Fifty years ago next weekend, man set foot on extraterrestrial soil for the first time when astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped on to the surface of the Moon – perhaps the most momentous event in the history of the human race.
Armstrong and fellow astronauts Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins had blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on 16 July, 1969 on their 480,000-mile round trip.
Their spacecraft, launched by a Saturn V rocket, had three parts – a command module called Columbia with a cabin for the three astronauts and the only part that returned to Earth, a service module which supported Columbia with propulsion, electrical power, oxygen and water, and a lunar module, called Eagle, for landing on the Moon.
Fifty years ago next weekend, man set foot on extraterrestrial soil for the first time when astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped on to the surface of the Moon – perhaps the most momentous event in the history of the human race. Armstrong (left shortly after stepping on the Moon) and fellow astronauts Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins had blasted off (pictured right) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on 16 July, 1969 on their 480,000-mile round trip
Buzz Aldrin unpacking experiments from the Lunar Module on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission
Just over four hours after lift-off the astronauts separated the spacecraft from the last stage of the rocket and travelled for three days until they entered lunar orbit. Armstrong, who died in 2012, and Aldrin then moved into Eagle, detached her from Columbia and descended to the Moon where they landed in the Sea of Tranquility, while Collins waited in Columbia in lunar orbit.
‘Houston, Tranquility Base here,’ Armstrong famously said to Mission Control in Texas as they touched down. ‘The Eagle has landed.’ Armstrong then took that historic first step on the Moon, followed by Aldrin, in the early hours of 21 July, UK time, and returned to Eagle after two and a half hours. History had been made.
After almost 22 hours on the Moon, Eagle lifted off again and docked with Columbia. The astronauts then jettisoned Eagle before performing the manoeuvres that would propel the ship on its trajectory back to Earth, and Columbia finally splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on 24 July after more than eight days in space.
The bravery of those men and the magnitude of their achievement can never be underestimated, and today we celebrate it by looking back at various moon landing mementos.
Cosmic corn flakes for breakfast
Corn Flakes with milk powder (pictured) was part of the culinary delights on offer aboard Apollo 11 because advances in technology meant a greater range of food was available to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins than had been the case on previous Apollo missions
Prawn cocktail, followed by chicken stew and chocolate brownies. Spaghetti with meat sauce, chocolate pudding for dessert.
These culinary delights, dried of course, were all on offer aboard Apollo 11 because advances in technology meant a greater range of food was available to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins than had been the case on previous Apollo missions.
Plastic bags coated in laminated film were the key. They allowed everything from pineapple bars to tuna salad to Corn Flakes with milk powder to be protected from moisture and oxygen invasion.
When food such as a chicken stew needed rehydrating, nozzles at the end of the package were used to inject hot or cold water into it. Eating properly was paramount on the mission.
The spacesuit (pictured) worn by Neil Armstrong was a triumph of design and perseverance. In its prototype form it had lacked one essential quality – flexibility
The Apollo 11 crew were under orders to consume three meals a day, providing them each with 2,800 calories, because previous Apollo missions had recorded dramatic weight loss among astronauts.
If that were repeated on Apollo 11, it could have seriously affected Armstrong and Aldrin’s ability to carry out the energy-sapping tasks required of them on the Moon’s surface.
‘Tastier food made those 2,800 calories easier to consume,’ explains Teasel Muir-Harmony, Curator of the Apollo Spacecraft Collection at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
‘But the astronauts weren’t always hungry. That’s why they came back to Earth with a lot of unconsumed food which we now have in our collection.’
Buzz Aldrin’s favourite meal was shrimp. ‘They were chosen one by one to be sure they would be tiny enough to squeeze out of the packet,’ he said.
Armstrong’s favourite was spaghetti with meat sauce, scalloped potatoes and fruitcake cubes. Michael Collins lost his appetite on the first three days of the flight. ‘After that, I was close, if not equal, to my usual ravenous ground appetite,’ he said. There was even coffee, although only 15 cups per man were allowed for the eight-day trip.
Suits you, Neil!
The spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong was a triumph of design and perseverance. In its prototype form it had lacked one essential quality – flexibility.
The first man on the Moon was going to need to move around the lunar surface, bending and stretching to collect samples of Moon dust and rock and helping Buzz Aldrin with scientific experiments. The solution came from engineers working for the International Latex Corporation in Dover, Delaware, USA, which manufactured bras and girdles.
They invented a bellows-like joint called a ‘convolute’ using neoprene, a type of rubber. This allowed Armstrong to bend at the shoulders, elbows, knees, hips and ankles with relatively little effort.
Steel aircraft cables were used throughout the suit to absorb tension forces and help maintain its shape under pressure, and the outer layers contained a fabric called Beta cloth, made of Teflon-coated glass microfibres, which were able to withstand temperatures of around 540°C. NASA was tragically aware of the danger posed by searing heat.
Armstrong (pictured in the suit ahead of his mission in 1969) was so pleased with it he later wrote to NASA thanking them for his own personal, wearable ‘spacecraft’, which, he said, ‘turned out to be one of the most widely photographed “spacecraft” in history’
The three astronauts aboard Apollo 1 had been killed during a ground test in 1967 after fire ripped through their command module.
The suit was made so that the first man on the Moon could move around the lunar surface, bending and stretching to collect samples of Moon dust and rock (pictured)
Armstrong’s suit was designed to be worn with relative comfort for up to 115 hours in temperatures of over 100°C in sunlight on the Moon and around -150°C in the shadows. It was also built to withstand the perils of deadly solar ultraviolet radiation, and even the potential hazard of micrometeoroids hurtling through the void at ten miles per second.
The suit, more than 20 layers of synthetics, neoprene and metalised polyester, came at a high price – in today’s money close to £500,000 – but it did its job. In fact, Armstrong was so pleased with it he later wrote to NASA thanking them for his own personal, wearable ‘spacecraft’, which, he said, ‘turned out to be one of the most widely photographed “spacecraft” in history’.
‘That was no doubt due to the fact that it was so photogenic and equally responsible for its success was that it hid from view its ugly occupant. Its true beauty, however, was that it worked.’
The spacesuit, which has been undergoing a conservation process, will go back on display for the first time in 13 years at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington on Tuesday.
Watch this space watch!
Buzz Aldrin wearing his Omega watch en route to the Moon, pictured left, and Neil Armstrong’s watch, pictured right
This may be one of the most famous timepieces in history, but Neil Armstrong wasn’t wearing his when he stepped onto the Moon. Because the electronic clock on the lunar module had malfunctioned, Armstrong left his watch on board as a back-up for when he returned.
But the Omega Speedmaster is still known as the Moonwatch because Buzz Aldrin was wearing his when he followed Armstrong onto the Moon’s surface.
NASA researchers had asked ten of the world’s top watch manufacturers to send in examples of their timepieces with stopwatches on. Only four responded to the plea and three were put forward to be tested; Rolex, Longines and Omega.
The timepiece had to be water-proof, shock-proof, anti-magnetic, able to withstand extreme temperatures and incredible accelerations. There were four months of gruelling tests – including 48 hours at 71°C followed by half an hour at 93°C and then four hours at -18°C. The Omega watch was the only one that survived it all.
Armstrong’s watch is now part of the Moon Landings collection at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, but Aldrin’s, the one that was actually taken onto the surface of the Moon, is missing. It was posted to the Smithsonian by Aldrin… but it never arrived.
Astronauts’ home from home
The command module (pictured) splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, just 13 miles from the recovery ship USS Hornet
Orbiting in the command module Columbia, 60 miles above his colleagues Armstrong and Aldrin on the surface of the Moon, Michael Collins had a nagging fear that he was never going to see them again. It was the loneliest 28 hours of his life.
‘I wasn’t concerned about the module I was in, I was worried that something would go wrong with the lunar module that took them down to the surface, that these two guys might get stuck down there,’ remembered Collins. ‘I was relieved when they returned safe and well.’
One of the notes scribbled on the module’s walls by the astronauts during the mission. There’s a calendar, with all the days crossed out apart from 24 July, the return date
The command module weighs some 13,000lb and is made of aluminium alloy, stainless steel and titanium. It’s just 12ft 10in in diameter, about the length of a mid-sized car.
Columbia was the only part of Apollo 11 to return to Earth on 24 July 1969, but it didn’t make it intact. The 2in thick heat shield was burned as Columbia re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and met temperatures of around 2,760°C. That’s hot enough to melt most metals.
The command module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, just 13 miles from the recovery ship USS Hornet.
Thereafter, it went on a tour of American cities, finally arriving at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC in 1971.
Only in 2016 did a digital scan of Columbia reveal some long-held secrets, such as scribbled notes on the walls saying things like, ‘launch day urine bags’, above the pocket where they would have been kept.
‘The best ship to come down the line, God bless her. Michael Collins CMP [Command Module Pilot]’ is written on one surface of the interior, and there’s a calendar, with all the days crossed out apart from 24 July, the return date.
‘I marked off the days we were in space, one by one,’ Collins said. ‘I wanted some kind of perspective on how many days we’d done, how many days we had left.’
A GIFT FROM OZ
It’s 2ft 6in long, 3in high and barely weighs a pound. Yet of all the gifts received by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins during their post-Apollo Goodwill Tour around the world, which lasted for 45 days and took in close to 30 cities in 24 countries, it’s probably the most unusual.
The gift is a wooden boomerang, presented to Michael Collins by the Australian Television Network Channel 7, and it carries the inscription, ‘The first aerodynamic shape conceived by man’, on one side and a series of carvings on the other.
‘It was a wonderful gesture from the home of the boomerang,’ said Collins, who donated it to the National Air And Space Museum in Washington in 1986. ‘I have a fond spot in my heart for Australia, they were so welcoming.’
A wooden boomerang (pictured), presented to Michael Collins by the Australian Television Network Channel 7, and it carries the inscription, ‘The first aerodynamic shape conceived by man’, on one side and a series of carvings on the other
Crowds along 42nd Street cheer Apollo 11 astronauts en route to the United Nations. Sitting high in open car are (left to right): Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong
Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins arrived down under in October 1969 aboard President Nixon’s plane Air Force One, while Nixon’s National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger took a major role in selecting the tour stops and joined the crew for part of their journey.
The tasks undertaken by the three astronauts as they hopped across continents included laying wreaths on the Christopher Columbus monument in Spain and driving home the message to the huge crowds that gathered to see them, ‘The Moon landing was for all mankind.’
When it came to engaging with the public, Neil Armstrong led the way. ‘He was our spokesman,’ said Collins. ‘He had a wonderful quality of talking to people in such a way that they actually felt they were part of this adventure, on board the spacecraft and with us.’
In the course of the tour, at least 100 million people saw the space crew in person and 25,000 people shook their hands, including Pope Paul VI.
The astronauts meet Pope Paul VI on their Goodwill Tour. In the course of the tour, at least 100 million people saw the space crew in person and 25,000 people shook their hands, including Pope Paul VI
Pen that saved their lives
Amazingly, this felt-tip pen saved Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong’s lives. Without it, they would have been marooned on the Moon, unable to start the engine on the lunar module and make it back to the command module.
‘We had a broken switch, the one to the circuit breaker that activated the ascent engine,’ Aldrin recalled. ‘We had to find an alternative way of achieving lift-off.’
Aldrin had the pen in the shoulder pocket of his spacesuit – the velcro patch on the chrome pen lid helped secure it there – and reckoned it might make a substitute for the switch.
‘I inserted the pen into the small opening where the circuit breaker switch should have been, and pushed it in. The circuit breaker held and the engine ignited. We were going to get off the Moon after all.’
Amazingly, this felt-tip pen saved Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong’s lives. Without it, they would have been marooned on the Moon, unable to start the engine on the lunar module and make it back to the command module
He had spotted the circuit breaker switch lying on the floor after returning to the module from his moonwalk. It seems one of the astronauts had knocked it off with his backpack shortly before stepping onto the Moon.
The two men instantly told Mission Control about the switch, and so began several hours of almost unbearable anxiety as engineers on Earth tried to find a solution.
‘They told us to get some rest but neither Neil nor I could manage any,’ said Aldrin. ‘We didn’t sleep at all.
‘In the morning, neither Mission Control nor we could provide an obvious solution. Since it was an electrical connection, I decided not to put my finger in.
But the felt-tipped pen came to our rescue just when we needed it most.’ The pen is a part of Aldrin’s private collection.
The pen is a part of Aldrin’s (pictured) private collection. Aldrin had the pen in the shoulder pocket of his spacesuit – the velcro patch on the chrome pen lid helped secure it there – and reckoned it might make a substitute for the switch
Good evening, it’s Mr President calling…
This green, push-button telephone was used by President Nixon to speak to the astronauts on the Moon almost 240,000 miles away.
He was introduced to them by the capsule communicator Bruce McCandless II, and when told Nixon was on the line Neil Armstrong replied, ‘That would be an honour.’
‘Hello Neil and Buzz,’ Nixon said, his greeting subject to a delay of 1.3 seconds. ‘I am talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House, and this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made from the White House.’
Historic and also a bit of a surprise. Buzz Aldrin later said they had received no warning of the call and wrote in his autobiography, ‘The conversation was short and, for me, awkward.’
Nixon’s pre-prepared speech continued, ‘I just can’t tell you how proud we all are of what you have done. For every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives, and for people all over the world I am sure that they, too, join with Americans in recognising what an immense feat this is… For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one – one in their pride in what you have done and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.’
President Nixon making his telephone call (pictured left) to the astronauts on the Moon almost 240,000 miles away. Tthe phone (pictured right) which he used, which is on display at the US National Archives in Washington
‘Thank you, Mr President,’ Armstrong replied. ‘It is a great honour and privilege for us to be here representing not only the United States, but men of peace of all nations, men with an interest and a curiosity, and men with a vision for the future.’
And that was pretty much that. The conversation lasted a little under two minutes before, hesitantly, Nixon put the telephone back in its cradle. The phone is on display at the US National Archives in Washington.
The flag they left behind
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the American flag on the Moon’s surface – making the USA the official winner of the space race – remains an iconic moment. It was one that had not been left to chance.
The flag was kept in a special insulated container next to the ladder of the Apollo lunar module. Because there is no breeze on the Moon, the telescopic flag pole moved out horizontally as well as vertically so that the full glory of the Stars and Stripes could be seen.
Buzz Aldrin next to the US flag on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the American flag on the Moon’s surface – making the USA the official winner of the space race – remains an iconic moment
But Moon dust isn’t as malleable as our Earth soil – making it difficult to insert items into it. Armstrong and Aldrin had trouble planting the pole into the lunar surface and only managed it after creating a hole 7in deep.
The astronauts also left behind items including a plaque (pictured) bearing the inscription, ‘Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, AD
But Aldrin recalled seeing the flag fall over, blown by the blast of the rocket exhaust as the lunar module left the Moon. It remains there, still flat, with a whole host of other items.
The specially created items include a plaque bearing the inscription, ‘Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, AD.
We came in peace for all mankind.’ Next to it is a golden replica of an olive branch. There is also an aluminium capsule holding a tiny silicon disk containing messages from four American presidents and 73 other heads of state including The Queen etched in microscopic lettering.T
Armstrong and Aldrin also left an Apollo 1 mission sew-on cloth arm patch in memory of astronauts Roger Chaffee, Gus Grissom and Edward White, who died when their command module caught fire during a test two years earlier.
There were also two medals that had been given to them by the widows of Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komorov.
Two men prepare the flag before the Apollo 11 launch. Aldrin recalled seeing the flag fall over, blown by the blast of the rocket exhaust as the lunar module left the Moon. It remains there, still flat, with a whole host of other items
The pair also left around 100 less sentimental objects in an area now known as ‘The Toss Zone’. Because NASA wanted the astronauts to bring home as much Moon dust and rock as possible, they left behind everything they didn’t need including sample scoops, boots, a hammer and empty food bags.
Neil’s missing movie camera
Mounted behind the right forward window of the lunar module Eagle, this slightly battered 16mm movie camera captured some of the most significant events in human history. It provided a unique close-up view of the hazardous Moon landing, during which Neil Armstrong had to steer away from boulder fields in order to prevent his craft from being ripped apart.
It recorded the steps taken by Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin down on to the Moon’s surface, and their activities once they were there, such as planting the US flag.
Incredibly, the camera went missing for 43 years and was only rediscovered following Neil Armstrong’s death in 2012. Searching through a closet in her late husband’s study in Cincinnati, Ohio, Armstrong’s widow Carol found a white bag.
Mounted behind the right forward window of the lunar module Eagle, this slightly battered 16mm movie camera (pictured) captured some of the most significant events in human history
Opening it, she discovered a collection of strange lamps, clamps, power cables, wrenches, utility brackets… and the camera. Carol spread the items on the carpet of her living room, put a tape measure around two sides of the collection to indicate their individual sizes, and then took a photograph of the whole lot.
She sent it to Allan Needell, then curator of the Apollo Collection at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. ‘He immediately knew what they were,’ says Teasel Muir-Harmony, the current curator. ‘It was Armstrong’s “McDivitt purse”.’
These storage bags were named after Apollo 9 commander James McDivitt, who had recommended there should be small bags aboard Apollo spaceships in which pieces of equipment in regular use could be stored.
‘The film from the camera was brought back to Earth in 1969 but it was thought Armstrong must have left the camera itself on the Moon,’ says Teasel. ‘To discover, after all these years, that he hadn’t was extraordinary.’
Something fishy at the launch
The night before the launch, Michael Collins had instructed the chefs who worked on the mission to source the smallest trout they could. He asked them to freeze it and on the morning of the launch mount it on a plaque bearing the words, ‘Guenter Wendt Trophy Trout’ (pictured). It was a gift to Launchpad controller Guenter Wendt
Guenter Wendt receives the trout plaque from Michael Collins on the morning of the launch. Wendt, who held the lives of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins in his hands, was not averse to a little tomfoolery of his own. Shortly before lift-off, the crew of Apollo 11 received an oversized key from him with the words, ‘Key to the Moon’ written on it
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins may have been about to face the most dangerous mission of their lives, but that didn’t stop them from enjoying some comedy moments before lift-off. While Armstrong gave launchpad controller Guenter Wendt a token for a space taxi ride, ‘good between any two planets’, Collins went for something quirkier.
As he recalled in his autobiography Carrying The Fire, ‘Guenter has spent the past couple of weeks telling me what a great fisherman he is, and how he regularly plucks giant trout from the ocean. In return, I have located the smallest trout to be found in these parts and had it nailed to a plaque.’
The night before the launch, Collins had instructed the chefs who worked on the mission to source the smallest trout they could.
He asked them to freeze it and on the morning of the launch mount it on a plaque bearing the words, ‘Guenter Wendt Trophy Trout’. Wendt kept it in his freezer for 22 years before getting it preserved. It was sold to a collector in 2015.
Wendt, who held the lives of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins in his hands, was not averse to a little tomfoolery of his own. Shortly before lift-off, the crew of Apollo 11 received an oversized key from him with the words, ‘Key to the Moon’ written on it.
A nod to history
Neil Armstrong chose to carry a scrap of fabric and a tiny piece of wood (pictured) from the aeroplane that made the first powered flight – the Wright brothers’ Wright Flyer
Each of the three astronauts was allowed to take with them on the mission a personal preference kit, a small bag containing mementos from Earth.
Neil Armstrong chose to carry a scrap of fabric and a tiny piece of wood from the aeroplane that made the first powered flight – the Wright brothers’ Wright Flyer – near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.
Armstrong needed special permission for this. The Wright Flyer is an iconic piece of American history and taking fabric and wood from it would probably have been viewed as sacrilege under any other circumstances.
But under a special arrangement with the US Air Force Museum, the man who would become the first to step on the Moon was allowed to take a piece of muslin from the plane’s upper left wing and a piece of wood from the left propeller.
The relics were of huge importance to Armstrong, who was mindful of American history and equally mindful of his place within it. ‘He is most proud of the pieces of the historic Wright Flyer that he took to the Moon,’ James R Hansen wrote in First Man, his authorised Armstrong biography.
The wood and fabric now form the centrepiece of a plaque at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, which bears the words, ‘First Manned Lunar Landing’ and, ‘Kitty Hawk To Tranquility Base’.
The Smithsonian Channel (Freeview 99, Freesat 175, Sky 195, Virgin 295) has two Apollo 11 documentaries this week, Apollo’s Moonshot: One Giant Leap, tomorrow, 9pm, and Apollo’s Moonshot: The Brink Of Disaster, Monday, 8pm.