Visualizing the Approach

Celebrating the historic Apollo 11 mission

Visualizing the Approach

How do you portray, at a glance, the challenges faced by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and mission controllers as they attempted to set down on another world for the first time? This chart uses altitude, Armstrong’s heart rate, program alarms, and a mandatory abort count to tell a tense story.

At 102 hours and 35 minutes into the mission, the Lunar Module “Eagle” was at 47,000 feet and dropping slowly. Two minutes earlier, they had fired the descent engine for one continuous burn until touchdown. By the time the astronauts got the “Go for landing” call from Mission Control, the spacecraft was dropping like a stone and Armstrong’s heart began to race.

It’s understandable his heart would race. In a very short period of time, Neil and Buzz had learned they were overshooting the landing target amidst communication problems and data dropouts. They had experienced multiple computer program alarms which could cause an abort. They were slow yawing over and therefore late getting radar lock-on for accurate altitude readings. The computer navigation system was trying to put the delicate spacecraft down onto a field of boulders. They were low on fuel.

At 102:45 and 42 seconds, with a heart racing at 150 beats per minute, the commander called out “shutdown” and history was made.


Jon Dearden


For all the hair-raising details in real-time, watch my film Hazardous Journey: Landing the Eagle.

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