July 20 is the fiftieth anniversary of man’s first landing on the Moon, “a giant leap for mankind”, as Neil Armstrong described it. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were taken to the Moon by the Apollo-11 mission in 1969. They were the first of the six two-astronaut teams that landed on the Moon over the next three years. The last human Moon landing was made by the Apollo 17 mission on April 20, 1972, after which the Apollo project was called off.
On the anniversary of the “giant leap”, here is a list of all the Apollo missions, designed to land humans on the Moon and to bring them safely back to Earth, the astronauts on board, and what the missions achieved.
Smithsonian Institution on Apollo Missions
The Apollo program was designed to land humans on the Moon and bring them safely back to Earth. Six of the missions (Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17) achieved this goal. Apollos 7 and 9 were Earth orbiting missions to test the Command and Lunar Modules, and did not return lunar data. Apollos 8 and 10 tested various components while orbiting the Moon, and returned photography of the lunar surface. Apollo 13 did not land on the Moon due to a malfunction, but also returned photographs. The six missions that landed on the Moon returned a wealth of scientific data and almost 400 kilograms of lunar samples. Experiments included soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind experiments.
Apollo 1, 1967: The inaugural mission was supposed to be launched on February 21. But disaster struck before the launch. A fire accident in the main capsule of the spacecraft during a pre-flight simulation exercise on January 27 killed all the three astronauts who were to go on the mission — Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee.
Apollo 2 and Apollo 3: These numbers were not given to any mission.
Launch: November 9, 1967
It was the first flight of the giant Saturn V rocket that would carry all the subsequent Apollo missions. No astronaut flew in this mission.
Launch: January 22, 1968
Another uncrewed mission, this was the first flight of a redesigned space capsule that would carry astronauts on subsequent missions. The earlier capsules were called crew modules. The redesigned one was the lunar module. An older version of the Saturn V rocket, called Saturn IB, was used.
Launch: April 4, 1968
This was the second flight of the Saturn V rocket, again without any crew. Two engines had premature shutdowns, and a third too did not function properly, but the flight was declared a success.
Launch: October 11, 1968
This was the first Apollo mission to go beyond the Earth orbits, and into space. The crew comprising Walter Schirra Jr, Walter Cunningham, and Donn Eisele spent 11 days in space, and carried out a range of experiments on spacecraft systems. It was the first spacecraft to do a live TV broadcast. A Saturn S-IVB rocket was used.
Launch: December 21, 1968
This was the first Apollo mission to go around the Moon. Astronauts Frank Borman, William Anders and James Lovell Jr also became the first astronauts to ride on the Saturn V rocket, and spent 20 hours orbiting the Moon.
Launch: March 3, 1969
This Apollo mission was the first one in which the lunar module separated from the command module, and flew independently for six hours, before docking back again. The mission was, however, completed in the Earth orbit itself. Crew comprised James McDivitt, Russel Schweickart and David Scott. Schweickart did a spacewalk.
Launch: May 18, 1969
This mission was a sort of dress rehearsal for the human landing; it was also the first entry of the lunar module in the Moon’s orbit. The spacecraft travelled to within 20 km of the lunar surface, and flew over the site where the Apollo 11 would land. On board were astronauts Thomas Stafford, Eugene Cernan, and John Young.
Launch: July 16, 1969
Moon landing: July 20
Earth landing: July 24
This was man’s first landing on the Moon. Armstrong and Aldrin moved around on the surface of the Moon for over two hours. They collected rock and soil samples, carried out experiments, and planted an American flag. They spent a total of 21 hours, 36 minutes on the Moon’s surface, most of it inside the lunar module. Their third colleague, Michael Collins, remained in the command module in the lunar orbit.
Launch: November 14, 1969
Moon landing: November 19
Earth landing: November 24
This mission marked the second human landing on the Moon in less than six months. Charles Conrad Jr and Alan Bean stepped on the lunar surface while their colleague Richard Gordon Jr remained in the command module. The mission brought back pieces of the Surveyor III, a lander mission that had reached the Moon two years previously.
Launch: April 11, 1970
The mission developed a technical glitch during the flight, and the command module suffered damage. The crew comprising James Lovell Jr, Fred Haise Jr, and John Swigert Jr had to move to the lunar module. The mission was recalled, and the spacecraft managed to come back safely to Earth.
Launch: January 31, 1971
Moon landing: February 5
Earth landing: February 9
This was the third human landing on the Moon. The crew included Alan Shepard, who in 1961 had become the first American to travel to space, Edgar Mitchell, and Stuart Roosa, who remained in the command module. Shepard walked more than 2.5 km on the Moon, a new record.
Launch: July 26, 1971
Moon landing: July 30
Earth landing: August 7
Humans drove a vehicle on the Moon’s surface for the first time, travelling a distance of more than 25 km. The crew comprising David Scott and James Irwin spent 18 hours on the Moon’s surface. They also performed a gravitation test to show that a heavy iron hammer and a light feather fall simultaneously in the absence of air drag on the Moon. Alfred Worden was the third astronaut on board, who remained in the command module.
Launch: April 16, 1972
Moon landing: April 20
Earth landing: April 27
John Young and Charles Duke drove a rover on the Moon, and brought back more than 90 kg of lunar samples. The third astronaut, Ken Mattingly, carried out spacewalk.
Launch: December 7, 1972
Moon landing: December 11
Earth landing: December 19
This was the last mission of the Apollo programme. Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spend three days on the Moon, and did three extended Moonwalks of seven hours each. The mission brought back more than 240 kg of lunar samples.
In all, Apollo astronauts brought back over 350 kg of rock and soil samples from the moon. NASA says it receives about 60 requests every year for the samples. It says a survey had showed that more than 2,500 scientific papers had been written using information from Apollo data.