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A giant leap toward understanding the Moon

Our next-door neighbor began to reveal many of its secrets 4 decades ago when astronauts first ventured beyond the control of Earth’s gravity.
Moon_011811
Earth's Moon. Nikos Haralampidis
Half a century ago, President John Kennedy challenged the country to land a man on the Moon — and return him safely to Earth — by the end of the 1960s. It took only 8 years to achieve his vision. In all, 24 astronauts journeyed to the Moon in nine flights (three people flew two missions each), and six pairs of astronauts explored the lunar surface.

The astronauts returned 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of rocks and soil. The lunar samples destroyed the idea that the Moon was a primitive, unaltered body. The material led scientists to the now widely held belief that the Moon formed from debris launched into Earth orbit when a body roughly the size of Mars struck the infant Earth. The samples also revealed that the Moon had remained volcanically active for at least 2 billion years after its fiery birth.

In July 1994, Astronomy magazine celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first lunar landing with a special issue. This article highlights the nine missions that went to the Moon — from the 20 hours Apollo 8 remained in lunar orbit to the 75 hours Apollo 17 spent on the lunar surface. This is the story of these journeys, seen through the eyes of some of the people who participated in the grand adventure.

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