After three days of flight, months of training and almost seven years since President Kennedy pledged to put a man on the Moon’s surface “before this decade is out” – Apollo 11 reached the Moon. And on 20 July 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin safely landed before climbing on to the surface. America had unquestionably won the Space Race, and over half a billion people tuned in to watch the satellite images.
As we remember this iconic moment in history, here are 10 facts about that first Moon landing.
1) The computers used in the Apollo 11 mission were less powerful than the mobile phones of today.
2) As Armstrong piloted the landing module – the Eagle – he overshot the original landing site. By the time he had found a suitable alternative and manoeuvred into position, the Eagle had almost run out of fuel. There was less than a minute’s worth when they landed.
3) Despite this potential disaster, or maybe because if it, Aldrin marked their successful landing by taking Communion. He had been given a miniature communion kit, including a wafer and a tiny beaker of wine, by his pastor.
4) Shortly after his Communion, the fiercely ambitious and competitive Aldrin grew very upset with the realisation that Armstrong would be first to walk on the Moon. Armstrong was senior but there was a practical reason why he was first: the module hatch opened towards Aldrin’s seat, trapping him in, meaning Armstrong had to vacate before Aldrin could move.
“ONE SMALL STEP…”
5) As Armstrong set foot on the Moon, he uttered the immortal words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” In truth, that first step wasn’t so small. Armstrong had landed so gently that the Eagle’s shock absorbers didn’t deploy, leaving a jump of over three feet from the ladder to the surface.
6) The astronauts spent the next couple of hours walking on the Moon and collecting samples. They left many items before leaving – a lot of it was used equipment, but among the items were:
- An Apollo 1 patch – the crew of the first Apollo mission had died in a fire during training in 1967.
- Commemorative medallions – remembering Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin (the first man in space) and Vladimir Komarov, both of whom had died.
- A gold pin in the shape of an olive branch – a symbol of peace.
7) When they re-entered the Eagle module, a simple mistake threatened to strand the two astronauts. Aldrin accidentally broke a vital switch need to ignite the engine but it wasn’t a high-tech gadget that saved them. Aldrin managed to slip the switch with his pen.
8) On blast off, the American flag planted on the Moon was knocked over. In later missions, the astronauts made a point of planting the flag a good distance away from the landing module.
9) When Arsmtrong and Aldrin removed their space suits, they were met by a deeply unpleasant smell. Moon dust – which had never been disturbed – had gathered on the boots and gave off a sickly odour when in came into contact with oxygen. Armstrong described it as like wet ashes in a fireplace while Aldrin remarked that the pong resembled “spent gunpowder”.
10) Apollo 11 was a rousing success and has been celebrated ever since. But before the joy, President Nixon had to confront the idea that the mission could have ended in catastrophe, including writing a speech entitled “In Event of Moon Disaster”. It began:
“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.”
To find out more about Apollo 11’s historic mission to the Moon, pick up a copy of the August issue of History Revealed. Available now in print and for digital devices.