On July 20th we’ll be commemorating the moment when mankind first set foot on the moon. It was an event watched by a TV audience of 600 million, with the images transmitted via the dishes at Goonhilly Earth Station, where Apollo50 will take place.
We’ve indulged our inner geeks to dig around and uncover a few little-known facts about the historic mission.
1. The Saturn V rocket that propelled the crew into space remains the tallest and heaviest rocket ever built. It measured 363 feet and was assembled in a building so large that clouds form inside it.
2. The computer that landed the Eagle on the moon had just 2MHz of processing power, 4KB of RAM and 72KB of ROM – that’s less than you’d find in a calculator!
3. Neil Armstrong took a piece of wood and a piece of fabric from the aeroplane that made the first recorded flight in history to the moon with him. Armstrong was from Ohio, as were the Wright brothers who made the first recorded flight there in 1903. The artefacts were part of Armstrong’s Personal Preference Kit (PPK), bags that were introduced by NASA to formalise the carrying of mementos into space by their astronauts.
4. The Eagle very nearly didn’t touch down at all. The chosen landing site was far too rocky and so Armstrong had to manually adjust the flight path. The Eagle probe had a fuel limit setting, which triggered an automatic abort of the landing – the lander had 25 seconds of fuel remaining when it touched down on the moon.
5. The Apollo 11 spacesuits were a meeting of old-world craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology. The suits had to keep astronauts alive in the vacuum of space, protected from extremes of heat and cold whilst remaining flexible enough to allow them to move around, conducting experiments and collecting lunar rock samples. They were constructed by a Delaware bra company!
6. At the request of President Nixon, Apollo 11 took 250 display plaques to the moon, flags of each of he 50 US states, 135 countries and the UN. These were flown to the moon and back and then gifted along with a fragment of the lunar surface.
7. The astronauts took snail mail to the moon. 214 envelopes to be precise. They were postal covers and Armstrong took 47, Collins 63 and Aldrin 104. These ‘flown Apollo 11 covers’ are signed by the astronauts. Some Collins and Aldrin ones have come up for auction but it seems Armstrong kept all of his.
8. On the subject of autographs, the Apollo 11 astronauts couldn’t get life insurance – so they left signed photographs with their loved ones, to be sold if the worst happened.
9. A humble biro saved the day when the astronauts accidentally snapped a switch of a circuit breaker – meaning they could not take off from the surface of the moon. Buzz Aldrin had to use a pen to push the button in during the countdown procedure and activate the assent engines.
10. Upon returning from the moon, the astronauts were kept in quarantine for 21 days. This was to protect against the possibility of them having carried any micro-organisms to earth.
11. They also had to sign customs forms for the moondust and rock samples they brought back with them!