But no matter, ‘the Eagle has landed’ is way cooler and is quite rightly etched into history. (But now that you know about ‘contact light’ you are all set for coming across a bit nerdy to your mates during the Apollo 11 anniversary.)
The Lunar Module was a masterpiece of specialist engineering
Because it couldn’t get a test flight, Apollo 11’s Lunar Module had to be perfect in every way. Thankfully, it was, from the moment its descent to the moon began by undocking from the Command Module while orbiting the moon at 3,500 miles-per-hour. Astronaut Michael Collins was left to look after the Command Module in orbit. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin rode down to the moon in the Lunar Module, which had to slow down to a hover before landing within just 15 minutes. It did so with less than 30 seconds of fuel remaining. ‘CONTACT LIGHT’ The first words spoken on the moon were not Neil Armstrong’s famous ‘the Eagle has landed’, but probably Buzz Aldrin’s ‘contact light’: a report that a sensor dangling from below the Lunar Module had recorded contact with the moon. Or maybe Neil’s ‘shutdown’ (which he reportedly said but I can’t hear on the audio). Or perhaps Buzz responding ‘OK, engine stop’.
And of course, as Neil stepped onto the lunar surface itself a couple of hours later he said ‘whoopee!’. OK so he didn’t, that’s what Pete Conrad said on Apollo 12. Neil said something about a giant leap for mankind, which it was. Perhaps the biggest leap mankind has made, or ever will make. IT’S A DEAD TROUT Thanks for bearing with me through my dash through a week-long mission in about 1,400 words. But I’ve saved the best for last: an insight into what the people who made it all happen were really like. Look closely at footage of the Apollo 11 astronauts boarding the van that took them out to the Saturn V rocket. One of them is carrying a brown paper bag, as well as the life support unit attached to his spacesuit. That’s Michael Collins, and in that bag is a trout nailed to a piece of wood.
responsible for getting the astronauts safely into the spacecraft at the top of the support tower. Guenter was a keen fisherman, well known for telling tall tales about the giant fish he caught. Mike’s response was the present of a rather pathetic looking trout: a ‘minnow’ as he describes it in his excellent autobiography, ‘Carrying the Fire’. I love this story. It tells us that the astronauts didn’t worry about the germs no doubt emanating from a rather smelly, uncured dead fish. That there was a sense of camaraderie between astronauts and ground crew. But most of all, they had time for a bit of fun, even in the face of enormous danger and stress we can only imagine. We can’t say for certain whether or when humans will return to the moon. Maybe we will, or perhaps it’ll be Mars next time. Whatever it is, I hope that we do it with as much focus, style, fun and unity as the men and women of Apollo.
The trout was a joke gift for Guenter Wendt, who was the ‘Pad Leader’
The crew were put in quarantine for 21 days due to fears of moon germs
MOON MEMORIES Eamonn, 62, remembers 20 July 1969… I remember how tense the landing was, watching Patrick Moore and the rest looking very worried. It seemed to me they were trying to land on the moon housed in a tent made out of tin foil! Me and my oldest brother stayed up to 4.00 am to watch the moonwalk a couple of hours later. He dozed off, so I had to wake him as Armstrong got out of the hatch. I think the older generation were more amazed than us kids, maybe because there was so much science fiction on TV at the time and we sort of expected it to happen. But looking back now, it was an amazing achievement to do it first time when you think that Apollo 12 was nearly aborted on launch and Apollo 13 nearly killed the crew.
28 The Fens | July 2019
The Fens July issue features an interview with Fenland artist Nick Tearle and we visit Ayscoughfee Hall