CHARLOTTE, NC. Saturday, July 20th marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most remarkable events in history. It marks one of the greatest moments in American history as well. We’re talking, of course, about Apollo 11, America’s very first moon landing. When Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon, this stellar 1969 event immediately became one of those “I remember exactly where I was” moments for most Americans.
Paying tribute to the 24 astronauts who flew nine missions to the moon, Myth Trivia offers some little known facts about the original moon landing – and the rest – that somehow slipped under the radar.
Who were these “men on the moon”?
Of the two dozen men who flew nine separate missions to the moon within a four-year span, only 12 walked on its surface. Six of the 12 drove Lunar Roving Vehicles, while three astronauts flew in two moon missions: Gene Cernan. John Young and Jim Lovell.
Both Young and Cernan stepped on the moon on their second mission. That left Lovell as the only person who ever flew two moon launches and never touched the moon’s surface. He is also the only living member of the three.
As a result, the twelve men who walked on the moon are the only people to have ever set foot on an astronomical object other than the Earth.
Eight of the moonwalkers have passed on. Four are still living. At 47 years and 80 days, Alan Shepard became the oldest person to walk on the moon. Shepard was also the first American in space and the only person to hit a golf ball on the moon. Experts estimated the drive traveled more than two miles. Too bad the folks from Guinness weren’t there to see it.
Charlie Duke was the youngest moonwalker at 36 years and 201 days.
While there were six lunar landings, there were also two lunar orbit launches prior to the landing mission, and the aborted Apollo 13 mission as well. Twelve of the 24 astronauts from the six lunar landings, two orbital missions and Apollo 13 survive today.
Don’t be fuelish…
On that first moon landing, a lesser known facts that gets lost occurred when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin realized that their chosen landing site contained huge outcroppings of rock. Clearly, these could make it too difficult to land their craft.
Armstrong opted to manually navigate the lunar probe by skimming over the site. He knew this would require the consumption of more fuel. That’s because, as a safety precaution, the probe had a pre-set fuel limit. The programmed limit would automatically abort the landing at a certain level of remaining fuel.
Fortunately, the probe landed 25 seconds before reaching this point. Otherwise, the system would have sent the astronauts back to the orbiting Columbia spacecraft before they could complete their historic mission.
Risks, known unknowns, and indistinct lunar speechifying
At the time of the Apollo 11 launch, scientists regarded the trip’s risk so high that they could not guarantee success. Consequently, President Richard Nixon prepared a speech in advance. He planned to deliver it in case of a mechanical or human catastrophe.
Among the known unknowns was this: No one had ever landed on the moon before. So no one actually knew, for sure, whether the lunar landing craft could actually take off from the moon’s surface to begin the return journey Earth. Nixon and/or his speechwriters prepared that never-delivered contingent speech to cover this possible “Lost in Space” tragedy. Since that time, some copies of the speech have been discovered. Though Myth Trivia has yet to seen one.
When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, TV viewers believed he said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The phrase has since been disputed by many, including Armstrong himself.
What Armstrong actually said upon setting foot on the moon was “That’s one small step for “a” man, one giant leap for mankind.” Linguistic experts studying the recording confirm that Armstrong does in fact utter “a.” That trivial factoid eventually led to today’s modern practice of presenting Armstrong’s quote with the article – “a” – appearing in brackets.
If only CNN could get the kind of ratings the moon landing got…
One aspect of America’s first moon landing no one thought to predict was the potential and actual viewership number for television coverage of the event. An estimated 53 million people actually watched the mission in the United States. Global viewership considerably surpassed initial estimates of 550,000,000.
Inside and outside the lunar lander
The actual time spent outside the lunar probe during this first voyage amounted to 21 hours and 36 minutes of “extravehicular activity” (EVA). This provided ample opportunity for the pair of US astronauts to conduct experiments and place instruments on the moon as well.
Armstrong and Aldrin actually only spent part of that time on the moon’s surface, however. NASA wisely required them to take several breaks inside the probe for safety reasons.
Space junk, or souvenirs for the moon’s little green men?
Items the astronauts left on the moon’s surface included pictures of human beings along with audio recordings made in several different languages to represent the global significance of the mission. They also left behind medallions bearing names of the three astronauts who died on the launch pad in Apollo 1, plus the names of two Soviet cosmonauts who perished in a similar accident in the then-U.S.S.R.
Upon returning to Earth, NASA whisked the three Apollo astronauts away to quarantine for 21 days.
Scientists regarded this as a precautionary measure meant to prevent the release of any possible lunar micro-organisms that the crew might have inadvertently carried back from from the moon.
The astronauts remember Wilbur and Orville
As the “kicker” for this story, consider that just 66 years before the first manned lunar mission, the Wright Brothers achieved the first recorded flight by a man in 1903 at Kill Devil Hills in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
In tribute, Neil Armstrong carried with him on the Apollo spacecraft some small strips of wood and a piece of cloth from the pioneering Wright plane. He intended them as a symbol of the progress made in aviation over those 66 years. Interestingly, like Armstrong, the Wright Brothers also hailed from Ohio.
Today, the artifacts carried by Armstrong reside in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
An inadvertent musical tribute to America’s real men on the moon
In 1954, fifteen years before the historic moon landing, Bart Howard wrote a song called “In Other Words.” Kaye Ballard first recorded the song two years later, and Johnny Mathis popularized it further.
The song’s first 12 words:
“Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars…”
Today, thanks largely to yet another arrangement by Frank Sinatra in 1964, that song quickly became associated with the Apollo program. Everyone now knows it, of course, as “Fly Me to the Moon.”
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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