On July 20, 1969, the world changed forever when Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin set the record of being the first men ever to step foot on the moon. The men began their four-day journey July 16, travelling to the moon from the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, arriving ironically on the Apollo 11 spaceflight.
When they began their mission, Armstrong and Aldrin were traveling in the Eagle ship, while their crewmate, Michael Collins, occupied the Columbia ship.
According to guinnessworldrecords.com, “Often forgotten is fellow crew member Michael Collins, who flew the Apollo's command module around the Moon while Armstrong and Aldrin got to explore the body [the surface of the moon]."
Although Collins did not walk on the moon like Armstrong and Aldrin, he was an important person in the mission, as he was specifically chosen to be the the command module pilot for Apollo 11. Collins passed away April 28, 2021, at the age of 90 due to cancer, nine years after Armstrong died from complications with a cardiovascular surgery.
Armstrong was the first person ever to step on the moon, Aldrin was the second person, twenty minutes later. According to NASA.gov, the two were on the moon for 21 hours and 36 minutes, including seven hours of sleep.
The mission did not proceed as smoothly as anticipated. A switch on Aldrin’s side of the instrument panel broke. It wasn’t just any switch; it was the one that sent power to the ascent engine. Without power to the engine, Armstrong and Aldrin would have no way to return home. Engineers spent hours searching for a way to save the astronauts, and found a loophole.
Time Magazine writer Jeffery Kluger describes the solution, stating,
“The stem of the switch was still visible, recessed inside the small hole remaining in the instrument panel. It was far too small a hole for a finger. But a pen—a felt tip to prevent the risk of a metal-on-metal short—might do just fine. Aldrin had one and he used it, and on the pivot point of a fifty-cent bit of plastic nothing, history turned and the lunar module lifted off.” (Time.com)
Although there were complications with the mission that almost left Armstrong and Aldrin stranded on the moon, all three men were able to journey back to Earth after 124 hours and 22 minutes on the moon. They arrived after eight days in space, taking three days to travel back.
They then had to quarantine themselves for 21 days after returning because of the possibility of exposure to harmful bacteria. Doctors closely monitored the men to assure their safety while a separate team tested the rocks and dust they had brought back with them, protecting any life they could have potentially brought back. Interestingly, they discovered a new mineral in the lunar rocks and named it armalcolite, after the astronauts’ surnames.
The story of the first men on the moon is significant and arguably one of the most impactful missions, even more than fifty years later. Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins will be remembered as the men who made history forever!