Interesting Facts About the Apollo Missions You Didn’t Know

From 1963 to 1972, NASA launched the Apollo space program where it sent humans to land on the Moon and return safely to Earth. The Apollo missions, also known as “Project Apollo,” accomplished one of the greatest and grandest feats in the history of mankind. First conceived during the Eisenhower administration, the mission was then continued by Kennedy administration as the country’s goal “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” After that, NASA took Kennedy’s challenge and made that as its main mission.

With the successful and historic landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon’s surface in 1969, ten other astronauts followed their footsteps (pardon the pun).

Here are the other interesting random facts about the Apollo lunar missions that you may not know:

1. The only scientist sent to the Moon

There are many scientists who have participated on space missions, but a Harvard-educated geologist named Harrison Schmitt is the first and the only scientist to have landed on the Moon. He was the only geologist in the Apollo 17 crew.

Since launching the Apollo mission, NASA had been sending only test pilots who had undergone a crash course on geology, in addition to training to become astronauts. But when the scientific community began pressuring NASA to send a genuine scientist to the Moon, it had begun recruiting scientists and training them on how to fly jets — and none of them made the mark. But since NASA was all too well aware that the Apollo 17 would be the last mission and no scientists had been sent yet, it gave in to the pressure and summoned Dr. Schmitt — he had the professional experience in the field of geology and was very willing to go with the mission. He underwent intense training required to become a full-fledged astronaut.

After three days on the Moon with the other crew members, Schmitt returned to Earth with interesting lunar samples he himself collected there. These samples include the notable rock named as “Troctolite 76535.”

2. Apollo 1

Apollo 1 suffered its worst tragedy even before it took its first flight away from Earth, therefore never making it on its target launch date of February 21, 1967.

On January 27, 1967, astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were doing a pre-launch test inside the Apollo 1 when a massive cabin fire destroyed the spacecraft, killing all three of them.

The tragedy brought a severe blow to NASA, who shelved Apollo for 18 months. But at the same time, it also prompted NASA to make crucial design changes that led to the improvement of the spacecraft’s performance and safety during manned lunar missions.

3. How does the Moon smell like?

One might wonder: how does the Moon smell like? Just seek the opinion from none other than the NASA astronauts who have been to the Moon.

Confined to their own spaces suits, obviously the astronauts weren’t able to have a sniff of the Moon while they were up there. But once they returned to the lunar module and took their space suits off, they began to notice a pungent smell, which was actually brought by the moon dusts that got into their hands and faces. Some of the astronauts even got to taste the fresh lunar dirt.

The astronauts compared the peculiar odor to a used gunpowder, or like what Neil Armstrong described: “wet ashes in a fireplace.”

4. Who designed the Apollo spacesuits?

When you think of the words “Neil Armstrong” and a “bra” together, you’d think they’re too much unrelated to each other. But the truth is, there’s actually a link between the two of them.

Along with the Apollo missions came the iconic spacesuits such as Neil Armstrong’s Skylab A7L. The spacesuits were created by Playtex, a company is known for making ladies’ undergarments like brassieres and girdles.

Playtex’s industrial division, the International Latex Corporation, won a bid against competitors (which included the aerospace firm Hamilton Standard, who later provided the oxygen tanks for the space suits) to create Apollo’s spacesuits. Since then, the International Latex Corporation has been working closely with NASA’s space missions.

5. A work of art on the Moon

Apollo’s lunar missions had left several kinds of trash strewn over the Moon’s surface that ranged from spacecraft scrap materials to bags of human wastes to even a family picture of one the astronauts. The Apollo 11 mission alone discarded over 100 items on the moon.

But the most unusual and interesting piece of earthly “litter” on the Moon could be a small aluminum sculpture created by Belgian artist Paul van Hoeydonck. David Scott, the commander of the Apollo 15, asked van Hoeydonck to create something that would fittingly commemorate all the American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who perished in their pursuit of manned space exploration. The artist agreed, and eventually he came up with a small, minimalist sculpture called “Fallen Astronaut.” According to Scott, it was agreed between the two of them that no one should commercially exploit this little tribute and memorial.

Scott placed the small statuette on moon’s surface, next to a plaque which listed the fourteen men who had lost their lives in their line of duty.

6. Secret ESP experiments

Edgar D. Mitchell was the lunar module pilot of the Apollo 14 mission and the sixth man to walk on the moon. In addition, he had a particular penchant for the human consciousness and paranormal phenomena. So during their voyage to the Moon and back, Mitchell conducted a series of clandestine ESP experiments to find out whether it was possible to transmit his own thoughts through space.

The big bosses at NASA, not even his crew mates, were aware of what he was up to. While the other astronauts were asleep, Mitchell would sneak out and quietly spend a few minutes trying to concentrate on a series of symbols commonly used in ESP trials. Back on Earth, a group of psychics attempted to read his thoughts; according to Mitchell himself, the results were “far exceeding anything expected.” The results of the experiments were published in a book called Journal of Parapsychology in 1971.

Neil Armstrong

7. Neil Armstrong wasn’t the first choice to command Apollo 11

NASA actually had no fixed set of rules on who was going to command the first manned lunar mission, so the process of picking individuals to command the space flights is pretty much impartial. This is quite contrary to the popular myth that NASA had specifically eyed Neil Armstrong for the first moon landing.

NASA’s Director of Flight Crew Operations Deke Slayton had already considered his “Mercury 7” colleague Gus Grissom as a leading candidate to command the Apollo 11. Unfortunately, Grissom died in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967 along with other two crew members. Had the tragedy not occurred, Grissom could have been the first man to land on the Moon.

Finally, the historic Apollo 11 mission landed on Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. As Armstrong would say later, “I wasn’t chosen to be first. I was just chosen to command that flight, which turned out to be the first landing. Circumstances put me in that particular role.”