10 Astounding Facts About the First Moon Landing

10 Astounding Facts About the First Moon Landing

On July 20, 1969, mankind made history when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The feat was a huge achievement and since then, only 11 others have had the honor to walk on the lunar surface. Interestingly, none of the 12 people who have had the once in a lifetime opportunity to walk on the moon ever did it more than once. Soon after Neil Armstrong touched the lunar surface, Buzz Aldrin took a leap out of the Lunar Module to become the second man to walk on the moon. During their EVA, they collected rocks, planted the US flag, and performed various experiments. But, they only touched the surface for 2 hours, 31 minutes and 40 seconds before returning to the Lunar Module.

1. When Apollo astronauts returned to Earth after making a successful moon landing, they had to go through customs and fill out a form.

Neil Armstrong, NASA, moon, landing
Image: NASA/U.S. Customs and Border Patrol

After the historic moon landing mission and their successful return to Earth, the Apollo 11 astronauts were greeted by customs at the Honolulu Airport in Hawaii on July 24, 1969. The customs form was signed by all three astronauts with their cargo declared and their flight route listed as starting at Cape Kennedy with a stopover on the moon. According to the customs form, their listed cargo included moon rocks, moon dust and other lunar samples.

NASA astronauts still have to go through this process today but for conventional reasons. Astronauts who are assigned to work on the International Space Station have to go through training processes in Japan, Canada, Europe and Russia. This step is to ensure that the astronauts are familiar with different systems, modules and tools used in the space station; which is the result of a 10 year project by 16 different countries.

2. Neil Armstrong was the first human being to set foot on the moon, yet there are only a few images of him walking on the moon.

NASA, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Moon
Image: NASA

It might come as a surprise that the first man to ever walk on the moon does not appear in front of the camera. In fact, there is only one known photograph of him on the moon, and on the photo, he has his back to the camera. This is because the checklist for the Apollo 11 mission called for Neil Armstrong to have the only camera.Apart from that, Armstrong was also working to capture as many images of the lunar surface and samples within the limited amount of time that he had.

3. Michael Collins, the third Apollo 11 astronaut never got to walk on the moon.

Michael Collins, NASA, Astronaut, Apollo 11
Image: NASA

While the whole world is aware of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, there was a third man who is often forgotten. Michael Collins was Apollo 11’s third astronaut who traveled all the way to the moon but never got the chance to walk on it. In fact, he spent around 20 hours orbiting the moon, all alone and afraid. Collins played a pivotal role in the historic mission since he stayed behind in Columbia and took photos of the lunar surface until the other two returned.

As Neil and Buzz descended towards the lunar surface using the Lunar Module Eagle, Collins sat there, wondering if they would return or if he would be forced to leave the men behind. Even while preparing for the mission, Collins was afraid of the fact that if the engine on the Eagle failed or malfunctioned, he would have to leave his fellow astronauts behind. During those lone 20 hours, circling the other side of the moon, Collins wrote: “I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.”

4. The three astronauts couldn’t afford life insurance since it would cost a fortune to take a policy for someone who is on a mission to the moon. Instead, they signed hundreds of covers with important dates and gave it to their families.

Neil Armstrong, autograph, life, history
Image: NASA/Neil Armstrong

Insurance policies can be expensive, especially when it’s for someone who is about to embark on a long and unclear journey. Even though NASA and the Apollo 11 crew were well prepared, there was always a chance of something unexpected happening. The astronauts wanted to take insurance policies on themselves for their families, in case something went wrong. However, that proved to be tough since it would cost a fortune to take a policy on someone who is about to board a rocket to the moon.

But the crew had something else in mind. They were already famous and knew that their autographs could be of value to their family members. Weeks before the launch when the three astronauts entered quarantine, they used the free time to sign hundreds of covers with important dates. Before leaving Earth, they gave the signed covers to a mutual friend, who distributed them to their family members. It was life insurance in the form of autographs.

5. Armstrong’s famed “one small step” line was pre-planned; at least according to his brother.

NASA, Apollo 11, space, life, science
Image: NASA/Buzz Aldrin

Until his last breath in 2012, Armstrong insisted that his famous line “one small step”, that he was heard quoting in 1969 when he became the first man to walk on the moon, was spontaneous. He maintained that the line only came to him right before he was about to take the first steps onto the lunar surface. After he passed away, a BBC documentary was released. In the documentary, Dean Armstrong, Neil Armstrong’s brother, recalls the moment from their past when Neil handed him a piece of paper.

Months before the Apollo mission, Neil spent time with his family on Cape Cod. One late night, when the family was playing a board game, Neil handed Dean a piece of paper that said: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”. Neil then asked Dean what he thought of that, to which Dean replied, ‘fabulous’. Neil then said, “I thought you might like that, but I wanted you to read it”. Neither Buzz Aldrin nor Michael Collins had any idea of the quote until it was said. The only exception was Dean.

6. Neil Armstrong was chosen to be the first person to step foot on the moon. According to NASA, this was due to the basic structural design of a part of the Eagle.

Apollo 11, NASA, space, facts, science
Image: NASA

29 Astronauts trained for the Apollo mission to become the first human beings to travel to the moon. On January of 1969, NASA announced that only three were chosen from the 29. Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins became the official crew of Apollo 11. Since then, it was a debate to whether Armstrong or Aldrin should be the first one to take the giant leap for mankind. Although it was decided that both men would walk on the moon, it was considered an honor to be the first one.

As months went by and the mission was fast approaching, rumors were than Aldrin would be given the honor. Three months before liftoff, it was announced that Armstrong would be the first to leave the Eagle and take the first steps. According to NASA, this was because of how the Eagle was designed. The hatch opened to one side and it was right next to the pilot of the ship, who happened to be Neil Armstrong. NASA also pointed out that Armstrong entered the program in 1962, while Aldrin came in 1963; which made him a senior member.

7. The astronauts left behind tools as well as a mirror on the moon.

Apollo mission, universe, people, earth
Image: NASA/Apollo Archive

After successfully landing on the lunar surface, the astronauts performed walks and collected samples. The samples included rocks and moon dust, which was to be taken back to Earth to conduct studies. However, the Eagle only had enough fuel to lift a limited amount of weight. This is why the astronauts left behind tools that aided them during the expedition. The descent stage of the lunar module was also left behind; which turned it into a landmark. Scales, hammers, and a laser reflector that was used to measure the distance between the Earth and the Moon were also left behind.

The descent stage of the lunar module was intentionally left behind. On the plaque, it says: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind”. Neil and Buzz also installed a mirror on the moon’s surface so that we can perform Lunar Laser Ranging experiments and measure how far away the moon is at all times; which is done by calculating how long it takes the beam to return to Earth.

8. The Eagle landed with only around 20 seconds of fuel left.

Eagle, Lunar module, Moon, facts
Image: NASA

When the lunar module started its descent towards the moon, the systems were supposed to be on autopilot. Neil Armstrong sat back in case something went wrong, and as expected, something did go wrong. The guidance systems started to show errors as the descent was taking place. Neil took the controls and started the descent himself, since the system failures caused the lunar module to miss the designated landing zone. As the module was descending, the fuel was running extremely low. Neil had no choice but to perform the descent as slow as possible or he would have to abort the mission. After making it as far as they already had, both astronauts agreed that they would rather try than turn around.

The astronauts were supposed to land with 120 seconds worth of fuel left in the tanks but as the moon was fast approaching, the fuel tank was running low. The lunar module was still hovering 30 meters above the ground with 60 seconds of fuel left but thankfully, Neil was able to find a smooth landing spot. With barely 20 seconds worth of fuel left in the descent tank, the module touched the lunar surface and Neil was quoted saying: “Houston. The Eagle has landed”.

9. President Nixon had a speech ready in case things didn’t go as planned.

Richard Nixon, President, facts
Image: NASA

It was always a fear that something could malfunction and cause the mission to be a failure. President Nixon and his staff were well aware of the risks and the possibility that the men may never return to planet Earth. This is the reason why Collins was asked to stay behind and orbit the moon, as a precaution. In case the mission went south, Nixon had a speech ready and was also prepared to call the wives of the astronauts.

It read: “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 their is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.”

Thankfully, the mission was successful and all three astronauts returned home safe and sound.

10. Upon their return, the astronauts didn’t get to reunite with their families right away. All three had to stay in quarantine for 21 days in case they’d brought home any lunar contagions.

astronauts, Apollo 11, mission, science
Image: NASA

Once safely back on Earth, the Apollo 11 astronauts had to contain their eagerness to meet their family members for 21 days. Although the mission was successful, NASA was unsure of any foreign contaminants or microorganisms. As a precaution, they recommended that the astronauts be quarantined and analyzed for three weeks before marking them as safe. Apollo 12 and 14 crew members were also quarantined. Today, astronauts don’t have to go through the painstaking process of being quarantined since by the time Apollo 15 mission was completed, it was determined that the moon had no contaminants in the explored areas.

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