Lunar and Planetary Institute

Apollo 11 Mission

Overview | Landing Site | Surface Operations | Photography | Experiments | Samples

Surface Operations Overview

"One small step...""One small step..." (3.2MB in AVI format)

The Apollo 11 astronauts had several tasks to accomplish during extravehicular activity (EVA) operations while on the surface. Time permitting, the astronauts planned to collect lunar samples, deploy several experiments, and examine and photograph the lunar surface. The following map of the landing area shows where these activities took place. The EVA lasted approximately 2.5 hours. All scientific activities were completed satisfactorily, all instruments were deployed, and samples were collected.

Apollo 11 Traverse Map

The Extravehicular Activity

Apollo 11 Lunar Module A close-up view of the Apollo 11 lunar module (LM) on the surface of the Moon. In this photograph, one of the astronauts is shown working at the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly.
Neil Armstrong emerging from Apollo 11 spacecraft The Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA) began at 10:39:33 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969. Astronaut Neil Armstrong emerged from the spacecraft first. While descending, he released the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly on the Lunar Module's descent stage. A camera on this module provided live television coverage of man's first step on the Moon. On this, their one and only EVA, the astronauts had a great deal to do in a short time. During this first visit to the Moon, the astronauts remained within about 100 meters of the lunar module, collected about 47 pounds of samples, and deployed four experiments. After spending approximately 2 hours and 31 minutes on the surface, the astronauts ended the EVA at 1:11:13 a.m. EDT on July 21.


Contingency Sampling

As the first priority, a sample of lunar surface material was collected and stored on the spacecraft to ensure that, if an early end to the surface activities were required, samples from the Moon could be returned to Earth. This sample was collected immediately northwest of the lunar module and its collection took about 3.5 minutes.

Activities at the Lunar Module Site

Deploying the TV cameraThe television camera was set up by astronaut Neil Armstrong at a distance from the lunar module (LM), oriented so that the LM and most surface activities would be in the field of view. There were no difficulties setting up the TV camera; however, the cord would not lie flat and created a tripping hazard.


Solar Wind Composition Experiment

Placing the Solar Wind Composition ExperimentThe Sun continually emits a flux of electrically charged particles into space. This is termed the solar wind. The Earth's magnetic field prevents these charged particles from reaching the Earth's surface, although in the Earth's polar regions, these particles can reach the upper part of the atmosphere, causing auroras. The Moon is outside the Earth's magnetic field for most of each month and has a negligible atmosphere, allowing solar-wind particles to reach the Moon's surface. Two different experiments, the Solar Wind Composition Experiment and the Solar Wind Spectrometer, were deployed on the Moon to study solar wind.

The Solar Wind Composition Experiment was performed on Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16. It consisted of an aluminum foil sheet, 1.4 meters by 0.3 meters, that was deployed on a pole facing the sun. On Apollo 16, a platinum sheet was also used. This foil was exposed to the sun for periods ranging from 77 minutes on Apollo 11 to 45 hours on Apollo 16, allowing solar-wind particles to embed themselves into the foil. The foil was then returned to Earth for laboratory analysis. This allowed the chemical composition of the embedded solar wind to be determined more accurately than would be possible if the measurement were made using remotely controlled instruments on the Moon, but limited the periods at which observations could be made. The isotopes of the light noble gases were measured, including helium-3, helium-4, neon-20, neon-21, neon-22, and argon-36. Some variation in the composition of the solar wind was observed in the measurements from the different mission. These variations were correlated with variations in the intensity of the solar wind as determined from magnetic field measurements.

The Solar Wind Composition experiment was deployed on the surface, about 6 meters from the LM, for approximately 1 hour and 17 minutes. At the end of that time, the foil was collected for return to Earth. No problems were experienced with the experiment.

Placing the Flag on the Lunar Surface

Placing the Flag on the Lunar SurfaceThe crew next deployed a specially constructed 3' × 5' American flag. They fitted together its two-piece aluminum staff and deployed a support along its upper edge so that it would remain unfurled in the lunar vacuum. The crew also received a brief call from President Richard Nixon.

Additional Sampling (Bulk Sample)

Armstrong collected the bulk sample over a period of about 14 minutes. Some 22 or 23 scoops were taken and sealed in one of the sample return containers for return to Earth. This activity required more time than anticipated because the assembly table for packing the samples was in deep shadow.

Collecting a Soil Sample
Collecting a Rock Sample
Collecting a Soil Sample
Collecting a Rock Sample

Deployment of the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package

The Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package consisted of three experiments. The first of these was the Laser Ranging Retroreflector, which was set up about 14 meters south-southwest of the LM. Second was the Passive Seismic Experiment, which was set up a bit farther out from the LM. The third experiment, the Lunar Dust Detector, was mounted on the Passive Seismic Experiment. The experiments themselves were easily deployed; however, it proved difficult to find a level spot for deployment.

Unloading the Experiments Unloading the Experiments
In this picture, the Laser Ranging Retroreflector and the Passive Seismic Experiment are being removed from the lunar module descent stage.
Transporting the Experiments Transporting the Experiments
Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, moves toward a position to deploy the components of the experiment package.
Placing the Experiment Placing the Experiments
The Laser Ranging Retroreflector has already been set up facing the Earth as required. The Passive Seismic Experiment is being set up and leveled, which, as noted above, proved to be somewhat difficult. The Passive Seismic Experiment was placed behind the large rock to shield the experiment from the effects of liftoff.


Additional Sampling (Documented Samples)

Collecting a Core Tube SampleThe samples were supposed to be documented through photographs and astronaut commentary prior to being removed from the lunar surface. As had been anticipated, time did not permit exact performance of this part of the sample collection. Instead, this time was used to collect approximately 20 selected "grab samples" from three different areas near the lunar module and from 10 to 15 meters away. Two core tube samples were taken in the vicinity of the Solar Wind Composition experiment. There was some difficulty in penetrating the lunar surface and it took almost 6 minutes to obtain these samples. There was no time to fill the environmental and gas analysis sample container.

Other EVA Activities

In addition to documenting their surface activities, the astronauts also performed two other photographic tasks: close-up stereoscopic photography and panoramic photography. The panoramic photographs were taken at five stations around the lunar module (LM), including one about 60 meters east and a bit south of the LM. Also during the EVA, astronaut Armstrong made a traverse to Little West Crater.

The Apollo Lunar Surface Close-up CameraThe Apollo lunar surface close-up camera, which provided stereoscopic pictures of the fine surface structure, is in the foreground. A total of 17 stereoscopic pairs were taken of both disturbed and undisturbed soil in the immediate vicinity of the LM.


Close-up view of the plaque that the Apollo 11 astronauts left on the Moon.End of the First Manned Lunar Landing
This is a close-up view of the plaque that the Apollo 11 astronauts left on the Moon in commemoration of the historic lunar landing mission. The plaque was attached to the ladder on the landing gear strut on the descent stage of the Apollo 11 LM. The plaque was covered with a thin sheet of stainless steel during flight.


"Here Men From Planet Earth
First Set Foot Upon The Moon
July 1969 A.D.
We Came In Peace For All Mankind"

Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal