Book Review: Neil Armstrong – A Life of Flight by Jay Barbree

“Neil Armstrong – A Life of Flight” is a thoroughly enjoyable new biography about the first human to set foot on the Moon on NASA’s Apollo 11 mission written with gusto by Emmy winning NBC News space correspondent Jay Barbree.

Jay Barbee is a veteran NBC News reporter who has covered America’s manned space program from the start. And he has the distinction of being the only reporter to cover every single American manned space launch – all 166 from Alan Shepard in 1961 to STS-135 in 2011 – from his home base at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida allowing him to draw on a wealth of eyewitness experiences and inside contacts.

The book’s publication coincides with the 45th anniversary of the Flight of Apollo 11 on America’s first manned moon landing mission in July 1969 by the three man crew comprising Commander Neil Armstrong, fellow moonwalker and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin and Command Module pilot Michael Collins.

It’s a meticulously researched book over five decades in the making and based on personal interviews, notes, meetings, remembrances, behind the scenes visits, launches and more between Neil Armstrong and his trusted friend Jay Barbree as well as hordes more officials and astronauts key to achieving NASA’s spaceflight goals.

He won that trust because the astronauts and others trusted that he would get the story right and never betray confidences, Jay told me in an interview about the book.

“This is really Neil’s book. And it’s as accurate as possible. I will never reveal something Neil told me in confidence. But there is far more in this book about Neil than he would have liked.”

Jay Barbree and Neil Armstrong enjoy dinner with America’s first in orbit, John Glenn, who is performing standup comedy out of the picture. Courtesy:  Jay Barbee. See  Jay Barbree and Neil Armstrong enjoy dinner with America’s first in orbit, John Glenn, who is performing standup comedy out of the picture. Courtesy:  Jay Barbree. See  p. XIX
Jay Barbree and Neil Armstrong enjoy dinner with America’s first in orbit, John Glenn, who is performing standup comedy out of the picture. Courtesy: Jay Barbree. See p. XIX

There is a six page list of acknowledgments and the forward is written by no less than John Glenn – the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.

Barbree is a master story teller who amply illustrates why NASA felt Armstrong was the best candidate to be 1st Man on the Moon based on his extraordinary intellect, piloting skills, and collected coolness and clear thinking under extraordinary pressure.

Armstrong also always shied away from publicity and bringing attention to himself, Barbree told me.

“Neil did not think he was any more important than anyone else. Neil wanted to do a book about a life of flight. But he wanted everyone else included.” And that’s exactly the format for the book – including Armstrong’s colleagues in words and pictures.

On July 21, NASA officially renamed a historic human spaceflight facility at the Kennedy Space Center in honor of Mission Commander Neil Armstrong – read my story here.

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 21, 2014, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts have a group portrait taken in front of the refurbished Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. From left are NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Apollo astronauts Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell, and Center Director Robert Cabana. The visit of the former astronauts was part of NASA's 45th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The building's high bay is being used to support the agency's new Orion spacecraft, which will lift off atop the Space Launch System rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Kevin O'Connell
At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 21, 2014, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts have a group portrait taken in front of the refurbished Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. From left are NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Apollo astronauts Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell, and Center Director Robert Cabana. The visit of the former astronauts was part of NASA’s 45th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The building’s high bay is being used to support the agency’s new Orion spacecraft, which will lift off atop the Space Launch System rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Kevin O’Connell

Barbree details Armstrong’s lifetime of flight experiences that led to the ultimate Moon landing moment; starting with his early experiences as a Korean war combat pilot and bailing out of a crippled Panther F9F fighter plane, flying the X-15 to an altitude of 39 miles and the edge of space as a NASA test pilot, his selection as a member of the second group of astronauts on September 17, 1962, his maiden space mission on Gemini 8 which suddenly went out of control and threatened the crews lives, and finally the landing on the Sea of Tranquility with only 30 seconds of fuel remaining.

“Neil Armstrong – A Life of Flight” is a book for anyone interested in learning the nitty gritty inside details starting from the founding of America’s space effort, the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the earlier Mercury and Gemini manned programs, the terrible tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire and death of three brave Americans – Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee – and how all this swirl lead up to America’s determined and miraculous effort recounting how we got to the Moon. Go elsewhere for gossip.

This hefty 350 page volume is absolutely chock full of details including copious quotes on virtually every page. So much so that Barbree brings the along reader for what seems like a firsthand account. It’s as though he were a fly in the room listening in on history being made and transcribing it second by second or as an actual crew member riding along himself and reporting ultimately from aboard Apollo 11 and the Moon’s desolate surface.

On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA
On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA

Barbree does this by putting into context the full meaning and breadth of what’s happening on a moment by moment basis. Giving you the reader a complete understanding of what, why and how these history making events transpired as they did.

I found his background information endlessly illuminating and informative ! – precisely because it’s not merely a transcription of dialogue.

Concerning the mild controversy regarding Armstrong’s actual first words spoken from the lunar surface, here’s excerpts from how Jay tells the story on p. 263:

“He had thought about one statement he judged had meaning and fit the historic occasion …. Neil had not made up his mind … he was undecided until he was faced with the moment.

Armstrong then lifted his left boot .. and set it down in moon dust.

“That’s one small step for man,” Neil said with a momentary pause. “One giant leap for mankind.”

What most didn’t know was that Neil had meant to say, “That’s one small step for a man,” and that set off an argument for years to come. Had a beep in transmission wiped it from our ears or had Neil nervously skipped the word?

Knowing Neil’s struggles with public speaking, I believe the latter, and with all the excitement … I’ve never been convinced Neil knew himself for sure,” Barbree wrote.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during 1st human moonwalk in history 45 years ago on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 1l mission. Credit: NASA
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during 1st human moonwalk in history 45 years ago on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 1l mission. Credit: NASA

Towards the books conclusion, he writes of Armstrong; “No greater man walked among us. No better man left us informed answers. Neil taught us how to take care of our Earth-Moon system.”

I also enjoyed towards the end of the book where Jay includes Neil’s disappointment that we haven’t ventured beyond Earth orbit in over 4 decades and includes Neil’s personal testimony to Congress so we learn the detail of Armstrong thoughts – in his own words.

“I am persuaded that a return to the moon would be the most productive path to expanding the human presence in the solar system.”

Jay also pinpoints why we haven’t returned to the Moon; “lack of vision for the future” by Congress and Presidents “have kept astronauts locked in Earth orbit.”

It’s been my privilege to get to know Jay during my own space reporting from the press site at the Kennedy Space Center and interview him about his magnificent new book.

Read Jay Barbree’s new 8 part series of 45th anniversary Apollo 11 stories at NBC News here:

Morning on the Moon: Apollo 11 Showed How Far We Could Go

Armstrong passed away unexpectedly at age 82 on August 25, 2012 due to complications from heart bypass surgery. Read my prior tribute articles: here and here

Despite Armstrong’s premature passing, Barbree told me he had completed all the interviews.

“There isn’t anything that comes to mind about Neil Armstrong that I didn’t get to ask him,” Barbree told me.

Read my 45th Apollo 11 anniversary articles here:

Apollo 11 Splashdown 45 Years Ago on July 24, 1969 Concludes 1st Moon Landing Mission – Gallery

Historic Human Spaceflight Facility at Kennedy Renamed in Honor of Neil Armstrong – 1st Man on the Moon


Apollo 11 Moon Landing 45 Years Ago on July 20, 1969: Relive the Moment! – With an Image Gallery and Watch the Restored EVA Here

Cygnus Commercial Resupply Ship ‘Janice Voss’ Berths to Space Station on 45th Apollo 11 Anniversary

Read my story about the deep sea recovery of the Apollo 11 first stage F-1 engines in 2013 – here.

Jay Barbree is on a book signing tour and you might be lucky to catch him at an event like a colleague of mine did at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum recently. See photo below.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Jay Barbree at “Neil Armstrong” book signing tour at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Credit: Mark Usciak
Jay Barbree at “Neil Armstrong” book signing tour at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Credit: Mark Usciak

Apollo 11 Splashdown 45 Years Ago on July 24, 1969 Concludes 1st Moon Landing Mission – Gallery

Apollo 11 Comes Home
The Apollo 11 crew await pickup by a helicopter from the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the historic lunar landing mission. The fourth man in the life raft is a United States Navy underwater demolition team swimmer. All four men are wearing biological isolation garments. They splashed down at 12:49 a.m. EDT, July 24, 1969, about 812 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii and only 12 nautical miles from the USS Hornet. Credit: NASA
Story and gallery expanded[/caption]

The three man crew of NASA’s Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 45 years ago today on July 24, 1969 – successfully concluding Earth’s first journey to land humans on another world and return them safely to our Home Planet.

Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon on July 20, 1969 after he stepped off the footpad of the Lunar Module Eagle soon after the start of the moonwalk EVA at 10:39 p.m. EDT and onto the lunar surface with his left foot at the Sea of Tranquility at 10:56 p.m. EDT. Lunar Module (LM) pilot Buzz Aldrin followed soon thereafter. They came in peace for all mankind!

The magnificent Lunar landing feat accomplished by US Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin marks the pinnacle of Mankind’s most momentous achievement.

The Apollo 11 crew consisting of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Command module pilot Michael Collins splashed down safely at 12:50 p.m. EDT on July 24 about 900 miles southwest of Hawaii in the North Pacific Ocean while seated inside the Command Module Columbia dangling at the end of a trio of massive parachutes that slowed their descent through the Earth’s atmosphere.

President Nixon Greets the Returning Apollo 11 Astronauts. The Apollo 11 astronauts, left to right, Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr., inside the Mobile Quarantine Facility aboard the USS Hornet, listen to President Richard M. Nixon on July 24, 1969 as he welcomes them back to Earth and congratulates them on the successful mission. The astronauts had splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:50 p.m. EDT about 900 miles southwest of Hawaii.  Credit: NASA
President Nixon Greets the Returning Apollo 11 Astronauts. The Apollo 11 astronauts, left to right, Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., inside the Mobile Quarantine Facility aboard the USS Hornet, listen to President Richard M. Nixon on July 24, 1969 as he welcomes them back to Earth and congratulates them on the successful mission. The astronauts had splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:50 p.m. EDT about 900 miles southwest of Hawaii. Credit: NASA

After a mission duration of 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes, 35 seconds from launch to landing the Apollo 11 crew were plucked from the ocean by helicopters from the USS Hornet recovery ship after splashdown only 12 nautical miles (24 km) away.

They had to don protective biological isolation garments (BIGs) in case they were infected by some unknown and potentially hazardous “moon germs.” Of course there were no pathogens, but this was not definitely known at the time.

After their return to Earth, the trio was scrubbed with a disinfect solution of sodium hypochlorite and had to remain in quarantine for 21 days inside a 30 feet (9.1 m) long quarantine facility known as the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL).

They were welcomed back to Earth by President Nixon aboard the USS Hornet.

We’ve chronicled the journey of Apollo 11 and lunar touchdown on July 20, 1969 as well as this week’s renaming of a historic human spaceflight facility at the Kennedy Space Center in honor of Mission Commander Neil Armstrong.

Armstrong passed away at age 82 on August 25, 2012 due to complications from heart bypass surgery. Read my prior tribute articles: here and here

Here we’ve collected a gallery of the mission and ocean splashdown that brought Apollo 11 to a close and fulfilled the lunar landing quest set by a young President John F. Kennedy early in the decade of the 1960s.

The trio blasted off atop a 363 foot-tall Saturn V rocket from Launch Complex 39A on their bold, quarter of a million mile moon mission from the Kennedy Space Center , Florida on July 16, 1969.

Apollo 11 Official Crew Portrait.    Official crew photo of the Apollo 11 Prime Crew. From left to right are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Commander; Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module Pilot.  Image Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 Official Crew Portrait. Official crew photo of the Apollo 11 Prime Crew. From left to right are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Commander; Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module Pilot. Image Credit: NASA

The three-stage Saturn V generated 7.5 million pounds of thrust and propelled the trio into space and immortality.

Read my story about the deep sea recovery of the Apollo 11 first stage F-1 engines in 2013 – here.

The crew arrived in lunar orbit three days later on July 19, 1969, inside the docked Apollo 11 Command/Service and Lunar Modules (CSM/LM).

Armstrong and Aldrin then moved into the Lunar Module, undocked and safely touched down at the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969 at 4:18 p.m EDT as hundreds of millions across the globe watched in awe.

Six hours later Armstrong climbed down the LM ladder and stepped onto the Moon and into immortality.

Armstrong’s first words:

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

During their 2 ½ hour long moonwalk Armstrong and Aldrin unveiled a plaque on the side of the lunar module. Armstrong read the words;

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

The duo collected about 50 pounds (22 kg) of priceless moon rocks and set out the first science experiments placed by humans on another world. The moon rocks were invaluable in informing us about the origin of the Earth – Moon system.

Here is NASA’s restored video of the Apollo 11 EVA on July 20, 1969:

Video Caption: Original Mission Video as aired in July 1969 depicting the Apollo 11 astronauts conducting several tasks during extravehicular activity (EVA) operations on the surface of the moon. The EVA lasted approximately 2.5 hours with all scientific activities being completed satisfactorily. The Apollo 11 EVA began at 10:39:33 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969 when Astronaut Neil Armstrong emerged from the spacecraft first. While descending, he released the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly on the Lunar Module’s descent stage.

Altogether Armstrong and Aldrin spent about 21 hours on the moon’s surface. Then they said goodbye to the greatest adventure and fired up the LM ascent engine to rejoin Michael Collins circling above in the Apollo 11 Command Module.

“The whole world was together at that particular moment,” says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a CNN interview. “In spite of all we are going through there is hope!”

Celebrating Apollo 11.  NASA and Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) officials joined with flight controllers to celebrate the successful conclusion of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission in the Mission Control Center. From left foreground Dr. Maxime A. Faget, MSC Director of Engineering and Development; George S. Trimble, MSC Deputy Director; Dr. Christopher C. Kraft Jr., MSC Director fo Flight Operations; Julian Scheer (in back), Assistant Adminstrator, Office of Public Affairs, NASA HQ.; George M. Low, Manager, Apollo Spacecraft Program, MSC; Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, MSC Director; and Charles W. Mathews, Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Manned Space Flight, NASA HQ.  Credit: NASA
Celebrating Apollo 11. NASA and Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) officials joined with flight controllers to celebrate the successful conclusion of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission in the Mission Control Center. From left foreground Dr. Maxime A. Faget, MSC Director of Engineering and Development; George S. Trimble, MSC Deputy Director; Dr. Christopher C. Kraft Jr., MSC Director fo Flight Operations; Julian Scheer (in back), Assistant Adminstrator, Office of Public Affairs, NASA HQ.; George M. Low, Manager, Apollo Spacecraft Program, MSC; Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, MSC Director; and Charles W. Mathews, Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Manned Space Flight, NASA HQ. Credit: NASA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Apollo 11 Welcome. New York City welcomes the Apollo 11 crew in a ticker tape parade down Broadway and Park Avenue. Pictured in the lead car, from the right, are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. The three astronauts teamed for the first manned lunar landing, on July 20, 1969.  Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 Welcome. New York City welcomes the Apollo 11 crew in a ticker tape parade down Broadway and Park Avenue. Pictured in the lead car, from the right, are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. The three astronauts teamed for the first manned lunar landing, on July 20, 1969. Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 Launch.  The American flag heralded the launch of Apollo 11, the first Lunar landing mission, on July 16, 1969. The massive Saturn V rocket lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Four days later, on July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon's surface while Collins orbited overhead in the Command Module. Armstrong and Aldrin gathered samples of lunar material and deployed scientific experiments that transmitted data about the lunar environment.   Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 Launch. The American flag heralded the launch of Apollo 11, the first Lunar landing mission, on July 16, 1969. The massive Saturn V rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Four days later, on July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon’s surface while Collins orbited overhead in the Command Module. Armstrong and Aldrin gathered samples of lunar material and deployed scientific experiments that transmitted data about the lunar environment. Credit: NASA
Launch of Apollo 11.  On July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-feet tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the United States' first lunar landing mission. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module "Eagle" to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Collins remained with the Command and Service Modules "Columbia" in lunar orbit.  Image credit: NASA
Launch of Apollo 11. On July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-feet tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the United States’ first lunar landing mission. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module “Eagle” to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Collins remained with the Command and Service Modules “Columbia” in lunar orbit. Image credit: NASA
The Eagle Prepares to Land.  The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle, in a landing configuration was photographed in lunar orbit from the Command and Service Module Columbia. Inside the module were Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin. The long rod-like protrusions under the landing pods are lunar surface sensing probes. Upon contact with the lunar surface, the probes sent a signal to the crew to shut down the descent engine.  Image Credit: NASA
The Eagle Prepares to Land. The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle, in a landing configuration was photographed in lunar orbit from the Command and Service Module Columbia. Inside the module were Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin. The long rod-like protrusions under the landing pods are lunar surface sensing probes. Upon contact with the lunar surface, the probes sent a signal to the crew to shut down the descent engine. Image Credit: NASA
On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA
On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA
Aldrin Gazes at Tranquility Base. Astronaut and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin is pictured during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. He had just deployed the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package. In the foreground is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package; beyond it is the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR-3). In the left background is the black and white lunar surface television camera and in the far right background is the Lunar Module "Eagle." Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with the 70mm lunar surface camera.   Image credit: NASA
Aldrin Gazes at Tranquility Base. Astronaut and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin is pictured during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. He had just deployed the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package. In the foreground is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package; beyond it is the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR-3). In the left background is the black and white lunar surface television camera and in the far right background is the Lunar Module “Eagle.” Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with the 70mm lunar surface camera. Image credit: NASA
At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 21, 2014, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts have a group portrait taken in front of the refurbished Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. From left are NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Apollo astronauts Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell, and Center Director Robert Cabana. The visit of the former astronauts was part of NASA's 45th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The building's high bay is being used to support the agency's new Orion spacecraft, which will lift off atop the Space Launch System rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Kevin O'Connell
At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 21, 2014, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts have a group portrait taken in front of the refurbished Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. From left are NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Apollo astronauts Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell, and Center Director Robert Cabana. The visit of the former astronauts was part of NASA’s 45th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The building’s high bay is being used to support the agency’s new Orion spacecraft, which will lift off atop the Space Launch System rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Kevin O’Connell

Historic Human Spaceflight Facility at Kennedy Renamed in Honor of Neil Armstrong – 1st Man on the Moon

45 years ago on July 20, 1969, NASA astronaut and Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on another celestial body when he stepped off the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle and onto our Moon’s utterly alien surface.

Today, July 21, 2014, NASA officially renamed a historic facility at the Kennedy Space Center vital to human spaceflight in honor of Neil Armstrong during a a 45th anniversary ceremony at what until today was known as the ‘Operations and Checkout Building’ or O & C.

On that first moonwalk, Armstrong was accompanied by fellow NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin on a two and a half hour excursion that lasted into the early morning hours of July 21. They came in peace representing all mankind.

Today’s ceremony was broadcast on NASA TV and brought together numerous dignitaries including Armstrong’s surviving crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Command Module pilot Mike Collins, Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell who was also Apollo 11’s backup commander, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, and Armstrong’s family members including his sons Rick and Mark Armstrong who all spoke movingly at the dedication.

Dignitaries at the July 21, 2014 renaming ceremony included Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, sons Rick Armstrong and Mark Armstrong, Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell, and Apollo 11 crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace
Dignitaries at the July 21, 2014 renaming ceremony included Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, sons Rick Armstrong and Mark Armstrong, Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell, and Apollo 11 crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

They were joined via a live feed from space by two NASA astronauts currently serving aboard the International Space Station (ISS) – Expedition 40 crew member Rick Wiseman and Commander Steve Swanson.

The backdrop for the ceremony was the Orion crew capsule, NASA’s next generation human rated spaceflight vehicle which is currently being assembled in the facility and is set to launch on its maiden unmanned test flight in December 2014. Orion will eventually carry US astronauts on journey’s to deep space destinations to the Moon, Asteroids and Mars.

Many of Armstrong’s colleagues and other officials working on Orion and NASA’s human spaceflight missions also attended.

Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong
Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong inside the Lunar Module

The high bay of what is now officially the ‘Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building’ was built in 1964 and previously was known as the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building.

It has a storied history in human spaceflight. It was used to process the Gemini spacecraft including Armstrong’s Gemini 8 capsule. Later it was used during the Apollo program to process and test the command, service and lunar modules including the Apollo 11 crew vehicles that were launched atop the Saturn V moon rocket. During the shuttle era it housed the crew quarters for astronauts KSC training and for preparations in the final days leading to launch.

“45 years ago, NASA’s journey to land the first human on the Moon began right here,” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said at the ceremony. “It is altogether fitting that today we rename this facility the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building. Throughout his life he served his country as an astronaut, an aerospace engineer, a naval aviator, a test pilot and a university professor, and he constantly challenged all of us to expand the boundaries of the possible.”

“He along with his crewmates, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, are a bridge from NASA’s historic journey to the moon 45 years ago to our path to Mars today.”

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts view the Orion crew module inside the Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. Viewing Orion from left, are Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts view the Orion crew module inside the Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. Viewing Orion from left, are Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The Apollo 11 trio blasted off atop a 363 foot-tall Saturn V rocket from Launch Complex 39A on their bold, quarter of a million mile moon mission from the Kennedy Space Center , Florida on July 16, 1969 to fulfill the lunar landing quest set by President John F. Kennedy early in the decade.

Armstrong and Aldrin safely touched down at the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969 at 4:18 p.m EDT as hundreds of millions across the globe watched in awe.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed !,” Armstrong called out and emotional applause erupted at Mission Control – “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue.”

Armstrong’s immortal first words:

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

During their 2 ½ hours moonwalk Armstrong and Aldrin unveiled a plaque on the side of the lunar module. Armstrong read the words;

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

Here is NASA’s restored video of the Apollo 11 EVA on July 20, 1969:

Video Caption: Original Mission Video as aired in July 1969 depicting the Apollo 11 astronauts conducting several tasks during extravehicular activity (EVA) operations on the surface of the moon. The EVA lasted approximately 2.5 hours with all scientific activities being completed satisfactorily. The Apollo 11 EVA began at 10:39:33 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969 when Astronaut Neil Armstrong emerged from the spacecraft first. While descending, he released the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly on the Lunar Module’s descent stage.

Armstrong passed away at age 82 on August 25, 2012 due to complications from heart bypass surgery. Read my prior tribute articles: here and here

Michael Collins concluded the ceremony with this tribute:

“He would not have sought this honor, that was not his style. But I think he would be proud to have his name so closely associated with the heart and the soul of the space business.”

“On Neil’s behalf, thank you for what you do every day.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center - now renamed in honor of Neil Armstrong.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center – now renamed in honor of Neil Armstrong. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Apollo 11 Moon Landing 45 Years Ago on July 20, 1969: Relive the Moment! – With an Image Gallery and Watch the Restored EVA Here

The Eagle Prepares to Land
The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle, in a landing configuration was photographed in lunar orbit from the Command and Service Module Columbia. Inside the module were Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin. The long rod-like protrusions under the landing pods are lunar surface sensing probes. Upon contact with the lunar surface, the probes sent a signal to the crew to shut down the descent engine. Image Credit: NASA
Watch the restored EVA video below and on NASA TV on July 20 starting at 10:39 p.m. EDT[/caption]

Man first walked on the Moon 45 years ago today on July 20, 1969 when American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin opened the hatch to the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle, climbed down the ladder and set foot on the surface – marking mankind’s greatest achievement. They came in peace for all mankind!

You can relive the historic moment with the gallery of Apollo 11 NASA images collected here and by watching NASA’s restored video of the moonwalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA) by Armstrong and Aldrin – watch video below. The Apollo 11 EVA began at 10:39:33 p.m. EDT.

NASA TV is also broadcasting a replay of the historic moonwalk tonight (July 20) to commemorate the anniversary starting at 10:39 p.m. EDT, with the restored footage of Armstrong and Aldrin’s historic steps on the lunar surface.

You can view the NASA TV Apollo 11 EVA webcast – here.

The Eagle had landed on the Moon’s desolate surface on the Sea of Tranquility (see map below) barely 6 hours earlier at 4:18 p.m EDT. And only 30 seconds of fuel remained as Armstrong searched for a safe landing spot.

Neil Armstrong was the commander of the three man crew of Apollo 11, which included fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin and Command module pilot Michael Collins.

Here is NASA’s restored video of the Apollo 11 EVA on July 20, 1969:

Video Caption: Original Mission Video as aired in July 1969 depicting the Apollo 11 astronauts conducting several tasks during extravehicular activity (EVA) operations on the surface of the moon. The EVA lasted approximately 2.5 hours with all scientific activities being completed satisfactorily. The Apollo 11 EVA began at 10:39:33 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969 when Astronaut Neil Armstrong emerged from the spacecraft first. While descending, he released the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly on the Lunar Module’s descent stage.

The trio blasted off atop a 363 foot-tall Saturn V rocket from Launch Complex 39A on their bold, quarter of a million mile moon mission from the Kennedy Space Center , Florida on July 16, 1969 to fulfill the lunar landing quest set by President John F. Kennedy early in the decade.

The three-stage Saturn V generated 7.5 million pounds of thrust and propelled the trio into space and immortality.

Apollo 11 Official Crew Portrait.    Official crew photo of the Apollo 11 Prime Crew. From left to right are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Commander; Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module Pilot.  Image Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 Official Crew Portrait. Official crew photo of the Apollo 11 Prime Crew. From left to right are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Commander; Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module Pilot. Image Credit: NASA

The Apollo 11 mission was truly a global event.

Armstrong and Aldrin safely touched down at the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969 at 4:18 p.m EDT as hundreds of millions across the globe watched in awe and united in purpose.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed !,” Armstrong called out and emotional applause erupted at Mission Control – “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue.”

Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stands on the moon's surface on July 20, 1969, the first human to do so. Credit: NASA/CBS/YouTube (screenshot)
Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stands on the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969, the first human to do so. Credit: NASA/CBS/YouTube (screenshot)

Armstrong carried all of humanity with him when he stepped off the footpad of NASA’s Apollo 11 Lunar Module and became the first representative of the human species to walk on the surface of another celestial body.

Armstrong’s first immortal words:

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

During their 2 ½ hours moonwalk Armstrong and Aldrin unveiled a plaque on the side of the lunar module. Armstrong read the words;

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA
On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA

The duo collected about 50 pounds (22 kg) of priceless moon rocks and set out the first science experiments placed by humans on another world. The moon rocks were invaluable in informing us about the origin of the Earth – Moon system.

Aldrin on the Moon. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission. Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin explored the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Michael Collins remained with the command and service modules in lunar orbit.  Image Credit: NASA
Aldrin on the Moon. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission. Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin explored the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Michael Collins remained with the command and service modules in lunar orbit. Image Credit: NASA

Altogether Armstrong and Aldrin spent about 21 hours on the moon’s surface. Then they said goodbye to the greatest adventure and fired up the LM ascent engine to rejoin Michael Collins circling above in the Apollo 11 Command Module.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during 1st human moonwalk in history 45 years ago on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 1l mission. Credit: NASA
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during 1st human moonwalk in history 45 years ago on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 1l mission. Credit: NASA

Following the triumphant moonwalk and docking, the crew set their sights for the journey back to the Home Planet.

apollo 11 logo
Apollo 11 logo

The Apollo 11 mission ended with a successful splash down off Hawaii on July 24.

The crew, NASA and America achieved President Kennedy’s challenge of men walking on the Moon before the decade was out and returning safely to Earth.

Armstrong passed away at age 82 on August 25, 2012 due to complications from heart bypass surgery. Read my prior tribute articles: here and here

Surviving crew members Aldrin and Collins will join NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at a ceremony on Monday at the Kennedy Space Center.

Bootprint.  A close-up view of astronaut Buzz Aldrin's bootprint in the lunar soil, photographed with the 70mm lunar surface camera during Apollo 11's sojourn on the moon.  Image Credit: NASA
Bootprint. A close-up view of astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s bootprint in the lunar soil, photographed with the 70mm lunar surface camera during Apollo 11’s sojourn on the moon. Image Credit: NASA

Altogether a dozen Americans have walked on the Moon during NASA’s five additional Apollo lunar landing missions. No human has returned since the final crew of Apollo 17 departed the Moon’s surface in December 1972.

One legacy of Apollo is the International Space Station (ISS) where six astronauts and cosmonauts work together on science research to benefit mankind.

Notably, the Cygnus commercial cargo ship berthed at the ISS on the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 liftoff bringing over 3600 pounds of science experiments and supplies to the station.

NASA’s next big human spaceflight goals are building commercial ‘space taxis’ to low Earth orbit in this decade, an asteroid retrieval mission in the 2020s and voyages to Mars in the 2030s using the new SLS rocket and Orion deep space crew capsule currently under development.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Aldrin Gazes at Tranquility Base. Astronaut and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin is pictured during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. He had just deployed the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package. In the foreground is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package; beyond it is the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR-3). In the left background is the black and white lunar surface television camera and in the far right background is the Lunar Module "Eagle." Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with the 70mm lunar surface camera.   Image credit: NASA
Aldrin Gazes at Tranquility Base. Astronaut and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin is pictured during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. He had just deployed the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package. In the foreground is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package; beyond it is the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR-3). In the left background is the black and white lunar surface television camera and in the far right background is the Lunar Module “Eagle.” Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with the 70mm lunar surface camera. Image credit: NASA
Beginning the Mission. The Apollo 11 crew leaves Kennedy Space Center's Manned Spacecraft Operations Building during the pre-launch countdown. Mission commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Michael Collins, and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin prepare to ride the special transport van to Launch Complex 39A where their spacecraft awaited them. Liftoff occurred 38 years ago today at 9:32 a.m. EDT, July 16, 1969.  Image credit: NASA
Beginning the Mission. The Apollo 11 crew leaves Kennedy Space Center’s Manned Spacecraft Operations Building during the pre-launch countdown. Mission commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Michael Collins, and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin prepare to ride the special transport van to Launch Complex 39A where their spacecraft awaited them. Liftoff occurred 38 years ago today at 9:32 a.m. EDT, July 16, 1969. Image credit: NASA
Launch of Apollo 11.  On July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-feet tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the United States' first lunar landing mission. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module "Eagle" to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Collins remained with the Command and Service Modules "Columbia" in lunar orbit.  Image credit: NASA
Launch of Apollo 11. On July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-feet tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the United States’ first lunar landing mission. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module “Eagle” to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Collins remained with the Command and Service Modules “Columbia” in lunar orbit. Image credit: NASA
Apollo 11 liftoff from Pad 39 at the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969. Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 liftoff from Pad 39 at the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969. Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon at the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969
Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon at the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969

Neil Armstrong; 1st Human on the Moon – Apollo 11, Tributes and Photo Gallery

Image Caption: On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA

In memory of Neil Armstrong, First Man to set foot on the Moon, here’s a summary of Apollo 11 highlights and a collection of some tributes and photos to celebrate his life and the indelible inspiration he gave to current generations and all those yet to come to take up the noble torch for science and exploration. He became an everlasting icon for the ages when he took, “one giant leap for mankind”, and accomplished one of the greatest feats in human history.

Armstrong passed away at age 82 on Saturday, August 25, 2012 due to complications from heart bypass surgery.

Neil Armstrong was the commander of the three man crew of Apollo 11, which included Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

Apollo 11 Crew. The Apollo 11 lunar landing mission crew, pictured from left to right, Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Credit: NASA

The trio blasted off on their bold, quarter of a million mile moon mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 16, 1969 to fulfill the lunar landing quest set by President John F. Kennedy early in the decade.


Armstrong and Aldrin safely touched down at the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969 as hundreds of millions across the globe watched in awe and united in purpose.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed !,” Armstrong called out and emotional applause erupted at Mission Control – “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue.”

Armstrong carried all of humanity with him when he stepped off the footpad of NASA’s Apollo 11 Lunar Module and became the first representative of the human species to walk on the surface of another celestial body.

His first immortal words,

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

During their 2 ½ hours moonwalk Armstrong and Aldrin unveiled a plaque on the side of the lunar module. Armstrong read the words;

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

The duo collected about 50 pounds (22 kg) of priceless moon rocks and set out the first science experiments placed by people on another world.

Altogether Armstrong and Aldrin spent about 21 hours on the moon’s surface. Then they said goodbye to the greatest adventure and fired up the LM ascent engine to rejoin Michael Collins circling above in the Apollo 11 Command Module.

Tributes to Armstrong have been pouring in – He is often described as a reluctant hero who gave credit to others.

“Armstrong, the lunar Adam,” wrote Virginia Adams

Armstrong and Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface, July 1969. Credit: NASA

In a statement, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in part,

“As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own.

“Besides being one of America’s greatest explorers, Neil carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all. When President Kennedy challenged the nation to send a human to the moon, Neil Armstrong accepted without reservation.

“As we enter this next era of space exploration, we do so standing on the shoulders of Neil Armstrong. We mourn the passing of a friend, fellow astronaut and true American hero.”

Armstrong’s family released a statement that said in part;

“We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.

“Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.

“Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.

“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

“He was the best, and I will miss him terribly,” said Michael Collins, Apollo 11 command module pilot.

Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 lunar module pilot, released a statement that said in part,

“I am very saddened to learn of the passing of Neil Armstrong today. Neil and I trained together as technical partners but were also good friends who will always be connected through our participation in the Apollo 11 mission. Whenever I look at the moon it reminds me of the moment over four decades ago when I realized that even though we were farther away from earth than two humans had ever been, we were not alone. Virtually the entire world took that memorable journey with us.”

More photos of Neil Armstrong and crew at NASA here

Ken Kremer

Armstrong training on an X-15. Credit: NASA

Training for Apollo 11 on the Lunar Module. Credit: NASA

The Apollo 11 crew leaves Kennedy Space Center’s Manned Spacecraft Operations Building during the pre-launch countdown. Mission commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Michael Collins, and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin prepare to ride the special transport van to Launch Complex 39A where their spacecraft awaited them. Liftoff occurred at 9:32 a.m. EDT, July 16, 1969. Credit: NASA

Apollo 11 liftoff from Pad 39 at the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969. Credit: NASA

Neil Armstrong about to become the first person to set foot on the lunar surface -TV camera view. Credit: NASA

Sea of Tranquility

The Sea of Tranquility is the landing site of Apollo 11, the mission that gave mankind its first ever walk on the Moon.

Walk? Yes, that’s right. The Sea of Tranquility is not actually a sea, so Neil Armstrong didn’t have to walk on water. In fact, there isn’t a single sea on the lunar surface. The Sea of Tranquility is actually a lunar mare. Now, although the plural of ‘mare’, ‘maria’, is a Latin word that means ‘seas’, these maria don’t have water in them.

Lunar maria were named as such because early astronomers mistook these areas as seas. You see, when you look at the Moon, particularly its near side (well, we don’t actually get to see the far side), i.e., the side which practically constantly stares at us at night, you’ll notice certain features that are darker than others.

Compare the Moon to a grey-scale model of the Earth, and you’ll easily mistake those dark patches for seas. By the way, in case you’ve been reading article titles (not the entire article) on this site lately, you might recall us mentioning water on the Moon. There’s water alright … underneath the surface, so even assuming that they’re plentiful, they don’t qualify as seas.

Let’s go back to our main topic. Called Mare Tranquillitatis in Latin, the Sea of Tranquility is found in the Tranquillitatis basin of the Moon and is composed of basalt. Maria are seen from Earth as relatively dark because the lighter colored areas are much elevated than them and hence are better illuminated by light coming from the Sun.

Whenever color is processed and extracted from multiple photographs, the Sea of Tranquility gives off a slightly bluish shade. This is believed to be caused by the relatively higher metal content in the area.

The actual landing site of Apollo 11’s lunar module is now named Statio Tranquillitatis or Tranquility Base. To the north of that specific area you’ll find three small craters aptly named Aldrin, Collins, and Armstrong, the privileged crew of Apollo 11.

The lunar module of Apollo 11 was not the only spacecraft to have landed on the Sea of Tranquility. There was also the Ranger 8 spacecraft … although “crash landed” is a more appropriate term. It wasn’t a failed mission though, since it was really meant to impact the lunar surface after taking pictures throughout its flight before striking the Moon.

Some people actually think the Apollo missions, particularly the lunar landings, were part of an elaborate hoax. Click on this link to read what the Japanese SELENE Lunar Mission discovered.

NASA has a huge collection of reliable links related to the Apollo missions.

Episodes about the moon from Astronomy Cast. Lend us your ears!

Shooting Lasers at the Moon and Losing Contact with Rovers
The Moon Part I