Almost 16,436 days ago today, three brave men were hurled into the abyss we call space, not knowing what fate had in store for them. Thankfully their little spacecraft called Apolo 11 carried them to their target: Earth’s natural satellite called, you guessed it, the moon.
Now, 45 years later, almost all of us can repeat the famous line Neil Armstrong recited (incorrectly, no less) when he first stepped on to the crater-filled surface. (For those of you who can’t remember, it was “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”) But, there are still some lesser known facts that might — or might not — surprise you:
1. When the idea to legitimately send humans on a moon-based landing was first levied, astronaut candidates weren’t all too thrilled.
In the 2007 documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell said that “it looked like a … quick way to have a short career.”
It’s hard to argue with that since Atlas rockets [which launched spacecraft] were blowing up every day at Cape Canaveral, Florida at that time. Yikes.
2. Astronauts had no idea what terrain they’d be facing on the moon so they took a field trip to Arizona’s Meteor Crater and Sunset Crater, a dormant volcano to practice.
3. The Apollo Moon landing program was almost shut down when a flash fire inside the Apollo 1 module killed three astronauts (during a launch simulation).
4. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin needed God’s grace before he stepped onto the Moon’s surface. According to National Geographic, Aldrin took a Christian Communion, which included a wafer and a thimbleful of wine from a kit prepared by his pastor. It was a hush hush affair since an atheism advocate who objected to government employees praying publicly, was suing NASA at the time.
5. Armstrong’s grandmother advised him to look around and not to step on the moon if “it didn’t look good.” Armstong promised he wouldn’t.
6. After stepping onto the moon for the first time, Aldrin jumped right back up on the ladder. Why? The lunar lander was so high above the surface of the moon, he had to make sure he could still get back up. The lack of gravity definitely helped him hop his way to the top.
7. The computers NASA used in the Apollo manned lunar programme were no more powerful than a pocket calculator. Think about that the next time you’re using one to calculate your taxes.
8. The astronauts left special mementos on the moon. Goodwill messages from 73 world leaders, a gold pin shaped like an olive branch and a patch from the never-launched Apollo 1 mission are still on the moon today.
9. A plaque was placed on the moon (just in case aliens happened to vacation there). It says:
HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH
FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON JULY 1969, A.D.
WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND
10. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent 21 glorious hours on the moon. Well, a good chunk of it wasn’t oh-so-glorious. They spent the last few hours trying to sleep in the very cold lunar lander.
11. Neither the landing nor their return were guaranteed to succeed, so then-U.S. President Richard Nixon prepared a speech just in case the moonwalkers didn’t make it. According to National Geographic, here’s an excerpt from that speech (which was never uttered, thank goodness) that read: “These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.”