On July 16, 1969 at 9:32 a.m. ET Apollo 11 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The crew entered Earth’s orbit 12 minutes later and began the first attempt to send a man to the moon.
The spacecraft had two parts: the lunar module Eagle (below) and the commander module Columbia.
Onboard were Commander Neil Armstrong (below left) and his co-pilots Buzz Aldrin (below right) and Michael Collins. Aldrin and Armstrong would pilot the Eagle module to the moon’s surface, while Collins remained aboard the Columbia to remain in communication with Earth.
It took the crew 76 hours to travel the 240,000 miles from the Earth to the moon. In 2006, the Pluto probe New Horizons made the trip in eight hours and 35 minutes on its way to the dwarf planet.
On July 20, 1969 at 1:47 p.m. ET, Armstrong and Aldrin separated from the commander module and landed the Eagle module on the moon. Armstrong said that the landing was the most nerve wracking part of the missions due to the many unknowns, such as engineering failures. In the end, Armstrong manually piloted the probe to the moon when its computer systems began to overload.
With half a billion people watching on television, at 4:18 p.m. ET Armstrong took his first steps on the moon’s surface and delivered his famous quote, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” This first step, however, was more of a leap, totaling close to four feet from the Eagle module to the moon’s surface.
At 11:48 p.m. ET, President Nixon made a historic phone call to Armstrong and Aldrin via radio from the White House Oval Office. He’d met with the astronauts before the launch, and was a major proponent of the United States Space Race.
Armstrong and Aldrin spent more than two hours collecting moon rocks and lunar dust to send back to Earth for research. They also recorded instances of solar wind and lunar earthquakes for scientists to evaluate.
On July 21, 1969 at 1:54 p.m. ET, the Eagle module departed from the moon to rendezvous with Columbia and begin the return to Earth. Collins, aboard the Columbia, later stated that it wasn’t until he was reunited with Armstrong and Aldrin that he realized the mission was going to be successful.
On July 24, 1969 at 12:50 p.m. ET, Columbia splashed down near Hawaii, eight days, three hours and 18 minutes after liftoff. The astronauts weren’t greeted with ticker tape parades, but rather a customs official asking them to declare the lunar samples they’d collected and account for their travels. The official document shows their travel itinerary as “Cape Kennedy (now Canaveral) Florida with a stopover on the moon.”