How Apollo Astronauts Didn’t Get Lost Going to the Moon

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Special thanks to for helping make this episode possible. Be sure to check out for more behind-the-scenes looks and unsung heroes of the Apollo program.

This video kinda broke my brain… if you’re still a little confused or if you’re like me and retain things better when you read about it, check out my companion blog post over on Discover.

Comments: 100
  1. Darius Duesentrieb

    you just press ‘M’ then a 3d map pops up and where your icon is there are you,,

  2. Artfactial

    Great to see you back with a new format, well done and informative as always!:)

  3. Mark Cotton

    Brilliantly detailed Amy, thank you.

  4. Christopher U.S. Smith

    Sorry to complicate it further Amy, but the AGC was technically the *backup* system. *ALL the trajectory computations were done by the engineers in the “trench”, the front row in the MOCR.* See the _Moon Machines_ episode on the “Navigation Computer” to learn why.

  5. CharlyRomeo2009

    I guess you had to be a good skeet shooter also

  6. Thema inproblem

    Man, jamming the navigation signals would have been the ultimate dick move. I’m glad they considered the possibility though. Amy, build the lego lander. It’s a really cool model.

  7. Mugen West

    Ah, miniature golf.

  8. CMDR Terrorfirma

    Wow.. I never heard that the reason they went in internal guidance was so that the Soviets couldn’t send disrupting signals to throw them off course! It is weird to think that was a reality back then, that they would consider it a real issue and threat! thanks for that great description of how they did it! I knew they used the scopes to measure angles and reset the nav computer but I had no idea how they did it.

  9. Skukkix23

    To much metaphors. Explaining orbital mechanics on a basic level would have been enough.

  10. MrGilRoland

    How Apollo astronauts didn’t get lost:
    Astronaut 1: “So where do we go?”
    Astronaut 2: *pointing the Moon* “There”.

  11. Duke Craig

    Just get The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that’s all you need, and DON’T PANIC.

  12. Kuntor Kunty

    Please stick it right between her pretty!

  13. whistletutor

    Great content – been a subscriber for a while but I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to say how much I love these vids! Cheers from an 8-time Space Camp grad (not bragging or anything… :)

  14. Madd Dogg

    KPAX: “Every KPAX child knows this as common knowledge…”

  15. Marion Pettersson

    That answer one question I have had for a long, long time! Thanks you a lot!

  16. Jeremy Elwell

    amy! you are so cool and I simply love your videos! I sent you a message on FB trying to buy your new book but Amazon was in error, please help! tx

  17. M. M.

    Amy, your videos are absolutely the best things on YouTube. Even better than all the videos about kittens, squirrels and double rainbows. Thank you for taking the time to make them.

  18. Patrick Mowry

    Thanks for having time to post again, you and Scott Manley keep me educated and entertained.

  19. Michael Skinner

    You pick me up first and it’s going to change Everything

  20. Joseph D

    File under: Things I never thought about, but definitely should have.

  21. Brent Drafts

    Had a collection of Time and Life encyclopedias as a kid in the early seventies; one was about space and NASA. Very fascinating.

  22. Bryan de Paepe

    Had a sudden urge to play KSP while watching video, I wonder why?


    Awesome, Amy! Thank you! And, I’ve gotta say, you look outa this world!

  24. Mattgaming

    They pressed M to go to map view

  25. Jim Allen

    I’m still trying to get through the Apollo Guidance Computer book – it is pretty intense.

  26. DSC

    So basically like throwing a pass to a receiver on a post route on a windy day, but with more violence.

  27. J.T. Thomas

    I wish I had you as a professor when I took space dynamics in college…you explain this insanely complicated topic so much better.

  28. UTubeGlennAR

    >^. .^< Nice to have you/Vintage Space back. Hope PC is well.

  29. Rob Babcock

    The watercolor-looking graphics are sweet! Great video, Amy!

  30. Kristopher Reed

    Intelligent and beautiful! Great content. Extremely attractive quality!

  31. Alec The Sceptic

    Great video Amy. Do I spy Shelby Footes 3 volume history of the Civil War? That’s a great read.

  32. Steve Newkirk

    Check out the band The Phenomenauts, if you haven’t already heard them. I think they’d be just right for you.

  33. Stephen Cobcroft

    You always do a good job, thankyou for your efforts.

  34. Ruqyah Services

    Great video Amy but I think you’ve made it seem alot more complicated than what it really was like.. I picture it more like this-
    NASA: “See that big glowing ball up there… just keep going towards that until it gets big enough to fill your whole ‘windscreen’ (not sure what its called on a rocket).. Once that happens, radio through and will tell you how to park up your rocket & all that other easy stuff”

  35. Christopher Green

    As a kid watching the Apollo program, I had no idea how complex this was!

  36. emperorSbraz

    dat BASS in ksp soundtrack tho ^_^

  37. Christian Grantz

    I love the more measured pace of your speaking in this video. I love your videos, but some of your earlier stuff could be bewildering to a southern ear

  38. Meik N

    Well…not quite. The CMC didn’t have the capability to calculate the burns that ‘brought the mission forward’. It just had a ‘return to earth’ program that could calculate an abort burn. Almost all burns during a mission were calculated on the ground by the RTCC (real time computer complex) in Houston. The CMC’s only job was to control those burns. The whole other stuff came into play when contact with Houston was lost and even then the CMC wasn’t mandatory to get home: Houston regularly provided the astronauts with PADs (preliminary advisory data) which gave them all the information they needed to do an abort burn by themselves, in last line of defense with not just more then a stopwatch, the COAS and two stars. In the end, the CMC was a backup to a backup and backuped again by the ‘stopwatch method’.

  39. Mick G.

    They looked at the moon and said “That way!”

  40. Ken Dias

    something going on with YouTube notifications I have the bell on but had to rely on Instagram for notification on this video either way thanks for such good informative content Amy. :-) not a complaint just an FYI

  41. Alex G.

    Love your necklace. I saw them many years ago in Bogotá in the gold museum. The story behind them is so fascinating. Would be worth a video. I love your videos, you make them so well.

  42. J Laurin

    Great work! Could you ,in a future video,n explain how the reentry team understood how to reenter Apollo 8 crew coming back from the moon and land them within a couple miles from a carrier. Unbelievable precession and not burning up when all we did before was orbit the earth. Thank you

  43. Kuchenblech_Mafioso

    I was thinking Amy was talking about pudding. Slightly disappointed, but great video still

  44. Gokul Manohar

    I thought you aim at moon and the shuttle will get there. Never knew it was that complicated. Thanks..

  45. Right Lock

    I’ve played enough kerbal to know you wait for mun rise, burn prograde and just kind of eye ball it

  46. fuRRioso

    I’m in love with you 🙌🏼

  47. icychill105

    cool to learn more after having seen the apollo exhibit at the museum of flight in seattle, WA. amazed at the size of the capsule and engines from the saturn V rocket

  48. Michael Harder

    If they missed the moon and couldn’t use the moon’s gravity to return to Earth, could they’ve used their engines to return?

  49. Dana Terlecky

    My father was an electronic draftsman. He died in prematurely in ’63 while working on what I think was part or the IMU for the LEM. The company he worked for was a sub contract in that kind of thing. I was only 11 at the time and his death was contributed to long time in the pacific in ww2 so i only gather what he told me then. He also told me that they worked on the XB70. Thanks of the post

  50. Jason Unwin

    1. I LOVE my Dyna Soar shirt. I get a lot of looks wearing it. ;-) 2. I guess you could call the computer on Apollo, “The Little Computer That Could”. :-)

  51. Kellie Nicole Brooks Schettino

    I new here,are u part of space program???? U seem to know a lot.And sound factual.

  52. Alan Walker

    Another great video. I really like reliving and learning more about the Apollo missions.
    Please keep them coming and a personal request could you do one about Skylab?

  53. RayDT

    IIRC, they (Mission Control) also used tracking info from ground stations and Doppler shifts in the telemetry signals to determine the spacecraft’s position and velocity, though orientation still had to be determined on-board the spacecraft itself.

  54. Anton Lember

    you have forgotten to make the dark side of the moon opaque to background stars in animations! :D
    (Matt Parker has ruined me)

  55. Norman G.

    The content of this video is so good even the bots don’t dislike it.

  56. To To

    Dear Vintage Space, thanks again for an awesome video! May I ask will there be a special (live) video(s) celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 moon landing? If so, looking forward to it!

  57. Paul T.

    Outstanding! You took a very complex issue and made it understandable, and told the story completely.
    Well done!

  58. John Smith

    The Soviet Mission to the Moon was going to be by remote control from ground. Until they reached the vicinity of the Moon?
    2:17 And by landmarks.
    2:51 Before that it was an Quadrant, before that they used an Astrolabe

  59. Firewater Forge of Arizona

    I love your videos. As far as I know, there’s no one else on YouTube doing this. As someone who’s always had questions about the Apollo program, I really appreciate your videos.

  60. Ashes of the Phoenix

    Cool! Yeah, I don’t think space travel for us humans is possible without computers.

  61. Whitpusmc

    Yay another VS video. Amy you are my favorite YouTuber.

  62. Evan J

    Hi Amy, as always I’m very humbled by the information you deliver and am constantly amazed at what we’ve been able to figure out as human beings. You know, I’d like to point something out I’ve noticed about you that I feel often goes un-appreciated: Your ability to connect visually as you’re explaining the high-science you do, it truly an art in and of itself. That must have taken years to perfect but it’s something I appreciate about you as a powerful presenter.

  63. michaelfink64

    Great to hear from you, Amy. Very informative, as always.

  64. Hiero1986

    Great video. Nice use of music from KSP, too.

  65. Tom McCaffrey

    So glad you’re back! I enjoy your content quite a bit. Short and informative and just in depth enough without requiring me to get pen and paper to follow along.

  66. Nathan Lewis

    Could you do a video on the deep space EVAs in the later Apollo missions?

  67. Ghost World

    not like putting?? but….in Kerbal, everytime I successfully land on Mun, I do a golf clap…

  68. Christopher Gaul

    You mean besides “head for the big bright thing that isn’t the sun”?
    JK. Another well done video.

  69. Gabriel Gonzalez

    What an absolute thrill ride to have been one of those astronauts. With such hi-tech space flight tech and the weight of the Cold War I’m absolutely giddy every time I listen or read about Gemini or Apollo missions 😊

  70. Mike L.

    Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy!
    Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it?

  71. Gitarzan 66

    Its great to see a new video. I love your channel.

  72. zapfanzapfan

    We want Pete, we want Pete! :-)
    Otherwise, awesome as always! Maybe build the Lego lunar lander for the 50th anniversary?

  73. TheJimtanker

    Love the KSP ambiance in the background.

  74. Conrad Spoke

    Spaceflight knowledge is groovy!

  75. Tom's Best Stuff

    Great new content! You can’t talk about Apollo navigation without Jim Lovell!

  76. Jan Rzymkowski

    It’s all cool, but just one tiny detail. Please remember that the dark part of the Moon is not transparent and you can’t see the stars through it like around 7:45 :)

  77. Michael Peterson

    Omg ! I just want to grab her ponytail !

  78. Harry Koppers

    Minor thing- dead reckoning is a contraction of deduced reckoning, thus answering a question you never asked.

  79. Swervin309

    I always enjoy your content. Very informative and made simple to understand. They way your eyes light up, when narrating, is indicative of your passion of the material.

  80. Jeff Vader

    When Issac Newton came up with his cannonball thought experiment 400 years ago, he probably had no idea that one day that idea would be used to send people to the moon. Incredible.

  81. Paul Wells

    50 years today since the eagle landed on the moon. So awesome.

  82. Jay Perrin

    Pilots learn some ded reckoning in initial flight training too. Don’t forget us pilots! ;) I also learned it in some format while in wilderness survival training in middle and high school so I could navigate on the ground. Also, nice article in Astronomy magazine!

  83. Miguel Domínguez

    Incidentally, Amy, how did NASA know where was the capsule to splashdown? The tiniest variation in trajectory at reentry would translate into significant distances, right? Was the splashdown position stablished at the start of the mission or during it? The calculations seem mindnumbing to me.
    EDIT: By the way, in case the wording of my question wasn’t clear: I am NOT one of those imbeciles in tinfoil hats, peddling conspiracy theories about the Moon landings and whatnot. I’m honestly asking because I am in awe at the level of accuracy, planning and calculation involved.

  84. TheVillainOfTheYear

    Most of the Apollo astronauts studied that star navigation at the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on the UNC campus. That’s definitely a special place.

  85. fatarsemonkey

    Great video showing the complexity of equipment and skill needed by astronauts, I don’t think most people have much idea of what an engineering feat it was to go to the moon. You never hear much about the first manned mission to leave earth orbit Apollo 8, these guys where the ones who took the biggest leap.

  86. Twister051

    Blows….my….mind…..that we made it to the moon. Even waaaaay more impressive that we did it with nothing more than hand calculations, Curta calculators, slide rulers and the most rudimentary of computers. American engineers of the 50s and 60s: I bow in your presence.

  87. Epi Endless

    “The engineers and scientists who built the onboard navigation system brought centuries of studying the sky to bear on the problem.”
    Exactly. Our forebears weren’t stupid. And neither were _their_ forebears on who’s shoulders they stood. Even during WWII we had mechanical computers that could fire a shell from a moving ship and hit a target over the horizon, or fire a shell at where a bomber _would_ be once the shell reached that altitude. It’s impressive, but at the same time entirely comprehensible.

  88. Leia was racist toward wookies

    Have you seen the interview with Michael Collins on 60 minutes Australia? What a fascinating and humble man!

  89. Morally Bankrupt

    Please pin all the moon hoax comments so we can laugh and comment.

  90. The Stuport

    Love your researched and thoughtful topics especially as next month as we all know is The 50th Anniversary of the First Moon Landing WITH astronauts! Your delivery of facts and information allow even a knucklehead like myself to absorb what I’m viewing and hearing. You absolutely Deliver The Goods and we here on Earth are The Lucky Ones…..Cheers From Ohio known as Neil Armstrong Country

  91. Markus Orison

    Is that KSP I hear in the background lol? Great video.

  92. Phil Miller

    Interesting. I was reading day 2 of the Apollo 11 journal online today. Much of it was about Michael Collins taking sextant readings on stars.

  93. Marc Barrett

    Love all Vintage Space videos.
    BTW, disadvantage of using a wall as backdrop instead of your living room: no Pete photo bombs. :)

  94. David Kanera

    So glad you’re back. You always pick the most interesting, oh I never thought about THAT topics. And you have such depth of background and you dumb it down so well!

  95. ForestCat_Peter

    I’d love to see you build the new Lego lunar lander. Your Saturn V build was such fun :)

  96. Rich Stedronsky

    Any chance you could do a bit about the Agena Target Vehicle? I’m a big fan of the Gemini program and always wanted to learn more about the Agena vehicle, the issues it had, etc. Thx!

  97. Heart2HeartBooks

    This is no different than how I Navigate from my local pub to my home on an early Saturday morn.

  98. Frank Safranek

    I like the new graphics. Awesome presentation as always.

  99. David Antonini

    “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.”

  100. FandersonUfo

    Always nice to have something new Amy. Understand you’re busy. We’ll take what we can get out here. Thanks for another great video.

Comments are closed.