How NASA Assembled Apollo 11

By Attila Nagy on at

Forty-five years ago today — on July 16, 1969 — astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins launched to the Moon on top of the mightiest spaceship ever built. These amazing photos from NASA's vaults show how they built and launched that spaceship—I look at them in awe and admiration.

It was the most important trip in the history of humankind, a trip that many deemed impossible — some people still do think it's impossible — an odyssey that started many years before and changed our perception of the world itself.

Only eight years before this day — on on May 25, 1961 — Kennedy announced a plan to go to the Moon. It was a plan that they didn't have. In fact, the mere idea was one that almost everyone thought was impossible to do in that timeframe. Just think about this: The United States only launched its first man to space on May 5, 1961 — and he didn't even orbited the Earth. That happened after Kennedy's announcement, on February 20, 1962.

And yet, they did it. The United States was fighting against all odds to beat the Soviet Union on the race to the Moon. The effort turned the country into a technological powerhouse like no other in the world, catapulting it decades ahead of everyone else, with more engineering students getting out of college than ever with the sole intention of participating in the greatest, most amazing project ever imagined.

Enjoy these images of an era long gone.

How they assembled Apollo 11

January 4, 1969. Lunar Module (LM) 5 ascent stage in Final Assembly Area on overhead hoist being moved to dolly for roll-out inspection.
Photo: NASA


How they assembled Apollo 11

February 21, 1969. Workers prepare the S-IC first stage in the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building.
Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

February 21, 1969. A crane lifts the S-IC first stage in preparation for stacking on a mobile launcher within the VAB's High Bay 1.
Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

March 6, 1969. Arrival of Apollo 11 Instrument Unit (IU) at KSC aboard Super Guppy.
Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

March 21, 1969. The S-II second stage is moved into position for mating with the S-IC first stage inside the KSC vehicle assembly building (VAB).
Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

March 21, 1969. The S-IVB third stage is hoisted for mating to the second stage.
Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

March 21, 1969. The S-IVB third stage is moved into position for mating.
Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

March 21, 1969. Workers prepare the S-IVB for mating of the Instrument Unit, which houses guidance, control and other Saturn V systems.
Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

March 21, 1969. The instrument unit for the Saturn V launch vehicle, AS-506, used to propel the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, is lowered into place atop the third (S-IVB) stage in the vehicle assembly building at the NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

Photo: NASA/MSFC Photo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

The final assembly stacking of Command Module at the North American plant, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Photo: NASA


How they assembled Apollo 11

April 1, 1969. Apollo 11 command service module (CSM 107) is moved from Chamber L to the work stand in preparation for the first manned lunar landing. (Also shown in the background, is Apollo 12 CSM 108.)
Photo: NASA/KSC Photo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

April 4, 1969. Lunar Module 5 (LM-5) move from landing gear fixture and mate to Saturn launch adapter.
Photo: NASA/KSC Photo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

4 April, 1969. Interior view of the Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Manned Spacecraft Operations Building showing Lunar Module (LM) 5 being moved from work stand for mating with its Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter (SLA).

Photo: NASA


How they assembled Apollo 11

The command and service modules for Apollo 11 are installed in the altitude chamber of the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building at NASA's Spaceport.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

How they assembled Apollo 11

How they assembled Apollo 11

April 11, 1969. The command and service modules for Apollo 11 (Apollo Spacecraft 107) move from 134 work stand and final mate to Saturn launch adapter inside the Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Manned Spacecraft Operations Building.
Photos: NASA/KSC Photo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

May 1, 1969. The Apollo 11 spacecraft assembly is hoisted for mating to the launch vehicle

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

May 1, 1969. Mating of the Apollo 11 spacecraft to the Saturn V launch vehicle.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

May 20, 1969. Side view of Apollo 11 in VAB on the morning of rollout.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

May 20, 1969. Apollo 11 CM / Saturn stack on rollout day.
Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

May 20, 1969. Carrying the 363-foot-high Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket and mobile launcher, the crawler inches out of the Vehicle Assembly Building on the journey to Launch Pad 39A.

Photo: NASA


How they assembled Apollo 11

How they assembled Apollo 11

May 20, 1969. Saturn V SA-506, the space vehicle for the first lunar landing mission, is rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building and down the 3.5 mile crawlerway to Launch Complex 39-A.

Photos: NASA/MSFC Photo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

How they assembled Apollo 11

How they assembled Apollo 11

May 20, 1969. The Saturn V moves at one mile per hour down the crawlerway toward pad 39A.

Photos: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

May 20, 1969. Aerial view of Apollo 11 as it nears the end of rollout.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

June 10, 1969. The Apollo 11 crew walk past the base of the massive Saturn V first stage during a walk-through emergency egress test.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

July 1, 1969. Dr. Wernher von Braun in Front of the Apollo 11 Spacecraft.

Photo: NASA/MSFC Photo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

July 1, 1969. SA-506 and Mobile Service Structure on launch pad 39A.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

July 1, 1969. The Mobile Service Structure (MSS) approaches the Saturn V on pad 39A.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

July 2, 1969. SA-506 (Apollo 11) vents liquid oxygen during a Countdown Demonstration Test.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

July 7, 1969. View of Apollo 11 Saturn V from the top of the launch tower.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

July 11, 1969. A technician works atop the white room, through which the astronauts will enter the spacecraft.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

July 11, 1969. The MSS moves down the pad 39A ramp, leaving the Saturn V alone during a Countdown Demonstration Test.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

July 11, 1969. Searchlights illuminate the Apollo 11 space vehicle at Launch Complex 39A during a Countdown Demonstration Test.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

Pad Leader Guenter Wendt, kneeling, supervises the egress of Apollo 11 crews from spacecraft following a countdown demonstration test. Visible in hatchway is Command Module Pilot Michael Collins.

Photo: NASA


How they assembled Apollo 11

16 July, 1969. The crew of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission arrives atop Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, during the Apollo 11 prelaunch countdown. Leading is astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander. He was followed by astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot. Technician follows directly behind Armstrong and Collins.

Photo: NASA


How they assembled Apollo 11

July 16, 1969. Saturn V SA-506 at the moment of ignition.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

How they assembled Apollo 11

How they assembled Apollo 11

How they assembled Apollo 11

How they assembled Apollo 11

The launch of Apollo 11.

Photo: NASA/KSC Photo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

How they assembled Apollo 11

Apollo 11 liftoff as viewed by a launch tower camera.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

Liftoff of Apollo 11 as viewed from the LC-39 press site.

Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

Apollo 11 has cleared the tower.

Photo: NASA


How they assembled Apollo 11

Personnel in the Launch Control Center watch the liftoff.

Photo: NASA/KSC Photo Archive


How they assembled Apollo 11

Apollo 11 climbs toward orbit.

Photo: NASA/GRIN


How they assembled Apollo 11

Apollo 11 as viewed from an Air Force EC-135N plane. A 70mm Airborne Lightweight Optical Tracking System (ALOTS) camera took this picture.

Photo: NASA/GRIN


How they assembled Apollo 11

ALOTS tracking camera mounted on an Air Force EC-135 aircraft flying at about 40,000 feet altitude photographed this event in the early moments of the Apollo 11 launch.

Photo: NASA


How they assembled Apollo 11

Separation of the first stage. The mated Apollo spacecraft and Saturn V second (S-II) and third (S-IVB) stages pull away from the expended first (S-1C) stage. Separation occurred at an altitude of about 38 miles, some 55 miles downrange from Cape Kennedy.

Photo: NASA

Image curation—Attila Nagy | Text—Jesús Díaz