“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish,” US President John F Kennedy told a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961.
And the mission was accomplished in July 1969, a little over eight years. Three astronauts – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins boarded the three-stage, 363-foot rocket that propelled them into space and history. It took just 12 minutes for the rocket to reach the Earth orbit. After one and a half orbits, Apollo 11 got into translunar injection – heading for the moon. It took three days for the crew to reach the lunar orbit. On July 20, Neil Armstrong planted the first human foot on another world.
With more than half a billion people watching on television, he climbed down the ladder and proclaimed: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”On July 24, they returned safely home after walking on the moon.
After the first attempt by the United States to fly to the Moon on August 17, 1958, which ended in just 77 seconds after liftoff, when the rocket’s first stage exploded, 33 attempts were made to explore the Moon by five major space powers – China, India, Japan and the erstwhile USSR.
The latest Moon mission by the United States – GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) consisting two small spacecraft GRAIL A (Ebb) and Grail B (Flow) was launched on September 10, 2011. It’s mision objectives included mapping the structure of the lunar crust and lithosphere, understanding the asymmetric thermal evolution of the Moon, determining the subsurface structure of impact basis and the origin of lunar mascons among other things.
India’s first satellite on Moon mission – Chandrayaan — was launched on October 22, 2008, but lost contact on August 29, 2009. The mission was intended to expand India’s space capabilities as also to map radioactive isotopes across the Moon.Chandrayaan-2 is expected during the current year, but attempts to launch heavy Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicles (GSLV) for injecting heavy communication satellites weighting more than one tonne has not been successful so far.