NASA legend Neil Armstrong took command of the Apollo 11 Moon landing 50 years ago despite Buzz Aldrin being named the Lunar Module Pilot. Astronaut Michael Collins has now revealed what really happened during the historic Moon landing.
NASA’s monumental Moon landing in the summer of 1969 marked the fulfilment of the assassinated President John F Kennedy’s dreams. The Moon landing was made possible by the efforts of an estimated 400,000 people working behind the scenes of the Apollo programme.
But on the night of July 20, 1969, only three men stood in the limelight: astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins.
Mr Armstrong served as Commander on Apollo 11 while his crewmates were handed flight duties over the Eagle Lunar Module (LM) and Columbia Command Module (CM) respectively.
Of the three astronauts, only Mr Collins was destined to never set foot on the Moon.
Instead, the astronaut stayed onboard the Columbia in lunar orbit, eagerly awaiting the safe return of his colleagues.
On July 20, Commander Armstrong and Mr Aldrin flew the Eagle to the surface of the Moon after separating from Columbia.
Yet despite being the dedicated Lunar Module Pilot, it was Commander Armstrong who controlled the lunar descent and not Mr Aldrin.
Prior to the success of the Moon landing, there have been rumours of animosity between Commander Armstrong and Mr Aldrin.
Mr Aldrin, who was the senior ranking pilot, was originally pegged to be the first man to set foot on the Moon.
NASA’s leadership, however, selected Mr Armstrong to bear the honour – a decision, which is said to have infuriated Mr Aldrin.
Now, 50 years after Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, Mr Collins has revealed what really happened during that crucial descent to the Moon.
The veteran astronaut was asked online why Mr Aldrin played second fiddle to Commander Armstrong by not flying the LM.
However, according to Mr Collins, flying the LM was very much a two-man job and Mr Aldrin did have a role to play.
Mr Collins was asked on Twitter: “Crew duty question: if you flew the CM and Neil was the commander, why did Neil land the LM if Buzz was the LM pilot?”
Mr Collins replied: “Landing the LM on the Moon was a two person job. Control of thrusters by one, managing computers by the other. #AskMichaelCollins”
Commander Armstrong and Mr Aldrin landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, at precisely 8.17pm UTC.
Upon shutting down the Eagle’s engines, Commander Armstrong famously told NASA’s flight control: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Two-and-a-half hours later the astronauts began their preparations for what would be the first Extravehicular Activity (EVA) on the Moon.
Millions of people on both sides of the Iron Curtain watched the moment Commander Armstrong left the Eagle for the first time.
His words were immortalised on camera as he said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Altogether, Commander Armstrong and Mr Aldrin only spent about three hours walking on the Moon.
During the EVA, they planted the US flag, took photos and collected samples of lunar rock for return to Earth.
Apollo 11’s crew returned to Earth on July 23, when the astronauts splashed down in the Columbia in the Pacific Ocean.
Landing the LM on the Moon was a two person job