In case you haven’t heard, July 20th, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first human lunar landing. It was a triumph of the ingenuity of mankind itself and marked successful progress in the space race with the Soviet Union. But there are a few facts that you many not be aware of concerning that fateful mission.
For instance, did you know that an estimated 600 million people watched the landing on television? In the days leading up to the mission, the media coverage had been extensive and pervasive. This was a world record for television viewing at the time and accounted for approximately 53 million families all in front of the old tube at the same time. Wow!
How about this one: The Moon landing was 25 seconds from being aborted when the probe touched down. In the initial and very intricate planning of the Apollo 11 mission, a landing site on the Moon was selected as appropriate. However, as the probe was descending to the predetermined site, Neil Armstrong could see the site was hazardous for landing because it was filled with boulders. He made the decision to find a different site and began to manually pilot the probe, which had a set fuel limit. If Armstrong had reached that set limit, the mission would have been automatically aborted and forced them back to the Columbia which was orbiting the Moon. Talk about cutting things close!
Not everyone was so sure the lunar mission was going to be a success. There had been many space mission failures over the past decade, including Apollo 1 in January of 1967. There was also the fact no one had ever landed on the Moon before, and scientists were unsure if takeoff from the Moon was possible. Failure was such a large factor in the program that President Nixon already had a speech prepared for the watching public if such a catastrophic failure occurred. Thankfully, that speech was never needed, but there are supposed copies of said speech floating around today.
My absolute favorite fact of the Apollo 11 mission is the requirement of the returning astronauts to sign declaration forms by Customs upon their arrival to Earth. Buzz Aldrin revealed this information in 2015 and stated they declared "moon rock and moon dust samples." I wonder if Customs had considered this when they were writing policies on what could be allowed back in the United States? Have they considered it now?
These facts are just the tip of the Moon rock. Scads of books have been hitting the shelves for the past year to help educate, excite, and experience the wonder of those first magical steps.