NASA’s Moon landing 50 years ago this month was successfully carried out on July 20, 1969. The lunar landing saw astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins fly to the Moon and back under the banner of Apollo 11. Now, 50 years later, the Apollo 11 mission is widely touted as the greatest story ever told in the history of human exploration. But just how far did the Apollo 11 crew have to fly and how far away is the Moon?
How far away is the Moon?
The Moon is the single brightest and closest object in our night skies, making it the perfect target for a spacecraft landing.
But the Moon’s orbit around the Earth also happens to be elliptical, meaning the distance between the Earth and the Moon changes over time.
At the closest point to the Earth – so-called perigee – the Moon is an incredible 225,623 miles (363,104km) from Earth.
And as soon as the Moon reaches its farthest orbit or apogee, the lunar orb sits approximately 252,088 miles (405,696km) from our planet.
NASA said: “Because of the Moon’s elliptical orbit, it is sometimes farther from Earth – farthest at apogee – and sometimes closer – closest at perigee.”
On average, NASA estimates the Moon is about 238,855 miles (384,400km) away.
This means you could fit up to 30 Earth’s in the space between the Moon and our home-world.
When President John F Kennedy targeted the Moon for a lunar landing, his challenge was the greatest spaceflight ever faced.
How far did the Apollo 11 mission travel in 1969?
Each of Apollo’s Moon-bound spaceflights spent approximately eight days in the vacuum of space.
When Apollo 11 launched from Florida on July 16, 1969, the mission’s crew did not return until July 24.
The first mission to the Moon was Apollo 8 on December 21, 1968.
The Apollo launch circularised the Moon for the first time in history, achieving a maximum distance from the Earth of 234,474 miles (377,349km).
When Apollo 11 flew to the Moon and back, it took eight days, three hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds to complete the mission.
During this time, Apollo 11 spent 75 hours and 56 minutes entering a stable orbit around the Moon.
The mission was designed to cover 240,000 miles (286,242km) of spaceflight travel.
NASA said: “The goal of Apollo 11 was, as John F Kennedy had pronounced less than a decade earlier, to land astronauts on the Moon and return them safely to Earth.
“The mission conducted the first crewed landing on the Moon, deployed instruments, took photographs, collected samples and returned the crew safely back home.
“A plaque on the descent stage, which also served as launch platform for the ascent stage and remains on the lunar surface, reads: ‘Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the Moon July 1969, AD. We came in peace for all mankind’.”