Whether you were alive on July 20, 1969 or just learned about it in one of your history classes, chances are good that you might not know as much about this event as you may think. With that in mind, here are a few fun facts about that very first moon landing.
It was all about the timing.
History.com reports that Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon took place at 10:56 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969. This was roughly four and a half days (and 240,000 miles) after the Apollo 11’s initial blast-off from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
However, the lunar module Eagle, which contained both Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., actually separated from the command module much earlier, or at 1:46 p.m. on that date. It then touched down on the Sea of Tranquility approximately two and a half hours later, at 4:18 p.m., which is when Armstrong famously radioed to Mission Control that “The Eagle has landed.”
Additionally, after taking his first steps, Armstrong remained the only human on the moon for approximately 15 minutes – or until 11:11 p.m. – which is when Buzz joined him, and the two took photos of the moon’s terrain. This is also when they planted the U.S. flag, an image that many of us have seen again and again.
Two hours later, at 1:11 a.m., the pair returned to the Eagle and closed the hatch, where they slept before heading back to the command module at 1:54 p.m. the following day. They successfully docked at 5:35 p.m. that evening and, on July 22nd at 12:56 a.m., began their journey back home.
Armstrong was a very decorated man.
Of course, not just anyone is capable of walking on the moon, so it really should come as no surprise that Neil Armstrong was an educated and decorated man. Yet, what surprises many is just how accomplished he was.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Armstrong earned his Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering and his Master of Science in aerospace engineering. On top of that, he was also a successful test pilot who held many honorary doctorates from a variety of universities.
At one point, Armstrong was a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati, but he also held many other distinctive roles during his long and accomplished career. These included having a membership with the National Academy of Engineering, the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco, and the National Commission on Space.
Armstrong also spent some time as the chairman of Computing Technologies for Aviation and chairman for the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Peace Corps. He even spent some time as vice-chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident.
NASA also indicates that, in addition to receiving many special honors such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, Armstrong had also been decorated by a total of 17 countries before passing away on August 25, 2012 at the age of 82.
Things didn’t go as smoothly as they’d hoped and planned.
Thankfully, Armstrong’s education and experience helped make landing on the moon possible, even though things didn’t go exactly as planned. For instance, Space.com reports that, as Armstrong and Aldrin were in the Eagle on the way to the moon’s surface, the computer started to display many alarms.
Though it was later found that the computer had actually been overloaded due to a radar switch being “in the wrong position, sending signals in error to the computer,” Armstrong’s fast thoughts and actions enabled him to take over, despite heading straight toward a boulder-filled landing spot. When they finally touched down, there were only 25 seconds of fuel left.
Apparently, this had everyone back at Mission Control on edge because after telling them that the Eagle had landed, fellow astronaut and capsule communicator Charles Duke responded by saying, “You got a bunch of the guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
Another aspect that didn’t go quite as planned was that it was scheduled for Armstrong and Aldrin to rest before stepping out on the moon, but Space.com shares that they made the decision to reverse that because they didn’t think they could sleep. (Could you?) So, instead of getting some pre-scheduled shut-eye, they instead spent the next two hours and 36 minutes collecting 48.5 pounds of moon material, planting the flag, and speaking to Richard Nixon, the U.S. president at the time.
Yes, the first walk on the moon is remembered or known by many. But now you also know how long the process actually took, what type of man it took to get us there, and how, even though things didn’t go quite as they had hoped and planned, it all turned out well in the end.
NASA adds that, after that date, 10 astronauts wound up taking the same type of walk, with the commander of the last Apollo mission, Gene Cernan, ending the last one with this statement: “We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind.” It’s a safe bet to say that everyone couldn’t agree more.