On the anniversary of the moon landing, we present some interesting facts about the mission, including why Armstrong was first out, and what would have happened if the mission failed.
“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon – July 1969 A.D. – We came in peace for all mankind.” Those words are some of the most profound ever written, and they remain on the moon, on a plaque at the site of the first moon landing 45 years ago.
The mission to land a human being on the moon began four days earlier, when the rocket Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The astronauts onboard, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, spent the next four days traveling to the moon. Once there, Collins remained in the orbiter while Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the lunar lander “The Eagle”.
A little past 8 in the evening UTC, Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon and uttered the now famous words “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. It was decided in April in that year that Armstrong would be the one to exit the lander first. The reason for this decision has to do with how the door works in the lander, curiously. The door opens to the side, which pins the pilot (Aldrin) in a rather cramped space, whilst the commander (Armstrong) has a clear path to the exit.
Regarding the first words spoken on the moon, Armstrong has always claimed they were spontaneous. Until his death, he insisted the words were only decided upon shortly before landing on the moon. As it turns out, this may not be true. In a BBC documentary released after the astronaut’s death, his brother Dean told the story of how, in the months before the mission, he and Neil spent time at cape cod together. There, over a game of RISK, Neil presented his brother with a piece of paper:
“On that piece of paper there was ‘That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.'” explains Dean, “‘What do you think about that?’ I said ‘fabulous.’ He said, ‘I thought you might like that, but I wanted you to read it.'”
Something the astronauts did not say during their mission however, was what they spotted shortly after launching. Aldrin recalls the astronauts seeing an L-shaped object in orbit and asked Houston carefully if it might be the solid rocket boosters from the rocket, which had previously been jetissoned. According to Houston though, the booster rockets were 6,000 miles away. What the object was, Aldrin is not certain of.
This plaque is sitting on the moon right now, waiting for future visitors.
While the mission to the moon was a success, there were a lot of unknowns during the mission, and there was a definite possibility that the astronauts could have died during the mission. President Richard Nixon had to prepare for every possibility and had prepared several speeches in case something went wrong. One of the speeches was in case of a moon disaster, wherein Armstrong and Aldrin would have been unable to leave the moon.
“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.” read the speech, “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.”
Luckily, the three astronauts made it back to Earth safely, marking one of the most significant events in the history of mankind. Now, let’s hope for a swift return to the moon at the hands of SpaceX.