Debunking Photos of Neil Armstrong on the Moon and Other Surprising Facts About Apollo 11 Mission

Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon, photographed by Neil Armstrong

As someone who was not born yet when the humans successfully landed on the moon in 1969, I am curious how the world reacted on the momentous event. How things transpired in the world while the three NASA astronauts entered the lunar orbit. For sure, it was surreal.


According to NASA website, "an estimated 650 million people watched Neil Armstrong's televised image".

More millions listen to a radio broadcast across the globe.  

Now, Apollo 11 mission will mark its 51st anniversary which made this article very relevant 😃

And as with most commemorations of world-famous events, Apollo 11 memories were not without controversies to spill.

First the photos.

The man walking on the moon

Did you know that Neil Armstrong, who became the most popular among the three crew members of this mission, had only one or two photos taken on the moon?

Most of the still photos about a man walking on the moon, were  not actually shots of Armstrong because he was the one holding the camera during the duration of the moon walk. It was Buzz Aldrin, the lunar module pilot. 

Buzz Aldrin as photographed by Neil Armstrong (he can be seen in the visor of Aldrin)

This iconic shot (above photo) of a man walking alone on the moon surface, had been deceived people for decades.

Many thought the man was Neil Armstrong because he was the first person to step out on the lunar surface. But actually this was Buzz Aldrin, photographed by Neil Armstrong.

Surprisingly, Neil Armstrong had only one or two still photos on the moon. And the image didn't capture him walking but actually a backshot photographed by Buzz Aldrin. Why?

According to NASA records, as a mission commander, Neil Armstrong was responsible of the documentation and photographing of the moon surface for experiments so he had to carry the 70mm camera all throughout the moon walk. He took plenty of shots of Buzz Aldrin.

For today's age, it wouldn't happen because we don't want to be just photographers of our friends during travel and outings, especially in  beautiful destinations, we let them get the camera and snap photos of us while we pose. 😄

But Armstrong and Aldrin were on a very serious mission on the moon and taking pictures and posing before the cameras were not part of the documentation.

Here's the only photo of Neil Armstrong on the moon photographed by Buzz Aldrin.

It was captured while Armstrong made an ascent to the Lunar Module, Eagle, after more than two hours walking on the moon.

Neil Armstrong's only one photo on the moon surface

As the 51st anniversary of the first human landing on the moon draws nearer, it's surreal to look back at the most daring step taken by humans.

The Mission

According to NASA website, the primary objective of Apollo 11 was to complete a national goal set by President John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961: perform a crewed lunar landing and return to Earth.

Other objectives as stated in the NASA website: scientific exploration by the lunar module or LM crew, deployment of a television camera to transmit signals to Earth, and deployment of a solar wind composition experiment, seismic experiment package and a Laser Ranging Retroreflector.

The historic Apollo 11 mission was the ninth endeavor in the 14-mission Apollo moonshot program of the NASA (National Aeronautical and Space Administration) in an attempt to launch humans on the moon for the first time in human kind history.

Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins on their way to the launch pad.
July 16, 1969

It was arguably the most dangerous mission yet ever undertaken by NASA and many have doubts if it would ever be fulfilled.

The mission preparation included the spacesuit rehearsals and study on the moon surface through high resolution photographs from the Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter programs.

They considered many craters, boulders, cliffs where astronauts could land safely given their fuel and time requirements.

They decided on the moon's Sea of Tranquility, a large basaltic region of the moon, as the lunar module landing site.

The Apollo 11 Mission

It's a bit complicated to understand all these spacecraft terminologies, the modules, the technical terms, among others.

Let's start with the rocket. 

In order for the spacecraft to speed up to the orbit, it needed to be launched by a rocket, a heavy lift-launch vehicle capable of lifting more than 50 tons of payload into the low Earth orbit.

Because astronauts do not just board a helicopter or a commercial plane to reach the space, they needed to be lift up by a speeding rocket to shoot up high in space.

Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo 11 to space

Saturn V rocket is considered the heaviest among the rockets of NASA and had three different stages with the Apollo program payload: the Command Module, the Service Module, and the Lunar Module.

The third stage sent the spacecraft to the moon then separated, and the astronauts entered the command module to orbit into the lunar space, as they approached the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin moved to a lunar module that would land them on the moon surface.

Aldrin, Collins, Armstrong in 1969
The trio later in life, same position in photo above

So let's be clear here that Apollo 11 is not the name of the spacecraft but the term used for the spaceflight for this mission to the moon.

NASA used different terminologies and names for its programs, depend on what mission and exploration they are undertaken in space.

For the lunar exploration, they branded the program/project "Apollo" after the mythical Greek god of the moon.

Michael Collins, the pilot of the Command Module, Columbia

For Apollo 11 mission, the spacecraft has three payload stages:

The Command Module named Columbia, piloted by Michael Collins, it would take them to the lunar orbit and back to earth.

The Service Module, supported the command module with necessary equipment like oxygen, electrical power, water etcetera.

The Lunar Module, Eagle, piloted by Buzz Aldrin, has two stages, the descent stage for landing on the moon and ascent stage that would take back the astronauts to the orbit and reenter the Command Module with Michael Collins.

Buzz Aldrin in front of the Lunar Module, Eagle. 
Photographed by Neil Armstrong

This lunar module, Eagle, will not be returning to earth, as soon as the astronauts reenter the command module after the moon walk, it will be jettisoned or discarded (technically called the separation) and destroyed in space.

The mission was launched on July 16, 1969 and entered the lunar orbit on July 20, 1969. Aldrin and Armstrong touched down on moon on July 21, 1969. Their reentry to the earth atmosphere was on July 24, 1969 and splashed down at the Pacific Ocean, the recovery site.

The Astronauts

For Apollo 11 mission, NASA sent three of its astronauts, all experienced who had been into space prior to the Apollo 11 mission.. And astoundingly born in the same year, 1930!

From left: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin

Neil Armstrong, the mission commander, a former US Navy fighter pilot and previously piloted Gemini 8 into space. 

Colonel Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, the pilot of the Lunar module, Eagle. The first astronaut who had a doctorate degree to fly in space. He had previously piloted Gemini 12 into space and had performed a spacewalk during that mission. He was a US Air force fighter pilot and saw action in combat during the Korean war.

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Collins,  the pilot of the Command module, Columbia  that would take them back to Earth. A test pilot in the US Air force, he piloted Gemini 10 into space in 1966 and also performed a spacewalk. He was a major general in the US Air force.

This mission to moon was designed to be undertaken only by three astronauts. One pilot must stay with the Command Module and would not touch down the moon surface because this vehicle will have to take them back to Earth.

Lunar module could only accommodate two crew members, one pilot and one flight commander. This was designed to be disintegrated into space once the astronauts were back on the Command Module.

Collins, Armstrong, Aldrin

The Moon Landing

On July 20, 1969, as they drew closer to the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin entered the Lunar Module, Eagle, and separated from the Command Module, Columbia.

As Armstrong and Aldrin headed toward the lunar surface onboard Eagle, Michael Collins piloted the Columbia and orbited the lunar space while waiting for his comrades to rejoin him.

Armstrong was the first to descend to the moon surface followed by Aldrin 20 minutes later. Armstrong then notified the command center in Houston, Texas with the historic words

"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed".

Buzz Aldrin saluting the US Flag in the moon surface

A video camera was installed in a panel inside the Eagle to send transmission back to Earth with a live coverage.

Armstrong uttered this iconic quote. "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind".

While on the moon surface, Armstrong and Aldrin setup several experiments, collected samples of lunar soil and rock to bring home, erected a US flag and took core samples from the crust.

They also laid medallion with the names of several astronauts and cosmonauts who were killed in flight and in training (most prominently the three NASA astronauts killed during the test flight of Apollo 1).

They also left a 1.5-inch silicon disk with goodwill messages from 73 countries and the names of congressional and NASA leaders.

Armstrong and Aldrin spent almost three hours in the moon surface collecting samples for experiments. then boarded back to the lunar module to rejoin Michael Collins in the Command Module, Columbia. 

Reentry to the Earth Atmosphere

As soon as they transferred back to Columbia, the Lunar Module Eagle separated and destroyed in space. They headed back to Earth on board the Columbia after eight days in the lunar orbit. 

They splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:50 in the afternoon, July 24, 1969 and were put on USS Hornet, the recovery ship.

Command Module, Columbia splashed down the Pacific Ocean after reentry

They put on a mobile quarantine facility before being taken to Houston where they remained in quarantine until August 10, in case they had brought moon germs that may cause disease.

Neil Armstrong spent his 39th birthday in the quarantine facility.

Controversy on who would descend first

Apollo 11 mission's success was trickled with controversies. It stemmed on who would descend first to the moon.

Who would step out first?

Traditionally, spacewalks allow junior crew members to step out to the space first, leaving the  flight commander at the controls in case of emergency, giving this scenario, it would be Aldrin first who would have been the first man to walk on the moon.

But NASA leaders changed this setup because they wanted the flight commander to set a foot first on the moon for a symbolic value.

So they had to redesign the flight command so that Armstrong would be the first to descend and not Aldrin.

Here are other Surprising Facts about Apollo 11 mission to the moon:

1. The first meal set at the moon of the crew was bacon and coffee. They were also the first to have hot water in space and first to eat their food with a spoon instead of just squeezing it out of a bag. 

2. They had no bathroom, so they used plastic bags and roll-on cuffs to pee and poop. During space flight, the harder thing to do for astronauts is to pee and poop so they often used improvised materials to solve the problem.

3. Armstrong and Aldrin wore diapers while walking on the moon. Aldrin admitted he peed on his pants (of course with diaper on) during the moon walk. "It's lonely as hell out there", he was quoted as saying, "I peed in my pants".

4. A risky descent. As they approached the moon surface, the lunar module, Eagle, had overshoot its intended landing point which turned out to be covered with boulders, but could not be viewed by Aldrin, who piloted the Eagle, on his window. Neil Armstrong had to switch to a manual module and flew to an impromptu landing site.

5. An error code and alarm blares. The computer system of Eagle showed an error code with alarms blaring but Armstrong ignored it and prepared for landing at the moon's Sea of Tranquility.

6. The possibility of being stranded in space and die. Spaceflight experts know that no rescue team could be dispatched to the stranded astronauts in space if something went wrong with the spacecraft. It is either die or live. In the case of Apollo 11, Armstrong and Aldrin were aware that if their lunar module Eagle would malfunction, they would have to be abandoned on the moon (as Collins piloting command module Columbia did not have a capacity to fetch them) and left to die.

7. Speech of death. In fact this possibility was imminent that President Richard Nixon at that time already prepared a speech in case they will die in space.

8. Lunar Module Eagle almost killed them. The discarded lunar module chased the command module in space while they were reentering the space atmosphere and almost crashing them.

9. Buzz Aldrin planted a Swiss flag on the moon first before he erected the US Flag. Why? Don't panic, it was deliberate. According to ESA (European Space Agency), one of the experiments involved deploying a Swiss-made solar sail to study the composition of the solar winds washing over the Moon. Officially dubbed the Solar Wind Composition Experiment, the solar sail was also known as the "Swiss flag" experiment. Read related article, click HERE

Buzz Aldrin erecting a "Swiss flag" on the moon surface

Three Gallant Astronauts Today.

Collins, Armstrong, Aldrin

Sadly, the mission commander, Neil Armstrong, was the only one among the three astronauts of Apollo 11 who did not make it to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 2019.

He died in 2012 following a routine heart surgery that went wrong at a Cincinnati hospital in the United Stages. He was 82. 

Neil Armstrong died in 2012 

His death was regarded as a medical malpractice, a wrongful death and the Cincinnati Hospital paid his family of $6 million as a settlement.

In what could have been a routine heart surgery, things got out of hand and went wrong when nurses removed wires linked to a temporary pacemaker, Armstrong bled profusely into the membrane surrounding the heart, when he brought to the operating room, his heart had stopped and he had brain damage.

He went into a coma and didn't regain his consciousness until  he died a week later.

He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the ocean.

According to some sources and from those who knew him, Armstrong treasured his privacy and didn't like the attention he got after the moon landing event. He preferred a quiet life.

Buzz Aldrin still visible in the media as of today

Unlike Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin fully embraced the stardom and enjoyed the popularity of being the second person to walk on the moon.

He is still visible today giving lectures and interviews about spaceflight and the moon landing, he is strongly advocating the Mission to Mars.

After leaving NASA, he continued to advocate space exploration and has written many articles about his spaceflight advocacy.

The character of Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story was named after him. He is currently active in social media.

Michael Collins now manages his own consulting firm

After leaving NASA, Michael Collins served the administration of President Nixon as Assistant Secretary on Public Affairs. 

In 1985, he started his consultancy firm, the Michael Collins Associates. 

Like most astronauts who gone to space, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins published books about their space mission experiences. Most of it were made into films.

Like Aldrin, Collins is also currently active promoting space exploration and appearing in interviews about his experiences in space missions.

He is also active in the social media.

A big salute to these gallant astronauts who made a difference in the history of mankind! ✌👏💕

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