NASA's Saturn V rocket successfully lifted off and carried its three astronauts on their historic Apollo 11 mission from launch pad 39A today at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida at 09:32 local time (13:32 GMT).

Leaving terra firma for a cloudless blue sky, the mission's crew are Cdr Neil Armstrong, a civilian, and two US Air Force officers, Lunar Module (LM) pilot Col Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Command Module (CM) pilot Lt Col Michael Collins.

An estimated one million people are believed to have gathered on the central Florida coast to watch the spectacle.


Aerial view of the Apollo 11 launch pad

If all goes according to plan, in four days the LM, called Eagle, will touch down in the southern Sea of Tranquility on the near side of the moon, the portion visible from Earth.

President Richard Nixon has declared 20 July a National Day of Participation and encouraged all to stay home to mark the “moment of transcendent drama” when Apollo 11’s crew is to walk on the moon.

After the success of Apollo 10's test flight to the Moon and back, in a few days Apollo 11 could achieve the goal set by the late President John F. Kennedy, when he decreed in 1961 that the USA would land a man on the Moon by decade’s end.

NASA’s first manned CM ground test in 1967 ended in disaster when a fire broke out killing all three astronauts on board. All work was halted while extensive modifications were carried out, causing a 21-month delay. The Apollo programme has since been accident free.

Apollo 11 is the second spaceflight mission for its three astronauts, who all previously flew during the preceeding Gemini programme. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were awoken earlier today at 04:15 for a physical examination, which they cleared. They then proceeded to have a traditional “launch breakfast” of steaks, scrambled eggs, toast, coffee, and orange juice, according to NASA.

They departed their crew quarters at 06:27 and Armstrong was the first aboard the spacecraft at 06:54. Ground engineers accompanied the crew to carry out inspections.

crew at launch pad 
Apollo 11 astronauts enroute to launchpad for countdown demonstration test

NASA said two minor problems were discovered during launch preparations. The first involved a malfunctioning light in the control centre and was unrelated to the spacecraft. It was resolved with a “simple adjustment” of ground equipment. Additionally, a leaky valve was found on the Saturn V rocket but solved with the tightening of bolts. Both remedies did not inhibit the launch schedule.

Final checks proceeded and the launch pad gantry was partially retracted 50min before launch, and then fully retracted 5min before as the mission entered its final countdown. Narrated by Kennedy Launch Control, in the final moments of the countdown control was heard to say: “Ten, nine, ignition sequence starts, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero, all engines running, lift off. We have a lift off, 32min past the hour. Lift off on Apollo 11.”

...And relax. From left to right are: Charles W. Mathews, Deputy Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight; Dr. Wernher von Braun, Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center; George Mueller, Associate Administrator for the Office of Manned Space Flight; Lt. Gen. Samuel C. Phillips, Director of the Apollo Program

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