On the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission, here are five fast facts
Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 6:36 PM - On the morning of July 16th, 1969, NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins climbed into the Apollo 11 command module, perched high atop a Saturn V rocket, and were soon airborne, lifting off the platform at Kennedy Space Center on their way to the Moon. While this was one of the most documented events in human history, there are still some little-known facts about the mission.
1. The U.S. flag planted at the Apollo 11 landing site wasn't the only flag brought on the mission
It's certainly the most famous of the flags, but the one flown by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin was only one of many flags that made the journey. Two other large American flags were brought along, along with a flag from each of the U.S.'s 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, the flag of the United Nations, and flags from a number of different nations around the world. Some bonus facts about the flag that was left behind - it was accidentally blown over when Armstrong and Aldrin blasted back up into lunar orbit, and after 45 years of cosmic ray bombardment it is probably completely blank now.
2. The mission was intended to show up the Russians, but its message turned out to be one of peace
Even though the Moon shot was part of the one-upsmanship between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., you'd never know it from the objects the astronauts brought along. First is a plaque attached to the lunar module, which read "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind," a gold pin in the shape of an olive branch, and two medals to commemorate Soviet cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov and Yuri Gagarin, who died within the two years prior to the Apollo 11 mission (Komarov when his Soyuz 1 capsule crashed in a landing attempt and Gagarin when the MiG training jet he was flying crashed). All of these objects, along with a patch from the original Apollo 1 mission (which was aborted before launch due to a fire in the command module that claimed the lives of all three astronauts on board) and good-will messages from many of the world leaders at the time, were left behind on the Moon as tokens from not just the United States, but their rivals and the entire planet Earth.
3. This wasn't the astronauts' first rodeo, but it was their last one
All three of the astronauts on the mission, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, flew exactly two missions into space, with the Apollo 11 mission being their last. For Armstrong, his first trip into orbit was with the Gemini 8 mission, in March 1966, along with astronaut David Scott. They only completed six orbits of the planet before they had to return to Earth due to a system-wide failure on the spacecraft. Collins was the next to fly, with John Young on the Gemini 10 mission, in July of that same year - making 43 orbits of Earth in just under 3 days before returning. Aldrin flew last (of the three), on board Gemini 12, four months after that, in November 1966. He and James Lovell, Jr circled the Earth for almost four days, making 59 trips around the planet, and while on an EVA outside the capsule, he took what has become known as the very first Space Selfie.
4. Armstrong being the first man on the moon was simply a matter of seating arrangement
A lot of rumors have been running around for the past 45 years about why Neil Armstrong was chosen to be the first man on the moon - he was civilian as opposed to military, he pulled rank and so on. However, the real reason was the seating arrangement in the lunar module (LM). Since the door to the outside opened into the module instead of out, it made the logistics of leaving a bit more difficult than they would have been otherwise. As it was, Armstrong, in the commander's chair, was in the perfect position to back out of the module from his position, which would let Aldrin then slide over into the command chair afterwards to follow him. Astronauts may fly to the 'heavens', but they're definitely not devas.
5. Although Armstrong was the first human on the Moon, there's surprisingly few pictures of him there
The astronauts took a lot of pictures while they were on the Moon (click here for an excellent gallery of them), but of all the photos taken, only a few of them have Neil Armstrong - the very first human to set foot on another body in our solar system besides Earth - in them. This isn't due to any objections from Aldrin, as some rumors have claimed (see the above comments about devas), but simply because Neil was the one taking most of the photographs. You can certainly see him in the video footage as he descends the LM ladder to the lunar surface, but other than that, there is an automated picture of him helping Aldrin plant the U.S. flag, and you see him reflected in Aldrin's helmet visor.
Bonus Fact: There are a lot of myths and conspiracy theories about the Apollo 11 mission
This is probably quite well-known, but there are a lot of 'interesting' stories still circulating around about the first human spaceflight to the Moon, including claims that it was all a hoax! Conversely, though, there is a lot of excellent factual information out there, including some skilled breakdowns of exactly why the hoax claims and conspiracy theories are wrong. Come back in the days ahead for more information about the Apollo 11 mission.