landed David Scott and Jim Irwin with the first lunar rover vehicle. The last two Apollo Moon flights took place in'197 2. John Young and Charles Duke landed in Apollo 16 in April and Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in Apollo 17 in December.

This brought the Apollo programme to an end, although some of the equipment was later used in the Apollo-Soyuz flight (with Soviet Union Cosmonauts).


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