It seems incredible to think that 40 years ago today, man first step foot on the surface of the Moon and took a ‘giant leap’ forward in history.

Space exploration was still in relative infancy back then, but the 20th July 1969 heralded a landmark moment in the history of mankind.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” said Mission Commander Neil Armstrong as he set foot on the Moon’s surface.

One ‘small step for man’ was helped with one giant boost of propulsion from the world of industrial gases, as liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuelled NASA’s Saturn V spacecraft.

It took so much power to safely propel the Eagle Lunar Module (LM) into orbit and ultimately, to the Moon, that well over 1 million litres of liquid oxygen alone are thought to have been used. That’s not to mention the enormous volume of liquid hydrogen consumed, as well as the auxiliary propulsion of nitrogen tetroxide and RP-1 rocket fuel, or kerosene.

History in the making
Launched on 16th July 1969, the famed Apollo 11 mission was the first manned mission to land on the Moon.

Set a determined target of reaching the Moon by the end of the 1960s by then US President John F. Kennedy, the scale of the task before NASA was immense. A goal that would historically be reached by 20th July 1969.

The three-man crew of Mission Commander Neil Alden Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin Eugene ‘Buzz’ Aldrin Jr would make the momentous march forward into space in the Saturn V spacecraft – departing from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US.

A television spectacle watched by millions, including serving President Richard Nixon, Saturn V launched the Apollo 11 mission from the Kennedy Space Center at 9:32am (local time) on 16th July 1969. It would enter orbit just 12 minutes later.

Liquid gas propulsion
The launch, flight, landing and return would take place via a number of stages of the Saturn V rocket, operating a Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) mission mode.

The Saturn V consisted of two main sections, the Command/Service Module (CSM) and the Lunar Module (LM), which would descend to and return from the Lunar surface.

Propulsion for this spacecraft would require boosters capable of a large payload, with the Saturn IB and Saturn V booster itself developed for this very task. The Saturn V booster consisted of three stages, the S-IC, the SII, and the S-IVB.

As the first stage rocket, the S-IC consisted of five F-1 engines and was fuelled by RP-1 rocket fuel and liquid oxygen oxidizer, providing a total of 7.5 million pounds of thrust. Burning for only 2.5 minutes, the five engines would accelerate the spacecraft to a speed of around 6,000 mph.

So fundamental was the involvement of gases, that most of the more than two thousand metric tones of mass of the rocket at launch was actually the RP-1 and liquid oxygen propellant.

This was followed by the S-II second stage, where a further five J-2 engines would burn-up a combined total of more than 1 million litres of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant, for around six minutes of thrust that took the spacecraft to a speed of 15,300 mph.

At an altitude of approx. 115 miles (185km), the third stage S-IVB rocket took over and put the spacecraft into orbit, its RocketDyne-manufactured J-2 engine again consuming a huge amount of liquid hydrogen propellant.

The Eagle has landed
And so, on the 20th July 1969, the Eagle LM separated from the command module (Columbia) and the descent began.

Shortly afterwards, the LM had settled on the Moon’s surface and Armstrong famously said, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Six and a half hours after landing, Armstrong stepped foot on the surface and momentously uttered, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Several hours later and the Apollo 11 space exploration mission would begin its draw to a close, as Armstrong and Aldrin prepared the Eagle LM for ascent back to Collins in the Columbia command module.

After rendezvous with Columbia, Eagle’s ascent using the liquid hydrogen-fuelled Saturn IB (including the restarted S-IVB rocket) rocket jettisoned into Lunar orbit on 21st July 1969.

Three days later, on 24th July, the three astronauts returned home following ‘splashdown’ in the Pacific Ocean. History had been made that day on 20th July, as the first humans touched down and stepped foot on another planet.

Industrial gases played a significant and not-to-be-understated role in propelling mankind into a whole new space frontier.

21st century space exploration
A full 40 years later and the industrial gas community is still helping NASA with its space exploration objectives.

Numerous contracts have been secured and delivered upon through the decades to have passed since, for the crucial supply of liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen.

In recent weeks in fact, gasworld has revealed that three of the major Tier 1 industrial gas companies have newly secured supply deals with NASA.

Linde LLC, Air Products and Air Liquide Industrial U.S. LP have all been awarded fixed-price contracts to provide varying volumes of liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen for space exploration purposes.