On This Day: Apollo 11 Launches from Cape Kennedy for Moon Mission in 1969

by Quentin Blount
Photo By Nasa/Getty Images

Today officially marks 52 years since the launch of the Apollo 11 mission. So, as part of our “On This Day” series, we take a look back at the mission that led to humanity’s first steps on the surface of the moon.

Ahh, July 16, 1969, was a glorious day in the history of the United States. A brave crew of astronauts including Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Mike Collins, launched into space from Cape Kennedy, Florida.

It went about as perfect as you could have drawn it up. And to make matters even better, the weather was flawless for the astronauts and engineering team but also for the one-million audience members in attendance.

Background of the Apollo 11 Mission

The Apollo 11 mission began largely thanks to the efforts of President John F. Kennedy. Eight years before the Apollo 11 crew blasted into space, Kennedy announced a national goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

He told Congress in a special joint session back on May 25, 1961: “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” At the time of Kennedy’s announcement, the U.S. eager to compete with the Soviet Union in the “race to space.”

Despite his tragic death in 1963, his out-of-this-world goal began to materialize. Five years later in 1966, NASA conducted their first unmanned Apollo mission. Fast forward to May of 1969, three astronauts of Apollo 10 took the spacecraft around the moon in a dry run. Two months later, President Kennedy’s goal would come true as Neil Armstrong became the first man to step foot on the surface of the moon.

Neil Armstrong will always be remembered for his famous words “The Eagle has landed,” as they touched down on the lunar surface. And as he took his first step outside he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Aldrin, of course, joined Armstrong on the moon’s surface. Together, the two astronauts planted a U.S. flag. They also left a plaque on the moon that reads: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon — July 1969 A.D. — We came in peace for all mankind.”

How Did the Day Start for the Astronauts?

With the sun shining and barely a not a cloud in the sky, the Apollo 11 astronauts took their seats atop the three-stage 363-foot rocket. That moment came shortly after 6:45 a.m., following Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collings, enjoying a breakfast of steak, scrambled eggs, toast, coffee, and orange juice.

Then, at approximately 9:32 a.m. EDT, NASA gave the crew the green light. The engines of the rocket blasted off — using 7.5 million pounds of thrust to propel the men into space. After launching at 9:32, the crew safely entered into Earth’s orbit about 12 minutes later.