November 14, 1969. Lightning strikes the mighty Saturn 5 rocket carrying the crew of Apollo 12 as it was steadily ascending into the Florida sky. Sixteen seconds later, proving an old saying wrong, a second bolt of lightning struck the spacecraft. Still, the mission was a success, and the Apollo 12 astronauts became the second group of people to land on the moon.
To commemorate the occasion, I’ve collected here a few tidbits on the moon landings. Enjoy!
Would you mind stepping behind the line, sir?
My favorite trivia is a mad tale of bureaucracy:
As the Apollo 11 team arrived safely on the Earth, the crew were brought to Hawaii. Despite being the three most famous men at the time, they were still asked to fill out a customs and declarations form at security.
In the section, “Any other condition on board which may lead to the spread of disease,” the answer is a chilling, “To be determined.”
And in the section asking “Departure From:” the Apollo 11 crew wrote “The Moon”. Try to beat that…
Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin couldn’t afford the life insurance policy for an astronaut. So, all three astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission decided to create a plan of their own to support their families if something bad were to happen.
In July 1969, while they were in pre-launch quarantine, they signed hundred of autographs and sent them to a friend. If anything was to happen to them, the entrusted friend was to send the autographed memorabilia to each of the astronaut’s families. This way they could make some money by selling the signatures.
Mourn, Mother Earth
“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
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. These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding. They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man. In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts. For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”
What is that smell?
During the Apollo 11 mission, the solution to, erm, waste disposal hadn’t really been solved yet, and one astronaut in particular spent the entire mission on tablets that stop diarrhoea just to combat the problem.
As Michael Collins later said, “The drinking water was laced with hydrogen bubbles’ which produced “gross flatulence…resulting in a not so subtle and pervasive aroma which reminds me of a mixture of wet dog and marsh grass.”
Mercifully, other smells weren’t so bad. One thing that surprised the astronauts was the strong odor of the lunar dust. While conducting experiments on the surface of the Moon, their spacesuits gathered moon dust in the creases of the suit. Once they returned to the Lunar Module and removed their helmets, the dust got everywhere (some astronauts even tasted it). After coming into contact with oxygen for the first time inside the Lunar Module, the four billion years old moon dust produced a pungent smell they compared to gun powder. More poetically, Neil Armstrong described the scent as similar to wet ashes in a fireplace. This distinct smell remains a mystery, as moon dust and gun powder have no similar compounds. The exact explanation remains unknown.
Since the Moon Landing was a global event, everyone would be watching. That’s why NASA asked the astronauts on Apollo 11 not to engage in any religious activities. However, Buzz Aldrin felt the opportunity was too great to let pass by. Once Armstrong and Aldrin landed safely on the Moon and were waiting to take their first steps, Aldrin radioed back to Earth asking anyone who was listening to reflect on that moment in history. Aldrin then produced a small flask of wine and a piece of bread, which he then consumed whilst reading from the Gospel of John. From that moment Buzz Aldrin then became the first and so far the only person to participate in the Christian ritual of Communion on the Moon.