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Great Adventure: Apollo 11

In the summer of ’69, three American astronauts travelled to the Moon on an adventure with virtually no margin of error allowed, explains Pat Kinsella


ONE SMALL STEP The Apollo 11 mission marked the peak of the Space Race between the USA and USSR

“I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the Moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.”Michael Collins, during his solo orbits of the Moon

As the lunar landing module of the Apollo 11 space mission skimmed above the Sea of Tranquillity towards its touchdown area, alarms started going off across the console. Inside, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin exchanged glances. Only two scenarios could possibly play out from here: either they would shortly become the first humans to walk on extraterrestrial soil, or they were about to die further from home than anyone had ever perished before.

The men had already ascertained that they were shooting long – going too fast and too far west – and the view from the window revealed that they were heading for a crater congested with dangerous boulders. If they crashed and the spaceship was damaged, even if they survived the impact they would be stranded on the Moon, left looking back at an Earth they’d have no hope of returning to. President Nixon already had a speech written, just in case a horror show exactly like that played out, with the entire world watching on.

But the highly trained astronauts were far from passive passengers. Armstrong seized control of the craft, throwing it into semi-manual mode, and with Aldrin yelling out information about their altitude and speed, he steered the module across the crater and safely down to the surface. It was 20:17 (UTC) on 20 July 1969, and the Eagle had landed, with just over 25 seconds of fuel left in the tank.

Armstrong let NASA mission command – and the rest of his spellbound species – know they’d arrived at their destination, and began preparing to make a giant leap for mankind.



A former fighter pilot in the US Navy and a highly experienced astronaut, who had commanded the Gemini VIII space mission in 1966, Armstrong was Mission Commander during Apollo 11 and will forever be remembered as the first man on the Moon.


Also a Gemini veteran, Apollo 11’s Lunar Module Pilot Aldrin is a deeply religious man, and held a private communion service shortly after landing on the Moon. In later years, he punched a conspiracy theorist after being challenged to swear that the landing wasn’t a fake.


As Command Module Pilot, Collins spent 21 hours on his own in orbit around the Moon, as his colleagues explored the surface. Collins created the famous Apollo 11 mission patch, featuring an eagle landing on a lunar surface holding an olive branch.


Guidance officer (GUIDO) during the Apollo 11 lunar landing, Bales had to make an instant decision as to whether to continue the mission when computer fault lights began flashing on the console of the Eagle just seconds from the death zone.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

When news broke a couple of years back that the body of Richard III had been discovered under a car park in Leicester, hope sprang afresh that the truth about this most divisive of kings would finally be put to rest. But while the find offered many clues, we have much fact yet to separate from fiction. Who was the real Richard? Was he a murderous usurper, or has his reputation been tarnished in a classic case of the victors writing history? We get to the heart of the matter from page 30.