Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

45 years ago today—on July 16, 1969—astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins launched to the Moon on top of the mightiest spaceship ever built. These amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they built and launched that spaceship—I look at them in awe and admiration.

It was the most important trip in the history of humankind, a trip that many deemed impossible—some people still do think it's impossible—an odyssey that started many years before and changed our perception of the world itself.

Only eight years before this day—on on May 25, 1961—Kennedy announced a plan to go to the Moom. It was a plan that they didn't have. In fact, the mere idea was one that almost everyone thought was impossible to do in that timeframe. Just think about this: The United States only launched its first man to space on May 5, 1961—and he didn't even orbited the Earth. That happened after Kennedy's announcement, on February 20, 1962.

And yet, they did it. The United States was fighting against all odds to beat the Soviet Union on the race to the Moon. The effort turned the country into a technological powerhouse like no other in the world, catapulting it decades ahead of everyone else, with more engineering students getting out of college than ever with the sole intention of participating in the greatest, most amazing project ever imagined.

Enjoy these images of an era long gone.

January 4, 1969. Lunar Module (LM) 5 ascent stage in Final Assembly Area on overhead hoist being moved to dolly for roll-out inspection

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA


February 21, 1969. Workers prepare the S-IC first stage in the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


February 21, 1969. A crane lifts the S-IC first stage in preparation for stacking on a mobile launcher within the VAB's High Bay 1

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


March 6, 1969. Arrival of Apollo 11 Instrument Unit (IU) at KSC aboard Super Guppy

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


March 21, 1969. The S-II second stage is moved into position for mating with the S-IC first stage inside the KSC vehicle assembly building (VAB)

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


March 21, 1969. The S-IVB third stage is hoisted for mating to the second stage

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


March 21, 1969. The S-IVB third stage is moved into position for mating

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


March 21, 1969. Workers prepare the S-IVB for mating of the Instrument Unit, which houses guidance, control and other Saturn V systems

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


March 21, 1969. The instrument unit for the Saturn V launch vehicle, AS-506, used to propel the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, is lowered into place atop the third (S-IVB) stage in the vehicle assembly building at the NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/MSFC Photo Archive


The final assembly stacking of Command Module at the North American plant, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA


April 1, 1969. Apollo 11 command service module (CSM 107) is moved from Chamber L to the work stand in preparation for the first manned lunar landing. (Also shown in the background, is Apollo 12 CSM 108.)

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/KSC Photo Archive


April 4, 1969. Lunar Module 5 (LM-5) move from landing gear fixture and mate to Saturn launch adapter

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/KSC Photo Archive


4 April, 1969. Interior view of the Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Manned Spacecraft Operations Building showing Lunar Module (LM) 5 being moved from work stand for mating with its Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter (SLA)

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA


The command and service modules for Apollo 11 are installed in the altitude chamber of the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building at NASA's Spaceport.

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


April 11, 1969. The command and service modules for Apollo 11 (Apollo Spacecraft 107) move from 134 work stand and final mate to Saturn launch adapter inside the Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Manned Spacecraft Operations Building

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/KSC Photo Archive


May 1, 1969. The Apollo 11 spacecraft assembly is hoisted for mating to the launch vehicle

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


May 1, 1969. Mating of the Apollo 11 spacecraft to the Saturn V launch vehicle

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


May 20, 1969. Side view of Apollo 11 in VAB on the morning of rollout

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


May 20, 1969. Apollo 11 CM / Saturn stack on rollout day.

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


May 20, 1969. Carrying the 363-foot-high Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket and mobile launcher, the crawler inches out of the Vehicle Assembly Building on the journey to Launch Pad 39A.

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA


May 20, 1969. Saturn V SA-506, the space vehicle for the first lunar landing mission, is rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building and down the 3.5 mile crawlerway to Launch Complex 39-A

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/MSFC Photo Archive


May 20, 1969. The Saturn V moves at one mile per hour down the crawlerway toward pad 39A

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


May 20, 1969. Aerial view of Apollo 11 as it nears the end of rollout

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


June 10, 1969. The Apollo 11 crew walk past the base of the massive Saturn V first stage during a walk-through emergency egress test

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


July 1, 1969. Dr. Wernher von Braun in Front of the Apollo 11 Spacecraft

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/MSFC Photo Archive


July 1, 1969. SA-506 and Mobile Service Structure on launch pad 39A

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


July 1, 1969. The Mobile Service Structure (MSS) approaches the Saturn V on pad 39A

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


July 2, 1969. SA-506 (Apollo 11) vents liquid oxygen during a Countdown Demonstration Test

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


July 7, 1969. View of Apollo 11 Saturn V from the top of the launch tower

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


July 11, 1969. A technician works atop the white room, through which the astronauts will enter the spacecraft

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


July 11, 1969. The MSS moves down the pad 39A ramp, leaving the Saturn V alone during a Countdown Demonstration Test

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


July 11, 1969. Searchlights illuminate the Apollo 11 space vehicle at Launch Complex 39A during a Countdown Demonstration Test

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


Pad Leader Guenter Wendt, kneeling, supervises the egress of Apollo 11 crews from spacecraft following a countdown demonstration test. Visible in hatchway is Command Module Pilot Michael Collins.

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA


16 July, 1969. The crew of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission arrives atop Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, during the Apollo 11 prelaunch countdown. Leading is astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander. He was followed by astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot. Technician follows directly behind Armstrong and Collins.

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA


July 16, 1969. Saturn V SA-506 at the moment of ignition

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


Launch of Apollo 11

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/KSC Photo Archive


Apollo 11 liftoff as viewed by a launch tower camera

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


Liftoff of Apollo 11 as viewed from the LC-39 press site

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


Apollo 11 has cleared the tower

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA


Personnel in the Launch Control Center watch the liftoff

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/KSC Photo Archive


Apollo 11 climbs toward orbit

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/GRIN


Apollo 11 as viewed from an Air Force EC-135N plane. A 70mm Airborne Lightweight Optical Tracking System (ALOTS) camera took this picture.

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA/GRIN


ALOTS tracking camera mounted on an Air Force EC-135 aircraft flying at about 40,000 feet altitude photographed this event in the early moments of the Apollo 11 launch.

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA


Separation of the first stage. The mated Apollo spacecraft and Saturn V second (S-II) and third (S-IVB) stages pull away from the expended first (S-1C) stage. Separation occurred at an altitude of about 38 miles, some 55 miles downrange from Cape Kennedy.

Amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they assembled Apollo 11

Photo: NASA

Image curation—Attila Nagy | Text—Jesús Díaz


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