Apollo 11: EI to Earth

Right side up at last: The Apollo 11 crew in their “BIGs” — Biological Isolation Garments.

It’s mission day nine.  It won’t last long.

We’ll be back on Earth before day is done.

So we hope!

The first thing we ask, will we need a final Midcourse Correction?

“MCC7 is not required.”

So the pace through the timeline is steady and unhurried.


192:50 (time since launch)  Go/no go for pyro arm sequence

                      VHF activation

                           Logic sequence check

193:00 (EI minus 2 hrs.)


Entry Interface — EI,

the measure of all to come,

the moment we touch the first thin tendrils of atmosphere.

Houston jokes, “Be sure to come in BEF.”

Wise guys — Blunt End Forward,

with our heatshield taking the heat of reentry

–an ablative shield of phenolic epoxy resin,

ablative meaning it slowly burns away carrying heat with it —

and it serves to brake us,

as we will go from nearly 25,000 mph to to splashdown

in less than a half hour.


193:10   Mnvr to entry attitude

                COAS start check

                      Sextant star check

                           Inertial Measurement Unit align

                               GDC align to IMU


A crescent Earth rapidly grows before us.

We’re aiming for a 40-mile-wide entry corridor.

Hit too high — we skip off the atmosphere.

Hit too low — and we burn up.

194:00 (EI minus 1 hr)       CM Reaction Control System  preheat

                                                Primary evaporator check

                                Record entry pad and recovery data


We enter the Earth’s shadow and radio,

“And the sun is going down right on schedule.

It’s getting dark in here.”

Soon we will be illuminated by a different kind of light,

that of our own making.


194:30   CM RCS ck

                   Entry batts – on

                         Separation checklist

                             Go for pyro arm

194:40      P61 entry prep

                      mnvr to CM/SM sep att

194:50   CM/SM sep

                      P62 – Entry attitude

                         Mnvr to entry att


We jettison the cylindrical Service Module.

All that’s left of Apollo 11 is the 12-foot tall conical Command Module,

45 minutes from splashdown.

195:00         P63 – entry initiate

                               EI – GET = 195:03:27


“Apollo 11, Houston.  You’re still looking mighty fine down here.

You’re cleared for landing.”

We call, “See you later.”

EI at 400,000 altitude.

Communications blackout begins.

and so does the light show outside.

We’re traveling down a neon tunnel

of ionized gas created by our passage,

orange-yellow at the core,

surrounded by pulsing colors, blues, violets.


As we slam into the atmosphere,

lift and bank for our landing target

80 miles southwest of Hawaii,

G forces also quickly build to 6.6

just 1 min. 22 sec. after EI

but just as quickly ease back.

And two minutes later,

we exit communication blackout.

We’re through the worst — if the parachutes work.


We’re at 8 min. 22 sec. since EI

and drogue deployment,

the two small stabilizing parachutes,

less than six minutes until splash.

And 48 seconds later, main chute deployment.

We’re on the mains, in touch with the recovery carrier, Hornet,

on station a few miles from our splash target.

We tell them, “Hello Hornet.  The condition of the crew is excellent,

Four thousand, 3,500 feet on the way down.”


“Apollo 11 at 1,500 feet.”

“Three hundred feet.”

“A hundred feet.”

We hit and hit hard, like a brick,

into choppy seas

and the capsule flips over,

nose down.  We bob upside down,

waiting through the ten minutes needed

for three flotation balloons to inflate

and flip us upright.

We’re getting seasick by then.

So what is the first act by three moon heroes

upon their return safely to earth?


They fight their stomachs

so they won’t throw up in front of the whole world.

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