It has been over 50 years since Apollo 11 landed men on the Moon for the first time in a mission that defined an era. The landings ushered in a unprecedented period of technological advancement and succeeded in cementing the technological prowess of the USA.
An event with monumental international significance, Neil Armstrong’s first tentative steps on the Moon on 20 July 1969 would go on to inspire generations, his observation at the time still ringing true.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”
1. It took the men over 4 days to reach the Moon
The Apollo 11 Saturn V lifted off from the Kennedy Space centre at 09:36 on 16 July 1969 carrying three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin. The journey to the Moon would last 4 days, 6 hours and 45 minutes, finally landing on 20 July 1969.
2. The astronauts encountered some problems before landing
The journey to the Moon was not all plain sailing though. Before landing, a series of alarm messages sounded that none of the astronauts had previously heard.
The alarms were caused by ‘executive overflows’ as a result of the guidance computer not being able to complete all of its tasks and having to postpone some of them. After checking the alarm, computer technicians on the ground reassured the crew that is was safe to land.
However, that was not to be the last of the problems the crew would face. Radio communication loss between the lunar module and mission control meant the mission was close to being aborted. Despite Aldrin adjusting the antenna and ground control attempting to resolve the issue, radio communications continued to fade in and out.
3. The astronauts did not land at their planned site
No sooner than one problem was resolved, another reared its head. Due to the gravity of the Moon and some extra speed gained, Armstrong and Aldrin had missed the landing site by about 4 miles and were instead faced an unfriendly sight of rough terrain and lorry-sized craters. Armstrong had to find a smooth spot to land, and fast…
4. Armstrong had 60 seconds to land the lunar module
Dwindling fuel supplies (just 5% fuel remaining) meant that Armstrong would have a mere 60 seconds to land the lunar module before having to abort the mission, a hard task made worse by the unplanned detour. Armstrong later recalled:
“We heard the call of 60 seconds, and a low-level light came on. That, I’m sure, caused concern in the control centre…They probably normally expected us to land with about two minutes of fuel left. And here we were, still a hundred feet [30 m] above the surface, at 60 seconds.”
Luckily, Armstrong was able to land with only seconds left to spare.
“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
5. Buzz Aldrin took communion on the Moon
Upon landing on the Moon, Aldrin gave thanks for his safety by taking communion. At the time NASA was embroiled in a lawsuit with prominent activist and atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair. O’Hair objected to the broadcasting of a reading from the Book of Genesis by the Apollo 8 crew. Because of this Aldrin took communion privately, away from the cameras. His communion kit was prepared by the Pastor of his Presbyterian church, who still have the chalice used on the Moon.
6. The module remained on the Moon’s surface for 21 hours and 36 minutes
Armstrong was the first man to step onto the Moon, followed 20 minutes later by Aldrin. Of the 21 hours and 36 minutes spent on the Moons surface, Armstrong and Aldrin spent 2.5 hours outside the module collecting data, setting up experiments and taking pictures.
They also erected an American flag, a task that proved more difficult than expected as they struggled to jam the pole into the Moons hard surface. Although they managed to plant the pole about 18cm deep, Aldrin stated that the flag was later knocked over by engine exhaust as Apollo 11 lifted off.
Images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2012 showed that at least 5 of the 6 American Flags raised during Apollo missions were still standing. However, scientists think decades’ worth of sunlight have bleached away their colors.
Whilst his co-pilots explored the Moon, Michael Collins was alone in orbit for more than 21 hours, piloting the command module. For 48 minutes of each orbit of the moon, he was out of radio contact with Earth.
7. The astronauts splashed down to Earth
On 24 July 1969, the Saturn V splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, 44 hours after leaving lunar orbit.
The craft and its crew were recovered by air craft carrier USS Hornet. Divers then attached an anchor to the craft and passed biological isolation suits to the astronauts before assisting them into a life craft.
Due to the risk of pathological contamination, precautions were taken at every stage of the recovery and the astronauts were kept quarantined for 21 days. This practice continued for two more missions before being deemed unnecessary.
8. An estimated 650 million people tuned in to watch the event on television world wide
An estimated 650 million people watched Armstrong and Aldrin become the first men on the Moon, bearing witness to a historic event that will be remembered for years to come.
From the lunar module on the Moon, Aldrin reflected on the enormity of the occasion:
“This is the [lunar module] pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.”
In a tumultuous America, torn by racial division, having witnessed the assassination of their president and weary from years of Cold War tension, the Moon landing helped boost national pride.
9. A total of 6 US Missions have landed men on the Moon
In total, 12 men have walked on the Moon in 6 NASA missions. These missions ran over a three year period ending in 1972. Since 1972 no other crewed mission has landed on the Moon, this is largely due to the huge costs involved. The whole Apollo programme cost an estimated $25.4 billion (about $156 billion in 2019 dollars).
China, India, Japan, Russia and the European Space Agency have all either sent probes or landed vehicles on the Moon. However the USA remains the only country to have ever put man on the Moon, demonstrating their world power status.
10. Conspiracy Theorists still insist the Moon landings were faked
Among the anti-vaxxers, 9/11 theorists and Flat Earthers are another group. Those who claim the Moon landings were faked.
The conspiracy theory was first started by Bill Kaysing who in 1979 self-published a pamphlet entitled ‘We Never Went to the Moon: America’s 30 Billion Dollar Swindle’.
The claims soon gained traction, despite hard evidence to the contrary including geological evidence recovered from the Moon and images from reconnaissance aircraft orbiting the earth showing motor tracks and footprints left on the surface of the Moon.
In the age of the internet, where information can be shared at the click of a button, this alternative history has continued to cast doubt in the minds of many. A 2012 YouGov study revealed 1 in 6 Britons believe the Moon landings were staged or faked.