While the urban legend joke about the moonwalking Neil Armstrong congratulating his childhood next door neighbour Mr. Gorsky under his breath on the Moon is untrue (the apocryphal story is too rude to print here but here is a link 🙂 ), and while the Apollo 11 astronauts were regarded as rather serious compared to other Apollo crews, there are enough amusements for us to print here as a celebration of the historic moon landing mission in July 1969, some 45 years ago.
Although Yuri Gagarin is officially the first man in space and Neil Armstrong is officially the first man to set foot on the moon, they may not be the first. Early in the Ming Dynasty during the 16th century, a Chinese man called Wan Hu attempted to get to the Moon by strapping himself into a wicker chair with 47 rockets attached to it. On ignition in was reported that there was a tremendous roar and that when the smoke cleared neither Wan Hu, nor his chair, was ever seen again.
Apollo 11’s first manned lunar landing was notably fraught with a series of radar-triggered computer alarms going off followed by Armstrong having to make a detoured landing to avoid boulders, nearly expending all his fuel. When asked if he was worried, Armstrong joked he was not concerned as, “when the gauge says empty, we all know there’s a gallon or two left in the tank”.
The Apollo 11 landing craft landed further down range than expected. The reason was because of a small velocity increment caused partly by a quick inspection fly around of the command module, and also because the crew had dumped urine causing a little bit of extra thrust.
In fact, the dangerously risky landing aside, the real heart-stopping moment was later in the mission when Buzz Aldrin realised that the ascent engine-arming circuit breaker button had been accidentally broken off, potentially dooming Buzz and first moon walker Neil Armstrong to an unlimited stay on the lunar surface. The improvised solution they came up with was to jam a non-metal-ended pen into the hole to allow the engine to fire, letting them ascend to lunar orbit to dock with the command module and return to Earth.
While struggling to get business and travel expenses signed off by parsimonious accounts departments has probably affected most of us, Armstrong and Aldrin did famously file for theirs after their lunar landing mission. Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin’s claim for his ‘away from home’ allowance read:
Payee’s Name: Edwin E. Aldrin 00018 From: Houston, Texas To: Cape Kennedy, Fla – Moon – Pacific Ocean Amount Claimed: $33.31
Neil Armstrong subsequently joked that he wished that they could have claimed for vehicle mileage as well.
Neil Armstrong was notably “cool under fire” as he previously survived an in-orbit spin in Gemini 8 and an emergency ejection from a crashing jet-powered lunar landing practice vehicle on Earth. And not only did he coolly land the Apollo 11 Lunar module under information overload conditions, he usually looked cool as well. One reason was the sunglasses he wore. So which shades did the coolest of the astronauts wear?
Between the reigns of Ray-Ban and Randolph Engineering it was American Optical that won the 1958 contract to supply US fighter pilots (and astronauts) with their sunglasses. Thus it was American Optical’s ‘Original Pilot Sunglass’ pair that were worn by the known-to-be-coolest-under-fire first moon walking astronaut, Neil Armstrong, on his Gemini and Apollo missions. The lunar pair of shades are now display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
One word of warning however. Despite buying a pair of these American Optical shades, your fretful flapper of correspondent still looks like a berk. 🙁
While the Apollo 11 astronauts’ (Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins) brave achievement at the sharp end of the Apollo programme should be recognised, along with all the achievements and help supplied by their astronaut colleagues and supporting engineers, a survey of 1000 American adults done by the Gallup research a few years ago showed that 25% thought that the Apollo manned moon landings were all hoaxed.
One percent of the sample said it was ‘Buzz Lightyear’ that first set foot on the Moon. While eight people in the survey thought it was Louis Armstrong, who was first on the Moon. We can only hope that one of the individuals who responded in this way may one day be sent from Earth to land on the Moon, and in doing so, thus raise the average IQ on both celestial bodies. 🙂
Aldrin’s irritation got to him when conspiracy theorist Bart Sibrel blocked the way of the former Apollo astronaut demanding that he admit that his lunar landing was faked. The result was that Bart Sibrel was punched in the face. In the public interest, no charges were laid against Aldrin. Sadly, your correspondent never got to meet Neil Armstrong though he did buy Buzz Aldrin a drink once. Given his history it was non-alcoholic.
After stints as a University lecturer and working for industry, Neil Armstrong himself attempted to have a quiet retirement on his farm – though he once had to have his finger sowed back on after he ripped it off in a farming accident. As usual, he reportedly remained calm and cool throughout the whole incident.
Being an ex-test pilot and engineer Armstrong was also famously meticulous, so much so that while playing golf, he would irk his fellow players by taking so long to weigh up all the variables, including how much dew was on the grass, before playing a shot.
Having already given up signing autographs, in 2005, the famously private Neil Armstrong threatened sue his barber at the Marx’s Barber shop in Lebanon, Ohio, after the owner reportedly sold his hair trimmings to a collector for $3,000.
There are, as yet, no takers for your correspondent’s hair or dandruff – though the value of Elon Musk’s might yet rise if he ever gets to Mars. Time for SpaceX employees to start collecting now! 🙂
It could be argued that the heavy lift launch vehicle SLS could be attributed to Neil Armstrong. Towards the end of his life, Armstrong took on the Obama Administration as he attempted to defend NASA’s then plan to go back to the moon. In doing so he displayed his wit by noting that the Augustine Commission’s conclusion that Project Constellation and its Ares V heavy lift launch vehicle “could not be executed” could also mean that it “could not be killed”.
In the end, the US Senate decided that even if Project Constellation was ended, NASA still needed a heavy lift launch vehicle for long range exploration anyway and SLS was born.