We all know of the pioneering journey of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the sometimes forgotten third astronaut Michael Collins. Armstrong and Aldrin were the first astronauts to successfully land the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle on the Moon in 1969 whilst Collins orbited in the Command and Service Module (CSM) Columbia. We have seen the pictures and we have heard the audio but what about the stuff we weren’t told about. Below there are 11 weird, wonderful and downright strange facts about Apollo 11 that don’t usually feature alongside the mission highlights.
1.You would expect that when NASA asks you to be the first man to walk on the Moon that they would consider the possibility of things going wrong. Well for Neil Armstrong he couldn’t afford the life insurance policy for an astronaut. However, along with Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin he wasn’t alone. All three astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission decided to create a plan of their own to support their families if something bad was to happen. Before the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969 when all three astronauts were in pre-launch quarantine, they signed hundred of autographs and sent them to a friend. If anything was to happen to the astronauts during their mission, the entrusted friend was to send the autographed memorabilia to each of the astronaut’s families. This way they could make some money by selling the signatures of the Apollo 11 crew.
2. One thing that surprised the astronauts who visited the Moon was the strong odour of the lunar dust which they were only able to smell when they got back inside the Lunar Module. While conducting experiments on the surface of the Moon the astronauts’ spacesuits gathered the moon dust in the creases of the suit, once the crew returned to the LM and removed their helmets the dust got everywhere even on their hands and faces (some astronauts even tasted it). After coming into contact with oxygen for the first time inside the Lunar Module, the four billion years old moon dust produced a pungent smell. As most of the astronauts had a military history they could compare the aroma to that of gun powder. Neil Armstrong described the dust’s scent as similar to to wet ashes in a fireplace. This distinct smell remains a mystery as moon dust and gun powder have no similar compounds and the exact explanation remains unknown.
3. There’s no doubt that the people behind the Moon missions were smart and skilled. The kind of expertise required seems beyond our general understanding. The spacesuits that the astronauts wore in the Apollo 11 missions were made by little old ladies, a bit like the ones in the Shreddies advert. NASA approached the International Latex Corporation (ILC) to produce a suit alongside the aerospace company Hamilton Standard. However Hamilton Standard became wary of the ILC and designed their own suit which after being submitted to NASA was refused. Hamilton Standard blamed the ILC causing the fashion company to lose their contract.
However, that wasn’t the end of the International Latex Company as a few years later NASA advertised a competition for a new suit. A handful of retired ILC employees saw their chance and broke into their old offices, stealing back their original suit designs that had previously been overlooked. After a lot of hard work the employees submitted their design to NASA who were impressed. They choose the ILC’s suit as the competition winner and deciding that Hamilton Standard would provide the oxygen tanks for the suit which we can only imagine may have been a little awkward given their previously rocky relationship.
Since their success with the original space suit, the ILC has supplied NASA with numerous items for space exploration. Along with the new next generation Z-1 suit and the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) suit used on the International Space Station, the ILC also designed the airbags that enabled Spirit and Opportunity, the two Mars rovers, to land safely on the Martian surface.
4. As you can imagine, in the microgravity of space, there are a few things you would have great difficulty with. I’m not talking about things like typing with those thick gloves or attempting to get dressed when one sock wants to head left and the other is determined to go right. Well as you can imagine everything in microgravity floats and when I say everything I mean everything…therefore going to spend a penny in space is not easy.
Nowadays astronauts staying in the International Space Station have a specially designed toilet that they can seatbelt themselves onto whilst a suction device can aid them with any waste disposal. However during the Apollo 11 mission, the solution to this all natural issue hadn’t really been solved yet and one astronaut in particular spent the entire mission on tablets that stop diarrhoea just to combat the problem. Michael Collins said himself that ‘The drinking water was laced with hydrogen bubbles’ which produced “gross flatulence…resulting in a not so subtle and pervasive aroma which reminds me of a mixture of wet dog and marsh grass.” He wrote about this in his autobiography, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey (1974), and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the most pleasant memories of the crew’s trip to the moon as they were crammed together in the Command Module for three days.
5.When the Apollo 11’s Eagle Lunar Lander was separating from the CSM Colombia there was a loud pop, a bit like the noise of a champagne bottle being opened. This was because the cabin in the LM hadn’t been fully compressed before the separation. Some claim that this minor fault actually pushed the LM four miles off from where it was originally supposed to land.
6. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were heading out to explore the Moon they both had to remember not to fully close the door on the Landing Module behind them. The door was closed to prevent heat escaping from the cabin but not completely in case any the cabin was somehow repressurised, which could make it difficult to get the door open. Aldrin and Armstrong joked about leaving the door open:
109:41:28 Aldrin: Okay. Now I want to back up and partially close the hatch. (Long Pause) Making sure not to lock it on my way out.
109:41:53 Armstrong: (Laughs) A particularly good thought. (From http://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/a11.step.html )
Since then some websites have claimed there was no outside handle to get back in as the engineers back at NASA thought that the weight of a handle would affect the calculations of the descent so decided to leave the door without one! Well there was indeed a handle on the hatch complete with instructions!
7. We all know the famous first words of Neil Armstrong as he stepped foot onto the moon, ‘That’s one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.’ However Armstrong’s first step out onto the Moon wasn’t small at all, in fact Armstrong had landed the Lunar Module so gently that the shock absorbers hadn’t compressed. So his first step out onto the Moon was actually close to a four foot jump onto the lunar surface.
8. Whenever you ask children what the astronauts who visited the Moon have left behind, the first hand up in the room always mentions the American flag. However, the fate of that flag is quite sad as it was later knocked over when Armstrong and Aldrin launched the Lunar Module back into lunar orbit to join with Collins in the Command Module. After Aldrin hit the button to begin the launch he looked out the window and watched as the infamous flag was blasted away with the rest of the material left behind on the lunar surface.
9. As you can imagine, the first men to land on the Moon was a global event, everyone that could, would be watching. Due to this, NASA asked the astronauts on Apollo 11 not to engage in any religious activities that could offend, insult or isolate the rest of the world. However, Buzz Aldrin felt the opportunity was too great to let pass by. Therefore once Armstrong and Aldrin had landed safely on the Moon and were waiting to take their first steps, Aldrin radioed back to Earth asking anyone who was listening to reflect on that moment in history. Aldrin gave thanks for the opportunity and produced a small flask of wine and a piece of bread which he then consumed whilst reading from the Gospel of John. From that moment Buzz Aldrin then became the first and so far the only person to participate in the Christian ritual of Communion on the Moon. Neil Armstrong watched on in respect but never participated.
10. After gathering some Moon samples, taking some pictures and raising the American flag, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin returned to the Lunar Module, only to realise that a switch on a crucial circuit breaker had broken. This particular broken switch left them without a way to ignite the engine, so they tried to sleep while the mission control team at NASA tried to find a way to repair it. Eventually Aldrin decided that enough was enough and jammed his pen into the mechanism creating a make-shift switch. Surprisingly enough this quick-fix worked and launched both Aldrin and Armstrong off the lunar surface.
11. As the Apollo 11 team arrived safely on the Earth, the crew were brought to Hawaii. Despite being the three most famous men at the time, as they had just landed on the Moon safely and returned, they were still asked to fill out a customs and declarations fo
rm at security. As you can imagine, in the section asking “Departure From:”the Apollo 11 crew had to write “The Moon”.
(Article by Samantha Steed, Education Support Officer)
Links to Further Reading