We choose to go to the Moon – John F Kennedy
On July 16th, 1969, three men blasted off into space to make history – the first-ever manned Moon landing. Apollo 11, even years later, never ceases to interest and inspire. After combing through the archives, we’ve compiled 20 fascinating facts about the Apollo 11 Moon Landing Mission, the emblematic journey of humankind’s desire to explore and discover.
About the Lunar Landing Mission
The Apollo 11 Mission launched at 09:32 EDT on July 16th, 1969 from Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) with three astronauts on board: Commander, Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot, Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot, Edwin Aldrin. With the world watching, their mission was to land on the Moon and successfully return.
On July 20th, 1969, at 15:17 EDT, after almost 76 hours in orbit, Aldrin and Armstrong landed successfully on the Moon, taking that historic first step just hours later at 22:56 EDT. While you’ve probably watched footage of the event, there’s plenty more to find out about the Apollo 11 Mission. Here are our top 20 Moon landing facts to get you started.
The most powerful rocket ever built
NASA’s Saturn V rocket was used throughout the Apollo program, including the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. It remains, even today, the heaviest, tallest, and most powerful rocket ever built. This three-stage rocket provided an incredible 7.5 million pounds of thrust, propelling Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins to the Moon and into history.
Apollo 11 mission
Quite simply, Apollo 11’s mission was to complete a crewed Moon landing and then return successfully to Earth. However, the crew also had several experiments to perform on the Moon’s surface, including measuring seismic activity and the physical properties of the Lunar interior and crust. They also returned the first samples from another planetary body back to Earth.
One of their experiments still works today
A laser ranging retroreflector made up part of the equipment included with the Early Apollo Surface Experiments Package of Apollo 11. Placed on the Moon about an hour before the end of Apollo 11’s final moonwalk, this reflector is a special sort of mirror. It is still used today to measure the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Its data has also helped scientists prove that the Moon’s core is fluid and that our only natural satellite is slowly moving away from the Earth.
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The total mission time was 195 hours, 18 minutes and thirty-five seconds, with Aldrin and Armstrong spending a total of 21 hours, 38 minutes and 21 seconds on the Lunar surface.
State-of-the-art 60s Computing
Although it was programmed to travel a mind-boggling 240,000 miles in 76 hours (for reference, the Earth’s circumference is 24,901 miles), the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer was hundreds of thousands of times less powerful than today’s average smartphone. Cutting-edge technology at the time, it was a “compact” 24 x 12.5 x 6.5 inches and weighed “just” 70 pounds!
Armstrong took parts from the Wright Flyer to the Moon
The Wright Flyer, the first powered, heavier-than-air aircraft to successfully fly, was designed and built by the Wright brothers. A keen flyer with a huge interest in aircraft design, Armstrong took remnants of its fabric and propeller to the Moon and back. Having successfully completed the first-ever powered flight back in 1903, the Wright Flyer subsequently paved the way for mankind’s exploration of the skies above and ultimately into space – a fitting gesture that it should also make the first manned flight to the surface of the Moon.
The mission was nearly aborted at the landing stage
The landing stage was always going to be the most dangerous part of this high-risk mission. During those crucial moments as Aldrin and Armstrong lowered closer to the Lunar surface, their computer crashed and rebooted several times, displaying an error code 1202. After waiting on the go-ahead from Houston to continue the descent, Armstrong had to set down the Lunar Module in manual mode to avoid a boulder-strewn crater. However, the confusion and computer crashes had caused them to overshoot their designated landing by some four miles, and they touched down with less than 30 seconds of fuel remaining.
Armstrong’s one small step was more of a leap…
As the landing didn’t go quite to plan, the Lunar Module’s legs did not fold on impact. This meant that the ladder stopped around 3.5 feet above the surface, making Armstrong’s famous “one small step” more of a huge leap.
…and that famous quote is actually a misquote
We’ve all internalized the quote: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But did you know that Armstrong repeatedly insisted that he included an “a” just before “man”, which the audio recording cut out?
An out-of-this-world phone call
President Nixon made a phone call to the Moon, via Houston, in what he hailed as, “The most historic phone call ever made from the White House.” He also went on to personally greet all three astronauts on their return to Earth.
A fifth of the world’s population tuned in
An estimated 600 million people from all over the world watched Apollo 11 land on the Moon live on TV. That is around one-fifth of the entire world’s population at the time. In the USA alone, an estimated 53.5 million households watched the mission live, that’s almost 94% of US households that were equipped with a television back then.
The first food on the Moon
An elder at his hometown Presbyterian Church, Aldrin took the sacrament on the Moon shortly after landing. The very first food consumed on the Moon was, therefore, a Communion wafer and wine.
What Apollo 11 left behind
Aside from various equipment that was abandoned, the Apollo 11 mission also left some symbols and tokens from Earth, notably a patch to honor the fallen crew of Apollo 1. Aside from planting an American flag, they also left a silicon disk containing goodwill messages from 73 world leaders, a gold pin symbolizing peace and a plaque reading: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
And what they brought back
Apollo 11 brought back to Earth the first-ever samples from another planet. Aged approximately 3.7 billion years old, the samples of Moon rocks they brought home were dark-colored igneous rocks totaling 49lbs.
A felt-tipped pen saved the mission
Given the astronauts’ extremely tight quarters and their fraught landing, unfortunately, one of the circuit breaker switches, essential for the ascent home off the Moon, snapped off. Thanks to Aldrin’s ingenuity and quick thinking, he managed to replace the broken switch with his felt-tipped pen. After moving up the countdown procedure and checking that the circuit held, the pen made it possible for the crew to leave the Moon and return to the Command Module.
The Eagle’s crash site is unknown
Apollo 11’s Lunar Module, nicknamed the “Eagle”, has never been relocated. After being jettisoned from the Command Module after a successful ascent and docking, its impact site is still classed as unknown to this day.
The Apollo 11 Command Module can still be seen today
Known as “Colombia”, the Apollo 11 Command Module that took the crew into Lunar orbit and back safely can be viewed at the Smithsonian Museum. Designated a special “Milestone of Flight”, Colombia went on a NASA-sponsored tour of American cities before being transferred to the museum.
The original landing site was moved due to bad weather
Colombia was originally due to splashdown between Howland Island and Johnston Atoll, around 1,000 nautical miles from Honolulu, Hawaii. However, as the crew descended closer to the site, NASA grew increasingly worried about scattered thunderstorms in the area. To ensure the crew’s safety, the entry trajectory was lengthened from 1,187 nautical miles to 1,500. The crew finally splashed down about 812 miles from Hawaii where they were recovered by retrieval ship USS Hornet.
The Apollo 11 astronauts were quarantined on arrival
To make sure that the astronauts were not exposed to any deadly Lunar microorganisms that could go on to adversely affect the human race and Earth itself, Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins were quarantined on their return to Earth, along with the Command Module and their Lunar samples. During their 21-day quarantine period, Armstrong celebrated his 39th birthday in confinement with a surprise party.
Travel expenses and custom’s declarations were filed
Despite achieving a seemingly impossible feat and reaching the height of worldwide fame, the Apollo 11 astronauts were not exempt from routine paperwork and red tape. They had to file custom’s declarations for the Moon rocks and dust samples on arrival, with the section detailing any conditions that could lead to the spread of disease filled in as “to be determined”. The astronauts could also claim travel expenses for their trip, with Aldrin claiming $33 for his travel from and back to Houston.