NASA's Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon almost 50 years ago — here is every Apollo mission explained


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  • NASA’s Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s succeeded in putting the first humans on the moon.
  • Humans have not set 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.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Almost 50 years ago — on July 20, 1969 — astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon. 

Seven Apollo missions preceded that “giant leap for mankind,” paving the way for what is still arguably NASA’s most lauded accomplishment. Six missions followed Apollo 11, putting a total of 14 men on the moon’s surface and gathering hundreds of pounds of lunar rock and soil samples for analysis.

In almost five decades since then, however, no US spacecraft has landed on the moon. 

That may change in the next few years. In March, Vice President Mike Pence vowed that the US would put astronauts back on the moon by 2024. Eventually, he said, the goal is to built a permanent lunar base. 

In November 2018, NASA also announced that it was offering up to $2.6 billion in contracts to nine American companies that could land robotic 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.

Last month, NASA selected demonstration payloads that could go to the moon as part of that program — perhaps even by the end of this year. But 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 humans on the moon.

SEE ALSO: Astronauts explain why nobody has visited the moon in more than 45 years — and the reasons are depressing

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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