- NASA’s Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s succeeded in putting the first humans on the moon.
- Apollo 8, the first mission to orbit the moon, launched almost exactly 50 years ago — on December 21, 1968.
- Humans have not stepped foot on the moon in more than 45 years. But NASA plans to send robots to the lunar surface by 2022.
- Here’s a full list of every Apollo mission and what they accomplished.
Nearly 50 years have passed since NASA’s Apollo 8 mission orbited the moon for the first time in history.
On December 21, 1968, astronauts Frank Borman, William Anders, and James Lovell left the Kennedy Space Center to fly around the moon. They spent 20 hours in lunar orbit, then returned home after more than six days in space.
The Apollo 8 mission was a critical step toward achieving President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon.
Nine other lunar missions followed Apollo 8, bringing a dozen men to the moon and gathering hundreds of pounds of rock and soil samples for analysis.
In almost five decades since then, however, no US spacecraft has landed on the lunar surface.
That may change in the next few years. In November, NASA announced that it was offering up to $ 2.6 billion in contracts to nine American companies that could land probes on the moon by 2022. NASA does not want to buy the lunar landers or take responsibility for launching, landing, or controlling them. Instead, the space agency wants the private sector to deal with those challenges and bid on the opportunity to take NASA’s experiments to the moon.
In the meantime, take a look back at all of NASA’s Apollo missions, which flew between 1968 and 1972 and succeeded in putting the first human on the moon.
The Apollo 1 mission was designed to launch a spacecraft into low-Earth orbit. But it ended in tragedy when a fire killed three astronauts in their spaceship during a routine pre-launch test.
Thick smoke filled the crew module of the Apollo 1 capsule on January 27, 1967. Three NASA astronauts — Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Edward White — were inside performing a routine test, but they were unable to open a hatch in time to escape the explosion.
Emergency rescue teams rushed to the launchpad (located where the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is today), but they were too late.
An investigation revealed several issues with the capsule’s design, including an electrical wiring problem and flammable materials inside the crew cabin.
On the 50th anniversary of Apollo 1’s fatal fire, NASA displayed the hatch at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
The deadly fire led NASA to postpone other planned crewed launches, and no flights or missions were labeled Apollo 2 or 3.
In the spring of 1967, NASA announced it would keep the designation of Apollo 1 for the mission that never occurred.
The rocket meant for Apollo 1 was later reassembled and used to launch Apollo 5.
The Apollo 4, 5, and 6 missions were unmanned. They occurred between November 1967 and April 1968.
Apollo 4, which launched on November 9, 1967, was the first unmanned test flight of NASA’s Saturn V rocket, which was developed to bring astronauts to the moon.
The mission was the first-ever launch from the Kennedy Space Center. It was a success for NASA, as it proved that Saturn V worked. At the time, the 363-foot-tall vehicle was the largest spacecraft to ever attempt flight.
Apollo 5 launched a few months later, on January 22, 1968. The mission successfully tested the ability of the Apollo Lunar Module — the spacecraft designed to land on the moon’s surface — to ascend and descend.
The Apollo 6 launch followed on April 4, 1968. The mission aimed to show that the Saturn V rocket was capable of trans-lunar injection, which puts a spacecraft on its path to the moon. But the system quickly ran into problems: Two of the five engines shut down unexpectedly, and the spacecraft could not be propelled into orbit.
Despite the issues with Apollo 6, NASA pushed ahead with plans for its first manned launch.
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