Conspiracy theories alleging that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) manufactured the moon landings to embarrass Soviet Russia are actually somewhat accurate.
They just fail to credit NASA for actually pulling it off.
In fact, the Apollo 8 mission was effectively commissioned by the CIA for propaganda purposes (more on that later), and today marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11.
That means that 50 years ago, at roughly 5:32 PM South African time, millions of people were glued to their television sets as America prepared to launch a mission to the moon.
Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20, 1969. The world then watched as Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface six hours later on July 21.
Aldrin joined him 19 minutes later.
You can watch original footage of the launch here:
CBS News is also hosting a special on the launch, which starts live at 12PM today:
Sky News sheds some light on the dark side of the moon landings and the programme behind them, revealing 11 details that you probably didn’t know about this incredible moment in human history.
11. There were plans to abandon the astronauts on the moon
According to the plans for the – fortunately unfulfilled eventuality – Mission Control was to stop communicating with the astronauts. The president would have telephoned each of the widows-to-be…
A speech had been prepared for President Nixon in advance of the moon landing to be read on national television if things went horribly wrong.
You can read that speech here.
10. The moon stinks
Jack Schmitt, the last man to ever walk on the moon as part of the Apollo 17 mission, said that moon smells like burned gunpowder.
“Not that it was ‘metallic’ or ‘acrid’. Spent gunpowder smell probably was much more implanted in our memories than other comparable odours,” he added.
9. It became a race issue
In the 1960s and 1970s, race and class politics were inseparable, especially when it came to the motivations and concerns of the civil rights movement.
Two years after the murder of Dr Martin Luther King in 1968 and a year after the 1969 moon landing, poet and activist Gil Scott-Heron released his response to Armstrong’s famous claim that the Apollo 11 mission marked a “giant leap for mankind” with a visceral poem about the economic hardship ordinary people, especially black people, were facing.
You can listen to Scott-Heron reading that poem, ‘Whitey on the Moon’, here:
It’s 50 years later and access to healthcare insurance remains a contentious political debate in America.
8. The crew had to sign customs declarations when returning to the US
Nothing gets past US Customs. The three astronauts had to declare their moon rock and dust upon entering America again.
7. The flag was accidentally knocked over
As the Eagle lander lifted up from the surface of the moon, the exhaust from its engine caused the American flag to topple over. Luckily, Armstrong snapped a picture of it before it fell.
6. Armstrong broke the switch to the circuit breaker and Aldrin used a pen to save them
When Armstrong accidentally bumped into the circuit breaker switch with the bulky life support system in the backpack of his suit, Aldrin found a pen which he used to engage the circuit breaker and trigger the ascent engine.
Nixon would have had to give that speech if not for his quick thinking.
5. One of the astronauts believed in aliens
Edgar Mitchell, of Apollo 14 fame, publicly stated he was personally 90% sure that many reports of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, “belong to visitors from other planets”.
4. The original tapes of the Apollo 11 landings are missing
For decades now, the original tapes of the landing have been missing, along with hundreds of boxes of magnetic tape holding Apollo programme data. This, of course, has been used to fuel conspiracy theories.
3. The Apollo 17 rover was repaired with duct tape
This fact is dedicated to Mo – who repairs everything with duct tape.
In 1972, astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt, the last men to walk on the moon, landed the lunar module Challenger in a lunar valley.
There was too much to see to just walk around, so NASA had sent a moon buggy with them – but the rear right fender was damaged before they were able to take it for a drive.
Four printed maps and a lot of duct tape helped save the day.
2. The longest-standing flag on the moon is a Union flag
Technically, the longest standing flag on the lunar surface is a British flag, according to Keith Wright, a British engineer who worked on some of the experiments of the Apollo 11 mission.
1. The CIA was involved in the Apollo programme
The conspiracy theorists were mostly right about this one.
The CIA discovered that the Soviet space programme was developing a lunar fly-by before the end of 1968, according to the commander of the Apollo 8 mission, Frank Borman, who said the fact was relayed to him in Houston.
His manager told him that America was changing the Apollo 8 mission from an Earth orbital mission into a lunar orbital flight, and asked him if he wanted to do it.
Borman said yes.
A declassified CIA memo from 1968 featured Carl Duckett, the agency’s deputy director for science and technology, claiming credit for the successful Apollo 8 mission.
“The likelihood that the US will conduct a manned circumlunar flight with the Apollo 8 vehicle in December is a result of the direct intelligence support that Foreign Missile and Space Analysis Centre has provided to NASA on present and future Soviet plans in space.”
As a bonus mention, I’d like to send a shout-out to JoAnn Morgan, the only woman permitted in the control room on the day that Apollo 11 launched.
She was an instrumentation controller in charge of keeping the guidance computers free from external interference.
I’ll leave you with Neil Armstrong’s famous first steps:
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