Hey, guess what!! Monday brings the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing!!
Oh, you heard? Well, get ready to hear more -- this weekend and Monday will no doubt be a "One small step for man" marathon.
Which is fine -- the moon mission was a crazy, awe-inspiring thing that could have gone wrong a million ways but didn't. Even though the Apollo program cost about a trillion dollars in today's money, it did give us Tang.
And it also gave us our five favorite myths about Apollo 11.
1) It never happened at all. The internet was designed for crazy conspiracy schemes, and the moon landing is the subject of one of the weirdest. It was all staged in a studio, according to earnest idiots and the producers of the terrible film Capricorn One. (The movie involved a faked Mars landing, but everyone got the point.) Evidence that it was a hoax ranges from allegedly odd shadows (NASA apparently couldn't hire competent lighting directors for their fake setting), the fact that no stars are seen in the moon photos, and even that the the footprints should have faded, as if they were on a sandy beach. Mythbusters, among many others, have exploded -- nay, busted -- these myths.
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2) "Houston" was not the first word said on the moon. This one hits home, obviously, because for some reason Houstonians keep telling outsiders this, we guess in the expectation that those outsiders will drop their jaws and say "Good Lord, you're right!! My entire image of Houston is now completely changed! It's not a pollution-riddled swamp, it's a world-class city!!" This myth comes from a dispute on just when the Eagle can be described as being "on the moon." Was it when it had comfortably settled? Was it when a bit of wire made contact with the surface, warning the astronauts they were close? Depending on which of several interpretations you choose, the first words on the moon can be such inspiring prose as "Engine arm is off" or "Descent Engine Command Override, Off." Ready-made for Bartlett's Book of Quotations.
3. The astronauts might bring back all kinds of space diseases with them. After living in incredibly cramped conditions for a week or so, the Apollo 11 astronauts splashed down, got on board the USS Hornet....and immediately were packed away in a cramped quarantine chamber. It was a converted Airstream trailer and they stayed there until the ship reached port; they were then kept in somewhat looser quarantine until 21 days had passed from splashdown. "No one knows what diseases might be on the moon; leprosy may be one of those diseases," CBS's Walter Cronkite solemnly reported, according to Squint: My Journey With Leprosy, an autobiography by a leper. (All the patients in his ward were shocked and disappointed at hearing the words.) Leprosy on the moon? Apparently not.
4. Richard Nixon, president at the time, cared deeply about the moon landing. Well, he probably did -- it was great publicity for him, after all -- but it wasn't all he was thinking about that day. "You know, this is quite a day on another front, too," he said when his speechwriter William Safire called to congratulate him on his public comments. What else could have been occupying Nixon's mind? Vietnam? Opening up relations with China? No. That day Teddy Kennedy had made sure "Chappaquiddick" would be a name long remembered. "It''s be hard to hush this one up," Nixon told Safire. "Too many reporters want to win a Pulitzer Prize." Oh, and man walked on the friggin' moon today.
5. Our favorite: Neil Armstrong made a blow-job related comment on the moon. "This one's for you, Mr. Jablonski," he supposedly said, before NASA erased it off the tapes. (The name involved changes according to the storyteller.) Allegedly young Neil was walking past a neighbor's open bedroom window when he heard Mrs. Jablonski (or whomever) say "Oral sex!! you want oral sex? Yeah, when man walks on the moon." (Sometimes "Yeah, when the kid next door walks on the moon.") Alas, it never happened. Armstrong's words, that is. We're not sure how Mr. Jablonski fared.