This is a continuation of the Moon Landing story from the July 18, 2019 edition.
14. Computer programmers aren’t generally known for their sense of humor, but a piece of space history, discovered in 2016, suggests that maybe they should be. Former NASA intern Chris Garry uploaded the Apollo 11 flight source code to GitHub, revealing a legendary piece of flight software that was full of jokes and topical 1960s references. Paired with the code that helped NASA astronauts navigate the Moon landing are file names like “Burn_Baby_Burn,” which, as ABC News reported, is actually a reference to DJ Magnificent Montague and the Black Power movement. Other comments include “Hello There,” “Goodbye. Come Again Soon,” and file names like “Pinball_Game_Buttons_And_Lights.”
15. In 1969, the Air Force contacted Armstrong to see if he’d be willing to take pieces of the Wright Brothers’ first aircraft to take flight to the Moon with him. As a thank you, Armstrong would be allowed to keep half of the pieces. Armstrong, an avid flier, was enthusiastic. “It was important to take the genesis of flight with him,” Mark Armstrong, Neil’s son, said earlier this year. “First and foremost, he was an engineer and someone who wanted to make aircraft better. That was his boyhood goal, to be an aircraft designer.”
16. On July 5, 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts did a roundtable interview with members of the press. When asked whether he’d be taking any personal mementos to the Moon with him, Armstrong responded: “If I had a choice, I would take more fuel.”
17. Why was Armstrong’s aforementioned response so prophetic? When Apollo 11 finally did land, their fuel supply was extremely low. The alarm had already sounded that the men had 60 seconds left to land or abort, then the 30-second alarm sounded. “When it got down to 30 seconds, we were about 10 feet or less” from the surface, Aldrin said. “I could sneak a look out, because at that point, I don’t think Neil cared what the numbers were. He was looking at the outside. I could see a shadow of the sun being behind us.” Seconds later, Armstrong confirmed to Houston that, ‘the Eagle has landed.’”
18. Eagle’s computer was really put to the test during the mission’s landing, so much so that it was attempting to land the module in a crater full of boulders. “Those slopes are steep, the rocks are very large, the size of automobiles,” Armstrong said. In order to avoid that potential disaster, Armstrong took manual control of the lunar module and attempted to find a safer place for them to land.
19. Needless to say, Apollo 11 didn’t touch down at its intended landing site. Thanks to Armstrong’s quick thinking, they were able to successfully land, albeit four miles from where they were supposed to. “I took it over manually and flew it like a helicopter out to the west direction, took it to a smoother area without so many rocks, and found a level area and was able to get it down there before we ran out of fuel,” Armstrong said.
20. Because Eagle had to reconfigure its landing site, Armstrong’s landing was a very gentle one, so gentle that the module’s pads and legs didn’t collapse as they were supposed to. Which meant that the bottom rung of Eagle’s ladder was about 3.5 feet above ground. In order to get to the surface of the Moon for that official step, he first had to hop off the ladder, then back up to it (to make sure he could reach it again). Then came that whole “one small step” business.
21. Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon at 10:56 p.m. (Eastern Time).
22. It may have been past a lot of kids’ bedtimes, but an estimated 600 million people around the world watched Apollo 11 land on live television.
23. The Apollo 11 moon landing, perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments in human history, was broadcasted live to thousands of Disneyland park Guests gathered at the Tomorrowland Stage on July 20, 1969.
24. People back on Earth who watched Armstrong’s first steps onto the lunar surface could have sworn that they heard him say, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” but Armstrong repeatedly stated that this was incorrect. What he really said was, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” “It’s just that people just didn’t hear [the ‘a’],” Armstrong told the press once he was back on Earth. In 2006, a computer programmer used a piece of software to analyze Armstrong’s words and found that the “a” was indeed there (it was likely not heard because of radio static).
25. Ever the professional, Armstrong did his best to ignore the fact that he was standing on the Moon so that he and Aldrin could get their work done. According to The Guardian, “Armstrong said there was too much work to do to spend too long meditating or reflecting on where he was.”
26. “It’s lonely as hell out there,” Aldrin told a crowd of people at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum in 2009. “I peed in my pants.”
27. In all of the meticulous pre-mission planning, two words never came up: “Tranquility base.” Which made Armstrong’s announcement that, “Houston. Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” kind of confusing. Fortunately, the folks back in Houston just rolled with it.
28. At the same time that Armstrong and Aldrin were wrapping up their work on the lunar surface, Luna 15, an unmanned Soviet spacecraft, accidentally crashed into the Moon approximately 530 miles from the Sea of Tranquility.
29. In his memoir, Michael Collins wrote about how dangerous the Apollo 11 mission was and how terrified he was that something would go wrong. “If they fail to rise from the surface, or crash back into it, I am not going to commit suicide,” Collins wrote about the moment when he watched his fellow astronauts attempt their return home. “I am coming home, forthwith, but I will be a marked man for life, and I know it.”
30. When Apollo 8 circled the Moon on December 24, 1968, they were asked to do “something appropriate” to mark the occasion for the millions of people who were spending their Christmas Eve listening to them back on Earth. They decided to read a verse from Genesis, which ended up enraging noted atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair to the point that she sued the space organization, claiming that reading had violated her First Amendment rights. The case was eventually thrown out, but NASA didn’t want to chance having to deal with a similar situation with Apollo 11. Buzz Aldrin had planned to read a communion passage, but was asked to scrap it at the last minute.
31. Though Aldrin wasn’t able to share his communion passage with those back on Earth, he did take a few moments to observe the sacrament privately shortly after landing on the Moon. “I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine,” Aldrin said. “I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: The very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”
32. If their heart rates were any indication, Armstrong and Aldrin were pretty calm, cool, and collected when they landed on the Moon. And it’s a good thing: Had they been overwhelmed by the cosmic wonder of it all, they could have easily locked themselves out of their lunar module, as Eagle’s door had no outer handle.
33. Before landing on the Moon, there was much discussion as to how appropriate planting any single country’s flag on its surface would be. Ultimately, it was decided that the men would plant an American flag and leave a plaque emphasizing that they “came in peace for all mankind.” Of course, then the big question became: Where did that American flag come from? NASA tried their best to dodge the question, explaining that they had purchased flags from several different manufacturers. However, it turned out that all of the flags came from Sears, but the space organization didn’t “want another Tang” on their hands. In other words: They didn’t want Sears to turn the Moon landing into an advertising campaign for the company.
34. Though studies conducted before Apollo 11’s mission had concluded that the Moon’s surface would be soft, Armstrong and Aldrin quickly learned that wasn’t the case. The surface was made of hard rock, with a layer of dust on top of it, which made planting the American flag one of their toughest jobs.
35. While the photos of Armstrong and Aldrin standing next to the planted American flag are famous around the world, that flag didn’t stay standing very long. Thanks to the power produced by Eagle’s thrusters when the two launched back into lunar orbit, the flag quickly toppled over.
36. As for what happened to that flag once it fell over? It likely turned to ashes. “The flag is probably gone,” Tony Reichhardt wrote for Air & Space Magazine. “Buzz Aldrin saw it knocked over by the rocket blast as he and Neil Armstrong left the Moon … Lying there in the lunar dust, unprotected from the sun’s harsh ultraviolet rays, the flag’s red and blue would have bleached white in no time. Over the years, the nylon would have turned brittle and disintegrated.”
37. Armstrong and Aldrin left more than just that flag behind: Among the other meaningful mementos that didn’t make the trip back to Earth were messages from 73 world leaders, a gold pin in the shape of an olive branch (meant to symbolize peace), and a patch from the Apollo 1 mission (which never launched because three of its astronauts were killed during a training exercise).
38. When Eagle landed on the Moon’s surface, the circuit breaker’s switch, which was essential for their return to Earth, accidentally broke off. Aldrin wrote about how some quick-thinking helped solve the problem in his 2009 memoir, Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home From the Moon: “Since it was electrical, I decided not to put my finger in, or use anything that had metal on the end. I had a felt-tipped pen in the shoulder pocket of my suit that might do the job. After moving the countdown procedure up by a couple of hours in case it didn’t work, I inserted the pen into the small opening where the circuit breaker switch should have been, and pushed it in; sure enough, the circuit breaker held. We were going to get off the Moon, after all.”
39. Aldrin kept that pen as a memento as well as the broken circuit breaker switch. Before they took off, all three of the Apollo 11 astronauts were issued their own “Rocket” felt-tipped pen. Today, Collins’ can be seen at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
40. While the press seemed most interested in what the Apollo 11 astronauts were planning to take with them to the Moon, what they brought back was even more amazing. Some of the rocks they brought home were estimated to be 3.7 billion years old.
41. While surveying the surface of the Moon, Armstrong collected a bag of dust for NASA scientists to study and analyze. In 2015, that bag of Moon dust was purchased from a government auction site for $995 by Chicagoan Nancy Lee Carlson. When Carlson sent the bag to NASA to confirm the authenticity of what was inside it, NASA claimed the bag was their property and refused to send it back. So, Carlson took the agency to court, where a judge ruled in her favor. In 2017, Carlson sold the bag for $1.8 million via Sotheby’s.
42. The moon apparently has a very distinct smell. “It smelled, to me, like wet ashes in a fireplace,” Armstrong said of the Moon’s smell. To Aldrin’s nose, however, it was more of “a pungent metallic smell, something like gunpowder, or the smell in the air after a firecracker has gone off.”
43. Bureaucracy doesn’t stop for world-changing events. Though he made history by becoming the second person to walk on the Moon, Aldrin, like so many other office drones before and after him, was forced to be subjected to the mundane indignities of filling out his expense reports. The astronaut, who retired in 1971, requested reimbursement for $33.31 in travel expenses incurred while traveling to and from Cape Kennedy in Florida.
44. Just like any other traveler who left the United States, the Apollo 11 team had to fill out customs forms when they made their way back through Honolulu.
45. On July 24, the Apollo 11 crew reentered Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down into the Pacific Ocean after more than a week in space. In order to ensure the men hadn’t brought back any sort of weird Moon diseases or other microbes, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were quickly placed into a mobile quarantine unit, which was then transported to the NASA Lunar Receiving Laboratory at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. They were released from quarantine on August 10, 1969.
46. To make sure that their families were taken care of, financially, if they did not return from their mission, the Apollo 11 astronauts spent part of their pre-mission quarantine signing hundreds of autographs, which were to be auctioned off if and when needed. Fortunately, they were not.
47. Space historian Robert Pearlman told NPR that Apollo 11 insurance autographs began popping up at space memorabilia auctions in the 1990s, where they could fetch $30,000 apiece. When Armstrong, who did his best to stay out of the spotlight following Apollo 11, learned that people were profiting from his autographs, he stopped signing them altogether.
48. Even 50 years later, there are still some people who believe that the Moon landing was a hoax. But the men who manned Apollo 11 had a sense of humor about it. “It would have been harder to fake it than to do it,” Armstrong once famously said. On at least one occasion, Aldrin had a hard time laughing it off. In 2001, Aldrin was approached by conspiracy theorist Bart Sibrel, who wanted the astronaut to put his hand on a Bible and swear to God that he had walked on the Moon. While Aldrin did his best to ignore Sibrel, the NASA legend didn’t take too kindly to being called “a coward, and a liar, and a thief” by Sibrel. So he punched him in the face.
49. In 2018, UFO enthusiasts ran with an out-of-context quote Aldrin had given about an unidentified object the crew had seen outside the spacecraft’s window. While many tabloids ran with the idea that Aldrin was saying the Apollo 11 crew had seen a UFO, Aldrin was quick to correct the record, but it was too late to stop the conspiracy theories from developing. In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Aldrin tried to set the record straight yet again: “On Apollo 11 [en] route to the Moon, I observed a light out the window that appeared to be moving alongside us. There were many explanations of what that could be, other than another spacecraft from another country or another world, it was either the rocket we had separated from, or the four panels that moved away when we extracted the lander from the rocket and we were nose to nose with the two spacecraft. So in the close vicinity, moving away, were four panels. And I feel absolutely convinced that we were looking at the sun reflected off of one of these panels. Which one? I don’t know. So technically, the definition could be ‘unidentified.’ “[W]hen we returned, we debriefed and explained exactly what we had observed. And I felt that this had been distributed to the outside world, the outside audience, and apparently it wasn’t, and so many years later, I had the time in an interview to disclose these observations, on another country’s television network. And the UFO people in the United States were very very angry with me, that I had not given them the information. It was not an alien.”
50. In total, it’s estimated that it took approximately 400,000 scientists, engineers, and technicians to make Apollo 11’s mission a success.
This article was a compilation of material from NASA.gov and mentalfloss.com.