11 Things You Didn’t Know About The Apollo Missions

It's been 45 years since mankind witnessed the unthinkable: the announcement of a ceasefire between Honduras and El Salvador six days into the “Football War." Wait no, sorry. Wrong thing. Something else truly remarkable happened on July 20th, 1969: Apollo 11, the first lunar mission by man, touched down on the surface of the Moon. 

In honor of the anniversary, we’ve pulled together some things you may not have known about this and other trips to the Moon (don't smell the rocks!), because what better way to reflect on where we went and where we plan to go*?

*Mars. Let's make this Mars thing happen, okay?  

1. They were all faked! 

Just kidding. Hollywood's special effects weren't nearly as sophisticated at this point to lend any credibility to this ridiculous conspiracy theory. 

2. Twelve dudes have touched the surface.

All of whom visited between a 41-month time span following Apollo 11. The last human to step on the surface was Gene Cernan in 1972. Here's something you didn't know: in 2013, Daft Punk (yup) sampled Cernan's voice from the A-17 flight on their album, Random Access Memories.

3. The American flag didn’t stay up for long.

The one in that iconic photo with Buzz Aldrin was blown over by the blast from the boosters as the craft took off. In fact, of the six that have been planted, only one's still standing, and it's been faded to a milk-white over the years.

4. At least one astronaut conducted personal, unsanctioned mental experiments.

During Apollo 14, astronaut Edgar Mitchell (the sixth person to walk the Moon), conducted a series of ESP experiments to test the existence of interspace thought control. They weren’t sanctioned by NASA, but rather, he had arranged the tests with independent doctors back in the States (where they would each write down a series of numbers and symbols at a given time and check to see if they were in the same order).

5. Being on the surface can be emotionally overwhelming.

Alan Shepard, often looked to as one of the greatest astronauts of all time (and the first American in space), sobbed when he stepped on the surface of the Moon, at the age of 47.

6. It’s unclear what the first words uttered on the surface of the Moon actually were. 

While most assume it was Neil Armstrong’s famous “giant leap for mankind” remark, the first words immediately following touchdown were actually a series of technical communications between the astronauts and Houston.

7. The Moon smells terrible.

Of course none of the men who’ve walked on the Moon were stupid enough to go out there unprotected, but the dust that tracked into the spacecraft (and the rocks they collected) stunk, apparently. Some compared it to the scent of spent gunpowder, and Neil Armstrong likened it to wet ashes in a fireplace.

8. There’s a manmade memorial installed on the Moon.

The crew of Apollo 15 left a tiny, human-shaped statuette—commissioned by commander David Scott from a Belgian artist—on the top of Mons Hadley (one of the moon’s highest known peaks) as a memorial to fallen astronauts from the American and Soviet space programs. 

Other items still sitting on the moon? About 500 crashed modules, two golf balls, TV cameras, used wet wipes, hammers/tongs/rakes, and, without fail, 96 bags of urine, feces, and vomit. 

9. There’s a reason even VIPs weren’t allowed close to the launch.

There was enough fuel in the Apollo 11’s rocket boosters at launch to shoot giant fireballs as far as three miles in every direction. Additionally, thousands of of people stopped along the highway to watch. At home, millions of viewers tuned in on TV.

These days, the launch pad hosts a multitude of new fixtures including a 290-foot-high tower and holds 300,000 gallons of water to suppress sound—proving that, yes, even the launch pads continue to evolve with the rockets. 

Other items still sitting on the moon? Roughly 96 bags of urine, feces, and vomit.

10. There is more processing power in a flip phone than in all of the Apollos' computers.

Seriously. By the 1990s, things became more advanced as each shuttle had more than 300 electrical "black boxes" with over 300 miles of wiring and 120,400 wire segments with nearly 6,500 connectors. The total weight was over 17,000 pounds—heavier than a fully-loaded Apollo spacecraft. 

11. Tang ruined everything.

The American flag planted during Apollo 11 was made by Sears, but NASA refused to acknowledge as much, because they didn’t “want another Tang.” Meaning, they didn't want more advertising associated with the mission.

It was a solid precedent set, as there are thankfully no Coca-Cola or Nike symbols currently emblazoned on the moon's surface.

Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor. Space makes him dizzy.