9 Facts that Will Get You Hyped for Apollo 11
The (inter)stellar new documentary, Apollo 11, is sure to leave you awe struck and with more than a few questions about the tremendous feat. So here’s the Bertha DocHouse team with all you need to know.
If there’s one thing we love doing at Bertha DocHouse, it’s sharing with you documentaries as good as Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 .
To echo John F. Kennedy’s historic address to Congress on May 25, 1961, “no single space project […] will be more impressive to mankind, or more important,” and this doc does those words justice. Made up of 11,000 hours of unseen audio and film recordings from NASA’s first mission to the moon, Apollo 11 is a masterstroke of editing.
It places you front and centre of the entire mission, giving you access you never thought you’d have, and leaving you with such a sense of awe, it’ll raise the hair on your neck. But the movie also leaves you asking as many questions as it answers, so here are 9 facts that will prepare you for Apollo 11…
1. The Fight to Be First: Buzz vs. Armstrong
The space race between the USA and USSR is well documented, but did you know that there was plenty of rivalry between Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin? As the Lunar Module Pilot, Aldrin believed it would be him, telling members of the press that he was going to be the first man to walk on the moon. But at a press conference on 14th April 1969, NASA announced that Armstrong would take the first steps – something high-ranking director Christopher Kraft claims he had a hand in, because he “didn’t like” Buzz. This outraged Aldrin, who stated that Armstrong was merely a civilian, and that it would be an insult to the armed services in which he had served.
2. A Near Miss - The Landing
Apollo 11’s Eagle Lunar Module encountered a whole bunch of computer errors during its descent, meaning it hurtled towards the moon’s surface too fast and was thrown off-course towards a dangerous field of boulders. With only about 30 seconds worth of fuel left, Commander Armstrong was faced with the decision to either take over the controls and navigate the Eagle to a more suitable landing spot or eject back into lunar orbit.
3. What Happened on the Moon?
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent a total of 21 hours and 36 minutes on the Moon’s surface.
During that time, they ventured no more than 300 feet from the Eagle and worked under 200-degree sunlight. Armstrong and Aldrin took over 1,000 photographs and collected soil samples and forms of moon rocks to bring home. Most famously, they also left an American flag and a plaque saying, ‘We came in peace for all mankind.’
4. What Actually Happened on the Moon…?
It’s a little-known fact that before they stepped out of the lunar module, Buzz Aldrin unstowed a small plastic container of wine and some bread. Buzz was an elder of the Webster Presbyterian church near Houston, and (having received permission from the church's general assembly) he administer communion to himself. Aldrin described the surreal ceremony in a 1970 copy of Guideposts magazine:
"I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements."
Aldrin had hoped that the ceremony would be broadcast worldwide via radio, but at that time, NASA was fighting a lawsuit against Madalyn Murray O'Hair, founder of American Atheists. O'Hair had pressed for a ban on all astronauts practicing religion, after one of the Apollo 8 crew read from the Genesis creation account whilst in orbit. So Aldrin’s ceremony was completely hushed up until after the mission.
5. A Plague from Outer Space!
At the time, there was international concern that the first men on the moon would be exposed to germs that didn’t exist on Earth, and that they would bring back an epidemic that we would be defenceless against. To combat this, during their first days home, the astronauts were forced to live in the Mobile Quarantine Facility, a hermetically sealed defence against any deadly lunar microbes that may have returned with them.
The facility was a 35-foot-long aluminium trailer, decked out with elaborate air ventilation systems, sleeping quarters, living room, kitchen and bathroom. NASA spent a total of $250,000 on the quarantine chambers, and the trio stayed there for 65 hours before being moved to another facility.
6. Michael Collins: The Unsung Hero of Apollo 11
Michael Collins is the often-forgotten hero and third pilot of the Apollo 11 mission. In many ways, Collins had an even more important role than his two colleagues, because he had to ensure they all made it back to earth safely. While Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21 hours braving the moon’s surface, Collins was left piloting the command module, alone in lunar orbit, and travelling to what’s effectively known as the “dark side” of the moon – the half we never see from earth.
7. The Unsung Female Heroes of Apollo 11
JoAnn Morgan and Margaret Hamilton played significant roles within the Apollo 11 mission, though neither ever received public recognition in their lifetimes.
Morgan was the first female engineer at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Centre, and the only woman who was present in the firing room during the Saturn V/Apollo 11 launch to the Moon. You can catch the briefest of glimpses of her in Todd Douglas Miller’s breath-taking film. Meanwhile, Hamilton created on board flight software for various Apollo missions. During Apollo 11, it was Hamilton’s software that kept the astronauts alive by warning them of the engineering faults that occurred prior to landing.
8. One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage
The American government recently passed the One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act, which seeks to preserve and protect the historic Apollo 11 landing site. This was put in place to protect archaeological artefacts that the bill now enshrines as being "of outstanding universal value to humanity."
The bill also states that "all the human effort and innovation such sites represent" should be recognised and preserved, even beyond the Apollo 11 site.
9. 98% Sure We’ve Found Snoopy
Did you know that two months before Apollo 11, Apollo 10 deployed an unmanned lunar module in a test run? The module measured just 4 metres wide, and was used to test whether the now famous “docking manoeuvre” was even possible at 50,000ft above the moon’s surface.
After the test was completed, the craft was jettisoned, and had previously been believed to have been hopelessly lost in 900 million kilometres. Despite odds of 235 million to one, the Royal Astronomical Society have analysed vast terabytes of radar data, and now claim to be fairly certain they’ve located Snoopy!