Using Slooh’s Online Telescope and integrated Quest learning activities, you can capture your own images of the Apollo landing sites and learn more about the Moon landings. In The Footsteps of Apollo Astronauts is one of 60+ curriculum-aligned STEM Quest learning activities on Slooh for students 4th grade to college.
Slooh’s Online Telescope:
The Moon Landings
A Short History of the Apollo Project
Getting to the Moon is no easy feat, and it took NASA many years to do the research and development necessary for the six successful Project Apollo missions that ultimately landed on the Moon. The Apollo missions numbered one through ten were the test missions that eventually led to the completion of JFK’s goal: to land a man on the Moon by 1971, within a decade of the beginning of the project.
Apollo 1, the first crewed test of the Apollo Project, ended in tragedy on January 27, 1967. The three crew members died in an electrical fire, unable to escape from the Command Module, the spacecraft that the astronauts spend most of their time in. NASA learned much from Apollo 1, and the Command Module underwent a massive design change in order to prevent such disaster from occurring again. Apollos 2 through 6, two of which actually happened before Apollo 1, were all unmanned missions to test and develop the equipment that would eventually be used in the Moon landings. This included testing the Command and Service Module (CSM), which is the part of the Apollo spacecraft where astronauts stay while traveling to and from the Moon.
The next Apollo missions, 7 through 10, were all manned, the technology for the landings having been deemed ready for safe human use. As we inched closer to being ready to land on the Moon, many firsts occurred. Apollo 8 was the first crewed spacecraft to escape low Earth orbit and continue on to orbit the Moon, making them the first humans to see the dark side of the Moon! The Apollo 9 mission marked the first time that humans were in a spacecraft that was not capable of returning to Earth when they practiced docking with and transferring to the Lunar Module, the spacecraft which would eventually be used to transport astronauts from lunar orbit the the lunar surface. Apollo 10 was the final test mission, testing every component of a lunar landing mission except actually landing. After these ten test missions, each building on knowledge gained from the last, NASA was finally ready to put men on the Moon.
Apollo 11 - The First Landing
Apollo 11 left Earth for the Moon on July 16, 1969, with Commander Neil Armstrong, Command and Service Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin on board. They successfully transferred to orbit around the Moon, but, while descending to the surface of the Moon, Armstrong and Aldrin realized that their landing site was riddled with boulders and jagged rocks! They needed to land quickly because they were low on fuel, so Armstrong took manual control of the Lunar Module and landed in a safe spot with only seconds to spare. They landed on the Moon in Mare Tranquillitatis on July 20, 1969, at 20:17:40 UTC and spent 21 hours, 36 minutes, and 20 seconds there, a shorter mission than the ones that would come in the future.
Before venturing outside, Armstrong and Aldrin spent six and a half hours inside the Lunar Module making sure that everything was in place for humanity’s first jaunt on the Moon. They connected the TV camera they had brought to radio observatories on Earth so that all of humanity could watch the historic moment. When Armstrong finally stepped off the ladder, his foot hitting the surface of the Moon, he uttered his famous declaration to more than half a billion people watching on television: “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”
After planting the US flag on the Moon, the astronauts got to work setting up the Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package. Every Apollo mission brought science experiments with them, with more being brought each mission. These experiments provided a wealth of data for scientists to piece together lunar history. After setting up the experiments, which included a lunar ranging retro reflector and a passive seismic experiment, the astronauts spent the remainder of their time taking photographs and collecting two boxes of lunar rocks with a total weight of 47.51 lbs. They intended to collect more, but their cumbersome spacesuits slowed them down. Armstrong and Aldrin left their lunar boots, lunar life-support backpacks, tools, waste, and other equipment behind on the Moon to make the ascent stage lighter. The final leg of their mission took them back to the Earth's surface safely, making the first lunar landing a success!
The Apollo 12 mission, which began its journey on November 14, 1969, nearly ended in disaster. Thirty-five seconds into the flight, lightning struck the launch vehicle, with another strike occurring seventeen seconds later. The first strike took out some power cells, resulting in the crew not having enough power to run all their systems. The second strike made it so that they weren’t being given meaningful information about their altitude. Without these systems, it would be impossible to land on the Moon. Luckily, the Lunar Module Pilot, Alan Bean, was able to manually perform the emergency procedure which resulted in the onboard instrumentation receiving normal power again, saving the mission from failure.
Apollo 12 had a textbook landing on the Moon on November 19, 1969. This mission was considered a Mission Type H, "precision manned lunar landing demonstration and systematic lunar exploration." Their Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) contained several more experiments than Apollo 11 had brought, allowing scientists back on Earth to understand more about the Moon’s environment. On this mission, the astronauts also collected components of the Surveyor probe, which had been sent to the Moon in 1967, in order to study the effects of long-term exposure to the lunar environment. With the exception of the lightning strikes in the first minute of the mission, Apollo 12 was a textbook success!
Apollo 14, another Mission Type H, left for the Moon on January 31, 1971. While they did successfully land on the Moon, there were, once again, a few hiccups. The first of these came when the Lunar Module and Command Module attempted to dock. The docking mechanism would not activate the latches, but the astronauts were eventually able to find a workaround. Unfortunately, another couple of problems cropped up as the Lunar Module began its descent to the surface. The first was a faulty switch giving an abort signal, which had to be fixed by tricking the computer into thinking an abort had already happened. The second problem was that the Lunar Module's landing radar failed to lock to the surface. The pilots were flying blind, not knowing the distance to the surface and their descent velocity, but they managed to land successfully on February 5, 1971.
During their stay, they planted a new American flag and set up the ALSEP, which contained a couple of new experiments as well as a handful of experiments already brought up by other missions. They were unable to complete their other goal, sampling ejecta from the rim of the Cone crater, because of ineffective lunar transportation and not having a navigation system.
Apollo 15 left for the Moon on July 26, 1971. While the voyage to the Moon was uneventful, the crew's fortunes changed when the Lunar Module was in its descent. First, their landing site was not exactly where they had expected it to be. Once they managed to find a suitable alternate landing spot, only one of the Lunar Module's legs made contact with the ground, but, thinking that they had fully landed, the pilot shut off the engines, causing the part of the Lunar Module that was not supported to continue falling for 1.6 feet. The Module ended up at an 11-degree tilt – just one more degree may have meant that they would not be able to ascend to orbit!
Apollo 15 was a Mission Type J, "extensive scientific investigation of the Moon on the lunar surface and from lunar orbit." During this trip, they spent much of the time using the new Lunar Roving Vehicle, or Moon buggy, to travel to other locations and collect samples. The Moon buggy was a two-seater vehicle that made exploring the lunar surface far easier. They also set up a variety of experiments, one of which, the heat flow experiment, included drilling into the lunar surface to retrieve a core sample that has revealed much about the Moon’s history. On this mission, they also, without NASA's approval, left a memorial to the 14 astronauts who had died in the furtherance of space exploration.
Apollo 16, the second Mission Type J, had a relatively smooth journey, largely because of the many improvements that had been made to the equipment used on earlier missions. It began its journey to the Moon on April 16, 1972, and there was some worry that the mission would have to be aborted because of a minor issue with the Lunar Module, but Mission Control found a workaround, allowing the astronauts to proceed. Apollo 16 landed on the Descartes Highlands, 910 feet from their intended landing site, on April 21, 1972.
The astronauts set up the first telescope on the Moon and took the first off-world astronomical observations of nebulae, other celestial objects, and the Earth. The primary purposes of this mission were to continue the experiments that had been done before on the Moon by replacing old parts and setting up improved versions, collect more rock samples from a variety of locations, and test the capabilities of the Moon buggy.
The final moon landing, Apollo 17, another Mission Type J, launched on December 7, 1972. Apollo 17 experienced a perfect landing in the Taurus-Littrow Valley on December 11, 1972, and spent 3 days, 2 hours, 59 minutes, and 40 seconds on the Moon—the longest stay on the Moon during Project Apollo.
During this final, largely uneventful (but still extremely helpful) mission, the astronauts implemented 4 new experiments and continued to collect samples of lunar rock. They also journeyed farther from the Lunar Module than any astronaut had before, going 4.7 miles (7.6 km) from safety. The astronauts' final task was to unveil a plaque commemorating the achievements made during Project Apollo. That was the last time humans were on the Moon—until NASA's Project Artemis takes us back!
"I'm on the surface; and, as I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come—but we believe not too long into the future—I'd like to just [say] what I believe history will record. That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."
- Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan as he entered the Challenger to return home
More About Slooh's In the Footsteps of Apollo Astronauts Quest
Discover the fascinating history of the Apollo lunar landing missions and use Slooh's telescopes to go on an expedition to the Moon and back—a journey of a half-million miles.
By the end of this Quest, students will be able to answer the following questions:
What was NASA's Project Apollo? What happened on each Apollo mission?
Where did they land? Was it all at the same location or were each mission different?
How does one plan a Slooh mission to capture the Moon at a specific phase?
How did the astronauts get from Earth to the Moon and back safely?
Command and Service Module
Saturn IB launch vehicle
Saturn V launch vehicle
Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package
Lunar ranging retro reflectors
Passive seismic experiment package
Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP)
Lunar surface magnetometer
Solar wind spectrometer
Suprathermal ion detector
Cold cathode ion gauge
Active seismic experiment
Charged particle lunar environment experiment
Modular Equipment Transporter (MET)
Lunar Roving Vehicle (Moon buggy)
Heat flow experiment
Lunar atmosphere composition experiment
Lunar seismic profiling experiment
Lunar ejecta and meteorites experiment
Lunar surface gravimeter
RST.9-10.1, RST.9-10.2, RST.9-10.3, RST.9-10.4, RST.9-10.5, RST.9-10.6, RST.9-10.7, RST.9-10.10, WHST.9-10.2E, WHST.9-10.F
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About Slooh’s Astronomy NGSS Aligned Learning Activities
Slooh’s Online Telescope is a learning platform designed to support any educator in teaching astronomy to meet NGSS requirements by collecting and analyzing real-world phenomena. No previous experience with telescopes is necessary to quickly learn how to use Slooh to explore space with your students.
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