The entire world was watching on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 astronauts Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin became the first two people on the moon. Six hours after landing, Armstrong was the first person to step on the moon’s surface, stating: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” He was joined by Aldrin 19 minutes later, and the two spent over two hours outside the ship collecting lunar material while Command Module Pilot Michael Collins orbited the moon. Now, on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, it’s time to take a look back at some incredible facts on the mission that changed life as we know it forever.
The Flag Wasn’t Easy To Get Into The Ground
Being the first men on the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin had a lot to do, one of them being erecting an American flag. What seemed like one of their simplest tasks on the surface actually turned out to be one of their hardest. NASA’s research led them to assume that the lunar soil would be soft, but that wasn’t the case.
Armstrong and Aldrin learned that the surface was a layer of thin dust covering the hard rock. They managed to get the flag a few inches into the ground and were extremely cautious in order to keep it upright for broadcasting.
The Astronauts Spent 21 Days In Quarantine
After returning to earth, the three astronauts were brought to the mobile quarantine facility (MQF). The mobile quarantine facility is a converted Airstream trailer used by NASA to quarantine astronauts returning from Apollo lunar missions. The MQF was on the aircraft carrier that picked up the astronauts capsule which was then flown to Houston, Texas.
Although the existence of contagions was considered to be unlikely, the Apollo 11 crew spent 21 days in quarantine. The MQF had living and sleeping facilities as well as communication equipment which was used to speak with President Nixon who personally welcomed the astronauts home.
Neil Armstrong Had To Manually Land The Lunar Module Due To Complications
Upon landing, Armstrong looked outside only to realize that the computer’s landing target was covered in boulders, making it impossible to land. So, Aldrin took semi-automatic control of the module, named Eagle, with Aldrin calling out navigation as he piloted Eagle. 107 feet above the surface, their propellant supply was getting dangerously low, so Armstrong knew he needed to land at the next possible landing site.
Unfortunately, Armstrong discovered the area he thought was fit for landing turned out to be a crater. He managed to clear it leaving them 100 feet from the surface with 90 seconds of propellant left. Lunar dust obstructed Armstrong’s view, yet he still managed to land Eagle.
Buzz Aldrin Took Communion
After landing, Buzz Aldrin read a passage from the Book of John and took communion privately. This was during the time when NASA was fighting a lawsuit against atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. She was fighting against astronauts broadcasting religious activities in space after the Apollo 8 crew read from the Book of Genesis.
Aldrin later refrained from mentioning that he took communion on the Moon. His communion kit was prepared by the Webster Presbyterian Church where Aldrin was an elder. Webster Church still possesses the chalice used by Aldrin and commemorates the moon landing every closest Sunday to June 20.
Armstrong Couldn’t Afford An Astronaut Life Insurance Policy
Even after everything they go through, astronauts are subject to the same General Schedule pay scale as everyone working for the United States government. In 1969, astronaut captains made a salary of $17,000 a year, with Armstrong’s life insurance costing around $50,000 a year, something he couldn’t possibly afford.
So, in a period of quarantine a month before going to the moon, the astronauts got creative. They sat down and signed hundreds of autographs that would be sold to pay for Armstrong’s life insurance. This became a common practice among Apollo astronauts, which are now referred to as “Apollo Insurance Covers.”
Michael Collins Designed The Apollo 11 Insignia
After the crew of Gemini V designed their mission patch, it set a precedent in the missions to follow. Therefore, Apollo 11 was given the responsibility of developing their emblem. Michael Collins, who wanted the insignia to symbolize “peaceful lunar landing by the United States,” took on most of the responsibility.
The most important thing to him was to keep their names off of the patch to honor everyone who had worked on the mission. He also put the national bird of the United States front and center, an olive branch to symbolize peace, the number “11” for non-English speakers, and of course, depictions of Earth and the Moon.
Buzz Aldrin Saved The Mission With A Pen
At one point, the entire mission was almost compromised after Buzz Aldrin damaged a circuit breaker while inside of the cabin. The circuit breaker was intended to arm the main engine in order to take off from the moon. It was then a major concern that this would affect the firing of the engine, therefore stranding them on the moon.
Aldrin then used a felt tip pen to activate the switch successfully. If this had not been effective, it is assumed that they would not have been able to reconfigure the LM circuitry to allow for takeoff.
They Left More Than The Flag
Although the American flag is the most iconic item left on the moon from the Apollo 11 mission, they left behind much more. They left behind an Apollo 11 patch for the astronauts who had died when their command module caught fire during a test in 1976.
They also left a memorial bag with a gold replica of the olive branch, as well as a silicon message disk that had the goodwill statements of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon including messages from leaders of 73 countries around the world. The disk also had a list of names from Congress, House, Senate, and Nasa’s management.
President Nixon Had An Alternate Speech Prepared
Thankfully it never came to it, but President Nixon had an alternate speech prepared in case the Apollo 11 mission failed and we lost the three astronauts. Nobody knew what the outcome was going to be, including the astronauts who knew getting into the ship might be the last thing they ever did.
Although the speech was never delivered it was stored in the National Archives and surfaced 30 years after the lunar landing. The speech had been prepared for an instance in which the astronauts had been stranded on the moon.
Michael Collins Switched Professions After Returning To Earth
After touring the world upon returning to Earth, NASA Administrator Secretary of State William P. Roger offered Collins the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, which Collins accepted. He did almost none of the same tasks as his predecessor, but instead managed relations with the public at large.
By 1970, Collin’s came to the realization that he wasn’t enjoying the job and when the opportunity arose, he took the job as the Director of the National Air and Space Museum. He would go on to become the vice president of LTV and later start his own consulting firm.
The Flag Was Knocked Over During Their Departure
Although people like to imagine that the flag erected by the Apollo 11 crew remains standing resolute today, unfortunately, that’s not the case. As the astronauts departed in Eagle, Buzz Aldrin saw the flag get knocked over by the module’s thrusters.
According to Aldrin, “The ascent stage of the LM separated … I was concentrating on the computers, and Neil was studying the attitude indicator, but I looked up long enough to see the flag fall over.” It is assumed that the flag has since disintegrated due to the moon’s harsh conditions.
The First Words Spoke On The Moon Are Not What You Think
Contrary to popular belief, the first words spoke on the moon were not “The Eagle has landed.” As cool as it sounds, the first words were actually much more technical and were “contact light,” according to the mission transcript.
The words were spoken by Buzz Aldrin as the Apollo Lunar Module’s probes first touched the surface of the moon. The crew then went through a checklist with the command in Houston before the famous words were finally spoken.
They Discovered A New Mineral
While exploring the face of he moon, Armstrong and Aldrin discovered a new mineral that they excavated and brought back to Earth. The three astronauts were then given the privilege on naming the mineral for their discovery.
The titanium-rich mineral was then named Armalcolite, which is the first few letters of each of the astronaut’s last names. The mineral turned out to be a rock that is unique to the moon, with other samples later discovered on Earth.
There Aren’t Many Pictures Of Neil Armstrong
Although there were a lot of pictures taken on the surface of the moon, very few of them are of Neil Armstrong. In fact, almost all the pictures taken of the astronauts on the moon are of Buzz Aldrin, as Neil Armstrong was the man behind the camera taking the photos.
It is assumed that only a few pictures were taken of Armstrong on the surface of the moon, possibly only even one! If you see a picture from Apollo 11, it’s most likely Buzz Aldrin.
NASA Lost A Lot Of Footage
Unfortunately, regardless that NASA was able to successfully send two men to the moon, they had a hard time keeping track of the footage captured on the moon’s surface. In total, they managed to lose 11 whole tapes from the moon landing.
The footage of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon is actually a recording of a monitor that is playing the original tapes. Today, NASA is still restoring and remastering the video footage that wasn’t lost after the mission.
They Skipped Their Nap
Upon landing on the moon, the astronaut’s schedule had called for a five-hour nap before exiting the Eagle. However, Aldrin and Armstrong were so excited about being on the moon that they called mission control to ask if they could skip their scheduled nap.
Mission control granted their request on the condition that they would take a nap after they had completed the mission. So, they got straight to work as soon as they touched down on the moon.
Jeff Bezos Found Part Of The Apollo 11 Rocket
Jeff Bezos, the founder, and CEO of Amazon funded a team to search the Atlantic Ocean for discarded NASA rockets. By 2013, the team had recovered a total of two rockets. Upon closer inspection, the team discovered that they had found part of the rockets were two of the five that were used to carry Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins to the moon.
They were found at the bottom of the ocean using advanced sonar scanning and their serial numbers were confirmed by NASA as part of the Apollo 11 mission.
NASA Accidentally Auctioned Off The Wrong Item
At one point, NASA officials accidentally auctioned off a bag that was used by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission. The artifact was used to collect the first samples of moon rock and definitely wasn’t supposed to be auctioned off. In a government auction, the bag was auctioned to Nancy Carlson for just $995.
NASA realized their mistake after Carlson sent the bag to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for authentication. The government described the bag as being “a rare artifact, if not a national treasure,” and are trying to retake possession of it.
At the time, the Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo 11 into space was the largest and most powerful rocket ever to successfully launch. It has a liftoff thrust of 7.6 million pounds and is an impressive 363 feet tall.
However, the Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX recently broke the record and became the most powerful rocket in use today. However, it only has a liftoff thrust of 5 million pounds and is only 229.6 feet stall, still smaller than the Saturn V.
There Was Limited Computer Power
Incredibly, all the computer power used to get the Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon, was no more powerful than the technology in a modern-day cell phone. Although the mission was a success, they didn’t have enough computing power and were forced to accomplish tasks manually when the computers would break down.
At the time, the computers they were using were some of the most powerful in the entire world, although they might seem like ancient relics today.