11 things you never knew about Apollo 11

Fifty years ago next week, 600 million people around the world watched on live television as Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took those historic first footsteps on the moon. Since then, that achievement has been spotlighted in countless books, TV shows, documentaries and feature films.

Yet, some of the most intriguing details from the Apollo 11 saga remain largely unknown or poorly understood.

In the 2018 Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man,” for example, Armstrong is shown memorializing his daughter, who had died seven years before the moonshot at the age of two, by placing her bracelet on the lunar surface. It seems a moment of pure Hollywood fiction — but maybe not. There was an odd moment toward the end of Armstrong’s 2.5-hour moonwalk when he detoured and dropped out of contact with mission control for three minutes. Could he have deposited Karen’s bracelet then? “Oh, I dearly hope so,” June Armstrong Hoffman, his sister, said in a 2005 interview.

That’s just one of the many lost stories surrounding Apollo 11. Here are 10 more.

President Kennedy didn’t really care about the moon.

In public, President John F. Kennedy made soaring speeches, proclaiming that going to the moon would “organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” But in private, he was a pragmatic politician more focused on earthly concerns. “Everything we do ought to be tied into getting to the moon ahead of the Russians,” he told NASA Administrator James Webb in a 1962 White House meeting. “I’m not that interested in space.”

The Apollo 11 crew had to hawk their autographs for life insurance.

Buying insurance isn’t easy when you’re about to shoot into space atop a flaming rocket. With no better option, Armstrong, Aldrin and their Apollo 11 crewmate, Michael Collins, resorted to cashing in on their fame. They signed hundreds of envelopes and then had friends postmark them July 20, figuring that the autographs would be valuable enough to provide for their families if the men didn’t return.

It was a good bet. The Apollo 11 envelopes have sold for as much as $28,500 each.

The lunar spacesuits were created by a lingerie company.

Playtex, a company better known for inventing the Cross Your Heart bra, was hired to create the suits that would protect astronauts from the moon’s airless environment and temperature extremes. That decision led to a secret fashion battle.

Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong suits up for launch with an assist from suit technician Troy Stewart on July 16, 1969.Kipp Teague / NASA

As Nicholas de Monchaux recounts in his 2011 book “Spacesuit,” NASA managers forced Playtex to work under the supervision of an aerospace company, Hamilton Standard, which submitted a suit that was rejected. Playtex employees then snuck into Hamilton Standard, snatched back their design, resubmitted it and won the contract.

Playtex’s industrial division, ILC Dover, has designed every NASA spacesuit since then.

NASA officials worried they might blow up their spectators.

The massive Saturn V rocket used for the moon missions almost shook itself apart during the Apollo 6 test flight in 1968, so NASA knew that a launch pad explosion was a real possibility.


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