Fifty years ago – on July 20, 1969 – we landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong took his first step for man.
Armstrong (commander), Buzz Aldrin (lunar module pilot) and Michael Collins (command module pilot) were the crew for what is often called the greatest achievement by mankind. People from all over the world tuned in to watch the great moment with baited breathe as the grainy black and white footage was beamed back.
But what actually happened, what preparation was needed and more things you may not have known.
Here are the facts behind the first Moon Landing and Apollo 11.
1. Saturn V is the largest, most powerful rocket ever built
Still! The rocket was more than 100m high and burned through 20 tonnes of fuel a second when it launched. It was a beast, weighing in at 2,800 tonnes and generating 34.5 Newtons of thrust at launch.
2. Where did the astronauts sleep and stay?
Despite the huge rocket, the crew spent eight days in a small compartment roughly the size of a large car. They slept in ‘sleep restraints’, which were basically sleeping bags tied to the cabin to stop them from floating away. There were also “couches” they sat on for take-off, but it was 3.9m at its widest, according to skyatnightmagazine.com.
3. Where is the Apollo 11 module now?
No-one knows. Once a lunar module has been used, they are jettisoned and most likely crash into the Moon, burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere or just orbit the Sun. The Apollo 11 module’s location is unknown, but the earlier ones like Apollo 5 and 6 burnt up, Apollo 11 aka Snoopy went into orbit around the Sun, Apollo 12 crashed on the Moon, Apollo 13 (like the Tom Hanks movie) was used as a lifeboat. Apollo 14 and 15 both crash-landed, and we don’t know where Apollo 16 is. The Challenger, Apollo 17, crashed too.
4. Did they have life insurance?
Instead of your usual life insurance the astronauts – not knowing whether they’d return or not – signed hundreds of envelopes before launch day. The envelopes were then postmarked with key dates and distributed to their families by a friend. The idea was if they didn’t return then they could be sold to raise funds. Robert Pearlman told NPR: “These astronauts had been signing autographs since the day they were announced as astronauts, and they knew even though eBay didn’t exist back then, that there was a market for such things, there was demand.” In the 90s the envelopes cropped up in auctions, with one going for as much as $30,000.
Watch: Relive Apollo 11 in real time below.
5. How were their spacesuits made?
The suits were custom made and cost around £79,000. The specialised suit was actually made by bra experts aka seamstresses that made Playtex bras and girdles when International Latex Corporation won the Apollo suits contract. There were very precise requirements, according to Smithsonian, as even a slightly wrong stitch could write off the whole suit.
6. What were Neil Armstrong’s first words?
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Neil Armstrong said at 10:56 p.m. ET on July 20, 1969. There was some confusion as he failed to say a before man, but it’s become an iconic quote either way. Some people try and get technically and say the first word was “Houston” but where’s the romance in that?
7. The women helping the Apollo 11 mission
NASA actually employed a few women. There were female mathematicians that basically acting as “human computers”. Not only were they women but many were mixed race. If you saw Hidden Figures, a film released in 2016, you’ll know the story. Katherine Johnson is the most famous for her work in getting the Apollo Lunar Module and Command Module to the Moon.
8. Armstrong made a promise to his nan
Armstrong’s nan Caroline Korspeter told camera crews that she made Armstrong promise he wouldn’t step out if it was dangerous. “I think it’s dangerous. I told Neil to look around and not to step out if it didn’t look good. He said he wouldn’t,” she told the TV crews.
9. What did Armstrong and Aldrin leave on the Moon?
The pair left a few things behind on the Moon including a 50 cent sized silicon disk containing peace messages from 73 of the Earth’s leaders. Yes, the Queen’s voice is up there in space. She said: “On behalf of the British people I salute the skill and courage which have brought man to the Moon. May this endeavour increase the knowledge and wellbeing of mankind.”
They also left the American flag, a replica olive branch all in the name of peace, and a plaque that read: Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
10. How did the astronauts go toilet?
One thing the astronauts didn’t leave on the Moon was their faeces…You may be wondering how the astronauts managed to go to the toilet. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mark Collins didn’t have a toilet onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft so they had to use a specialised bit of equipment. The ‘roll-on cuff’ was basically a rubber tube that was hooked on to a ‘receiver’ and collection bag. The cover looked a bit like a condom, and the cuff had to be changed daily. If they had to do a No 2 they had to use a taped plastic bag which caught the faeces, according to NASA. The bag was then sealed, kneaded down, and rolled so they could store it away for later disposable on Earth.
While on the Moon the system again changed. The astronauts wore absorbent pads, sort of like a nappy.
Watch: The Moon Landing restored footage below.
11. What does the Moon smell of?
Odd question, but the Moon did actually smell. Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt was part of the Apollo 7 m mission and said it smelt on “spent gunpowder”. Apparently it’s less the Moon smelling and more their noses reacting to the electrically-charged dust on the Moon.
12. Did they bring anything back from the Moon?
Yes they did! Rocks, dust, lunar samples were all in their packages they brought back for the scientists to study and pour over.
13. Did a felt-tip save their lives?
Yes! Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins nearly didn’t make it home when a switch broke. The circuit breaker that activated the ascent engine – ie what got them off the Moon – broke. Aldrin came up with a great solution and used his felt-tip pen to get inside and flick the switch.
14. What happened when the team landed on Earth?
All of the astronauts were put in quarantine so the scientists could examine them and make sure they wouldn’t contaminate Earth.
15. How powerful was the computer used? Spoiler – not very
You’d be forgiven for thinking The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) was a supped up computer but it actually was less powerful than a calculator. Of course, in 1969 it was top of the range, but even though it weighed more than 30kg it wasn’t as high tech as a calculator.
The Independent reported that two calculators used in exams were found to be 140 and 350x faster than the AGC, and they also had more RAM. It did the job though…
16. What would have happened if they were stranded on the Moon?
If things went south the idea was to leave the astronauts on the Moon, President Richard Nixon even had a speech ready, In the Event of Moon Disaster, which he would have read out live on air.
The protocol was simple, Mission Control would have stopped all communication and then Nixon would have rung their families before making the speech. Luckily we never had to hear it.
17. How much did the Apollo 11 mission cost?
The programme was originally estimated to cost $7 billion, but NASA administrator James Webb increased the estimate to $20 billion before handing it over to Vice President Johnson. The increased estimate proved more accurate as the final amount came to $25.4 billion – that’s $140 billion in today’s money.