Compiled and Written by Museum Historian Bob Fish
A Historic Moment in World History
USS Hornet (CVS-12) was selected by the Navy as the Prime Recovery Ship (PRS) for Apollo 11, America’s first lunar landing mission. On July 24, 1969, President Richard Nixon, ADM John S. McCain (CINCPAC) and several other dignitaries were present while Hornet recovered astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins and their spacecraft Columbia. Armstrong and Aldrin were the first two humans to walk on the Moon.
The Navy units embarked on USS Hornet that participated in the Apollo 11 recovery were: Helicopter Anti-submarine Warfare Squadron Four (HS-4) flying the Sikorsky SeaKing SH-3D helicopter; Underwater Demolition Teams Eleven and Twelve (UDT-11 and UDT-12); Airborne Early Warning Squadron VAW-111 flying the Grumman E-1B Tracer, and Fleet Logistics Support Squadron VR-30 flying the Grumman C-1A Trader.
The eight-day Apollo 11 mission marks the first time in mankind’s history that humans walked on the surface of another planetary body. On July 20, 1969, two astronauts, Mission Commander Neil Armstrong and LM pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr, landed on the Moon in the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle. During a historic 2 ½ hour lunar surface excursion, the astronauts set up scientific experiments, took photographs, and collected rock and soil samples. After the Eagle rendezvoused with the Command Service Module (CSM) Columbia, the astronauts returned to Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Apollo 11 fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s challenge for America to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the 1960’s decade had ended.
Apollo 11 was launched on a Saturn V on July 16, 1969 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After 1 ½ Earth orbits, the S-IVB stage was re-ignited, putting the spacecraft on course for the Moon. The S-IVB was fired again once the CSM reached the Moon to insert the spacecraft into orbit around it. On July 20, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin entered the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle and descended to the lunar surface. The LM landed in the Sea of Tranquility with Armstrong reporting, “Houston, Tranquility Base here – the Eagle has landed.” Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface several hours later stating, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Aldrin descended the ladder several minutes later. Both astronauts unveiled a plaque on the LM descent stage with the inscription: “Here Men From Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D, We Came In Peace For All Mankind.” The astronauts deployed the scientific instruments, took photographs, and collected 22 kilograms of lunar rock and soil samples. The astronauts traversed a total distance of about 250 meters. The EVA ended after 2 hours, 31 minutes when the astronauts returned to the LM and closed the hatch.
After spending over 21 hours on the lunar surface, the Eagle blasted off. Once the LM had docked with Columbia, the two astronauts transferred to the CM, and the LM was jettisoned into lunar orbit (the crash site of the Eagle on the Moon is still unknown).
Three days later, just before Columbia was positioned for reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, it was separated from the Service Module. Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24 at 5:50 AM local time, after traveling over 950,000 miles in a little more than 8 days. The splashdown point was 920 miles southwest of Honolulu and 13 miles from USS Hornet.
Four months later, USS Hornet (CVS-12) repeated this flawless performance as PRS for the recovery of Apollo 12, America’s second lunar landing mission. On November 24, 1969, the spacecraft Yankee Clipper, with its all-Navy astronaut crew of Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Dick Gordon, splashed down just a little over 2 miles from the aircraft carrier.