This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by Vida Systems, now available on Google Arts & Culture
It takes a month for the Moon to orbit the Earth and the same side of the Moon is always facing Earth (this is called synchronous rotation and it also occurs among satellites around Saturn and Mars as well).
Moon and history of space travel
It is commonly thought that the Moon has no atmosphere, however recent research has confirmed that the Moon does in fact have an atmosphere made up of gases like sodium and potassium.
These gases are not present in Earth’s atmosphere at all (or even on Mars or Venus’ atmosphere), puzzling astronomers. The atmosphere is extremely thin and doesn’t protect the Moon’s surface from radiation from the Sun, meteorites or solar wind.
Moon Age and Size
The Moon was formed 4.6 billion years ago when the planet Theia collided with the newly formed Earth. Debris from this collision gathered around Earth and was pressed together via gravitational pull to form the Moon.
Moon and Tides
Earth’s oceans have tides due to the Moon’s gravitational pull. On the side of the Earth closest to the Moon, the Moon’s gravitational pull causes the water to rise slightly, creating a high tide.
On the side furthest away, the water moves away from the Moon, also causing a high tide.
First Person in Space
The first person to orbit the Earth was Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961 on the spacecraft Vostok 1. He orbited for 108 minutes and one of the first things he said in orbit was, “I see Earth! It is so beautiful!”
First Humans on the Moon
On the 21st of July 1969, a lunar module called Eagle landed on the Sea of Tranquility (although this is not a sea in a traditional sense). Astronaut Neil Armstrong then took humanity’s first steps on a surface other than Earth.
Apollo 11 Overview
The Apollo (named after a Greek god) missions were conducted by the American organization NASA. Six of the 11 spaceflights on this mission landed on the Moon and a total of 12 astronauts walked on the Moon's surface.
Apollo 11 was the name of the mission that resulted in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the Moon. The Apollo 11 mission had three crew members: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
Apollo 11 was the second multi-person space mission launched. It left Earth the morning of July 16, 1969, launched using a Saturn V rocket. The mission had three spacecraft — the Command Module, the Lunar Module, and a Saturn V rocket.
After launch, Apollo orbited the Earth before the Saturn V reignited to push the module in the direction of the Moon. The rocket then separated from the Command and Lunar Module. The Lunar Module disconnected from the Service Module and turned around.
Once the Lunar Module had turned around, the crew successfully joined the 2 remaining modules back together. The spacecraft was now ready to travel the rest of the way to the Moon, which would take about 72 hours.
On July 19, Apollo entered the Moon’s orbit. The crew orbited the Moon 30 times, carefully noting and observing the potential landing site. Mare Tranquilitatis (Sea of Tranquility) had been chosen because it was mostly smooth and level.
The Lunar Module Eagle was used to land Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon’s surface. Neil Armstrong took control as the Module’s automated system had it landing in a rocky area. When the Eagle landed, it only had 20 seconds of fuel left.
Inside the Command and Service Module
Within the Command Module was a Service Module. The Service Module carried the supplies for the astronauts like food and water. The Command Module, named Columbia, was where the 3 astronauts lived during their Apollo 11 mission.
Not Much Room in Space
The Command Module was small for 3 astronauts, about the size of the interior of a large car. It had only 210 cubic feet of usable space for the astronauts to work in and live in.
Sitting in the leftmost seat was mission commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Michael Collins in the middle, and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin on the right. The left side of the control center was for flight control while the right side was for managing the subsystems.
Designed for Astronauts
Buttons on control panels were made especially big so they could be used while wearing gloves. Columbia contained 3 couches for the crew during launch and landing. The couches faced the main instrument panel and the astronauts could fold them up during flight to make more room.
Several “graffiti” messages were left behind on the walls of Columbia. The most famous, written by Michael Collins after splashing down on Earth, reads, “Spacecraft 107 alias Apollo 11 alias ‘Columbia’ The best ship to come down the line. God bless her.”
Inside the Lunar Module
The Apollo Lunar Module called the Eagle was the lander portion of the Apollo spacecraft. It carried a crew of 2 astronauts from lunar orbit onto the surface of the Moon and back into orbit to dock with the Command Module named Columbia.
Standing Room Only
The Eagle only had enough room for 2 astronauts, and there was nowhere to sit down. Nonflammable velcro straps attached to the astronauts’ boots. This helped to ensure that the astronauts could stay still in one place.
The controls on the Eagle were designed so that both astronauts could direct the lander. With no seats, the astronauts were standing when they were controlling the Lunar Module. Controls were located on the side walls and in front of the crew compartment.
The triangle-shaped windows measured 2 square feet in diameter and were the only way the astronauts could see where they were going when landing on the Moon and when taking off from the Moon. They were kept electronically heated to prevent fogging.
Equipment stored onboard the Eagle included waist tethers, a camera with lens filters, and waste collection canisters. Believe it or not, food such as hot dogs, chicken salad, and shrimp cocktail was stored in packs that were rehydrated and eaten by astronauts.
The Surface of the Moon
The Moon landing on the 21st of July, 1969 was watched by an estimated 600 million people around the world.
The astronauts eventually left behind on the surface of the Moon a USA flag, a patch that commemorated the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of the Lunar Module’s legs that included the sentence, “We came in peace for all mankind."
The sky always looks black on the moon. This is because the moon doesn’t have an atmosphere like Earth’s. The light coming from the Sun doesn’t pass through the many molecules that make our sky appear blue.
The Moon’s Climate
On the Moon’s surface, it gets unbearably cold and unbearably hot, depending on which side is facing the Sun. When the Sun is shining on the Moon, temperatures climb to 260 degrees Fahrenheit. The side without sunlight gets very cold, -280 degrees Fahrenheit.
Raising the Flag
The raising of the American flag was symbolic as the United Nations Treaty on Outer Space strictly prohibits any country from claiming part of the Moon as their own. The flag was hung on a horizontal pole as there is no wind on the Moon.
Return to Earth
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stayed on the Moon for about 21 hours, of which 2.5 hours were spent outside the Lunar Module exploring and conducting scientific experiments.
After arriving safely back to the Command Module, the Apollo 11 mission left the Moon July 22 and returned to Earth on July 24, 1969.
Back to Command
After loading the Eagle with over 40 pounds of moon samples and leaving behind unessential equipment, the ascent engine lifted Lunar Module off the surface of the Moon. The Eagle then docked with the orbiting Command and Service Module.
The Apollo 11 Command Module shed pieces of its protective covering as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. Although it looks like the whole module is on fire, the module worked as intended, vaporizing and burning away a layer of material while protecting the spacecraft’s interior.
The 21-Day Quarantine
The astronauts were required to stay inside the module in medical isolation for 21 days. These measures may seem extreme, but scientists simply did not know what (if anything) lived in space and didn’t want to introduce new diseases to Earth.