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Apollo 11 Returns to Earth

After an eight day journey which included the first human exploration of the Moon’s surface, Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy had promised that America would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, a dream that was realized when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon’s surface on July 20, 1969. Armstrong and Aldrin were accompanied by Michael Collins, who was the Command Module Pilot and remained in orbit around the Moon while the other two astronauts traveled to the surface.

On July 20, Americans had tuned their TVs so they could watch as Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. The broadcast of this event was seen by at least 600 million people on Earth, an impressive number in 1969. Aldrin joined Armstrong, and the two men began collecting lunar samples, recording their surroundings in the Sea of Tranquility, and planted a special American flag in the lunar soil. After loading their samples into the Lunar Module and resting for seven hours, the module blasted off the Moon’s surface and rejoined Collins in the lunar orbit. The two astronauts had spent around two and half hours working outside of the Lunar Module on the Moon’s surface.

After rejoining with Collins and jettisoning the Lunar Module, which eventually crashed into the Moon, the three men began their journey back to Earth. The Command Module Columbia landed at 13°19′N 169°9′W. Members of the Navy met the astronauts, who were quarantined due to fears of unknown lunar pathogens. The module was decontaminated and is today located at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. 

While the astronauts that visited the Moon brought back many lunar samples, they also left mementos behind on the lunar surface. These objects included a gold replica olive branch and pieces of wood from the Wright brothers’ 1903 airplane. A silicon disk containing messages from Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and 73 other world leaders was left on the Moon, along with listings of members of Congress and committees that worked on NASA legislation. A diamond studded pin that was given to the widows of the Apollo I mission was also taken by Armstrong to the moon. 

Items in Our Collection:

The first men on the moon: the story of Apollo 11 by David M Harland

Moon men return: USS Hornet and the recovery of the Apollo 11 astronauts by Scott W Carmichael

A man on the moon: the voyages of the Apollo astronauts by Andrew Chaikin