The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Timeline Book is the most important manual used to accomplish the goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth, a mission first set out by by President John F. Kennedy in a speech to a joint session of Congress on 25 May 1961.
The leaders of NASA, the federal agency established in October 1958 in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of the Sputnik satellite, had advised Kennedy that an unprecedented national programme involving billions of dollars, industrial enterprises and hundreds of thousands of people would have to be brought to bear — and fast — if the goal of the moon landing by the end of the decade was going to be met.
The Apollo programme would also be the largest non-military technological endeavour ever undertaken by the United States; only the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb was comparable.
In the summer of 1969, nearly six years after President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. ‘Buzz’ Aldrin made the historic landing on the Moon, setting Eagle down on the Sea of Tranquility, a large, dark, basaltic plain formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. They had landed with only around 25 seconds of fuel left.
The Timeline Book was placed precisely between the two men as Armstrong uttered his historic first words back to Mission Control after landing: ‘Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.’ Within moments, Aldrin had written Eagle’s coordinates in the Sea of Tranquility on page 10 of the book — the first writing by a human being on a celestial body other than Earth.
After checkout, Armstrong headed down the LM ladder and set foot on the Moon’s surface, telling an estimated 530 million people around the world who were watching on television or listening on radio that it was ‘one small step for [a] man — one giant leap for mankind’.
The Timeline Book narrates the entire Eagle voyage from inspection, undocking, lunar surface descent and ascent, to the rendezvous with Michael Collins aboard the Command Module in lunar orbit. The book contains nearly 150 annotations and completion checkmarks made in real-time by Aldrin and Armstrong. Traces of what appears to be lunar dust are on the transfer list pages that detail the movement of lunar rock samples and equipment from Eagle to Columbia.
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No more significant document of space exploration history is ever likely to be created, because future manned missions will be more fully digitised and not leave a comparable human trace.
Throughout Eagle’s voyage, Armstrong and Aldrin were utterly alone. There is no video recording of them in Eagle and only imperfect audio recording. This book is a unique witness to the first manned lunar landing, one of the most glorious adventures of all time. It is offered in One Giant Leap: Celebrating Space Exploration 50 Years after Apollo 11 on 18 July at Christie’s in New York.
The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Timeline Book will be on view at Christie’s in New York (4-15 May), Christie’s in Hong Kong (24-27 May), and Christie’s in Beijing (13-16 June), with later dates in San Francisco and Seattle to be announced