Left: Apollo 11 during takeoff. Right: Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon. (Photos courtesy of NASA)
LOS ANGELES - Some things about the Apollo 11 moon landing are burned into the collective consciousness, like Neil Armstrong’s words as he stepped out onto the surface of the moon, declaring, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But there are also many parts of the mission that the general public is still learning about today. Here are five lesser-known, yet still incredible facts about the mission that first landed men on the moon.
Playtex, a subsidiary of International Latex Corporation in Dover, Delaware, made Neil Armstrong’s space suit.
At the time it was made, Neil Armstrong’s suit was estimated to cost $100,000, which would roughly equate to $670,000 today. It was effectively a complex mini spaceship, designed to protect him from deadly radiation from the sun, the potential hazard of micrometeorites smashing into Armstrong at 10 miles per second, and the moon’s climate (temperatures can reach as high as 240 F in sunlight and as low as 280 F in the shadows), though NASA insisted the suit be capable of withstanding 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit after a fire killed three Apollo astronauts during ground testing in 1967.
It had 21 layers of synthetics, neoprene rubber and metalized polyester films, and it had to be hand-built by seamstresses with such accuracy that even a stitching error as small as 1/32 of an inch would make the suit unusable.
International Latex Corporation had engineers who were experts at fashioning rubber garments, and they designed the joint that allowed the astronauts to move freely in zero gravity while still being protected from incredible outside pressure. They called the joint a convolute and made it out of neoprene with nylon tricot reinforcement, and it made all the difference for the Apollo 11 crew as they moved around the moon. They could bend at the shoulders, elbows, knees, hips and ankles easily — not like they were walking around in a personal space ship.
Nixon hoped for the best, but planned for the worst — he had his speech writer, William Saffire, prepare a speech in the event that Aldrin and Armstrong got stuck on the moon and perished.
There was always a distinct possibility that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, the two astronauts tasked with landing on the moon while their colleague Michael Collins stayed in orbit, would die on the moon. NASA was concerned that they would not be able to launch the lunar module back off the moon’s surface to rejoin Collins in the command module, in which case Aldrin and Armstrong would be left to run out of oxygen nearly 240,000 miles from the planet they called home. Saffire wrote a touching tribute for the worst case scenario.
“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace,” Saffire wrote. “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.”
The mission was so dangerous that the astronauts couldn’t get life insurance
Because the mission had such a high risk of death, insurance companies wouldn’t issue life insurance policies to the astronauts. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins all had children at the time of the mission, and they wanted to make sure their families were secure financially in case anything happened to them on the mission.
The astronaut trio hatched an alternate plan — they each autographed hundreds of envelopes that their friends had postmarked on July 20, 1969 so that their families could sell the letters as collectors items, just in case.
The Apollo 11 astronauts declared their moon rocks and moon dust at customs upon return to the U.S.
When Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins returned to Earth, they filled out a customs declaration form on which they declared moon rocks, moon dust, and other lunar samples. They listed the flight route as starting in Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) with a stopover on the moon.
The form was filed at the Honolulu Airport on July 24, which was the day that the three astronauts landed back on Earth in the Pacific Ocean — they didn’t actually make it to Hawaii until June 26. NSA spokesperson John Yembrick confirmed to Space.com that the form was real, though intended to be a bit of a joke. Astronauts do have to fill out customs forms when traveling internationally, but not upon return from space.
The astronauts were kept in quarantine for three weeks after returning to Earth — just in case they were carrying space germs
Scientists weren’t sure what, if any, kinds of germs the astronaut team could bring back to Earth, so the three men were kept quarantined for three weeks upon return. They wore special biological containment suits when they walked on the deck of the USS Hornet after being retrieved from the Pacific, and then spent the rest of the quarantine inside a special trailer. NASA even transported them to Houston in the trailer.