Friday, July 16, 2010

July 16, 1969
9:32am EDT -
Ignition view from the launch tower.
“Lift-off. ..we have lift-off, lift-off on Apollo 11!” cries Jack King from the launch control center. Fire and smoke have erupted from the bottom of the launch pad as the countdown reaches zero. Columns of flame rise on either side of the Saturn V. At the press and V.I.P. viewings sites, the spectacle unfolds in silence. From three miles away sound waves have not yet reached the viewers. But on television and radio microphones capture the thundering sound of the liquid engines as they roar to full thrust- 7.5 million pounds unleashed.
Now, slowly and majestically Saturn V rises into the air above the pad, with the great five F-1 rocket engines steering the booster away from the launch tower to avoid a collision. It is the heaviest and biggest object ever to leave the Earth, and it does so now riding a tail of flame 1,000 feet long. As the bottom of the F-1 engines clear the top of the hammerhead crane on the tower, the call goes out “tower clear!” Control of the mission now passes seamlessly to the Manned Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Inside Columbia Neil Armstrong follows the rocket’s progress carefully. He would later report that the Saturn was a series of vibrations rather than loud noise-with the great booster steering itself into the sky in a series of small, jerky movements. For the first 450 feet of the flight the rocket was vertical. Then it pitches over into a tilt and roll program to line up the rocket’s center of mass with the thrusting engines. The guidance computer inside the Instrument Unit holds Saturn in a tilt arrest profile for the remainder of the first stage’s burn. The computer is compensating for the wind conditions average for late July.
Heading skyward to make the journey from the Earth to the Moon.
From the observation stands the sound now hits the viewers. It is rolling, rhythmic sound that rattles pocket change and makes speech difficult. The crowd is on its feet now cheering, and all along the beaches millions roar their approval-Go! At one minute five seconds into the flight Saturn V hits the Sound Barrier and goes supersonic- from zero to 760 MPH in 65 seconds.
Stage one fires perfectly and drops away, followed some six minutes later by stage two. Stage three fires briefly to insert the rocket unit and the two spacecraft into a parking Earth orbit. At cut-off, it has been just over 11 minutes since lift-off.

12:02pm EDT -After a two hour and twenty-one minute checkout in orbit, the third stage fires up for about six more minutes. Apollo 11 becomes the third manned craft to leave Earth orbit.

12:52pm EDT -After the engine shuts down, Mike Collins takes control of Columbia. Explosive bolts detonate and four panels holding the Command and Service Modules to the top of the third stage fall away. Using his hand controls, Collins fires thrusters around the side of the Service Module, and Columbia moves out and away from the rocket, then turns around and doubles back. A probe in the nose of Columbia links with a receptacle atop the Lunar Module Eagle, nestled inside of the third stage rocket.
When latched together, Collins slowly pulls Eagle free of the now-spent rocket and the docked Apollo 11 spacecraft begin their three day voyage to the Moon. It has been four and a half hours now since lift-off.


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