Why Neil Armstrong Got to Be the First Man on the Moon

Why Neil Armstrong Got to Be the First Man on the Moon

Forty-six years ago, Neil Armstrong became the first man to ever walk on the moon.  Since that date, July 20, 1969, the moon has become the subject of much debate and scientific analysis.  From what Neil Armstrong first said as he took those initial steps to conspiracy theories about hoaxes, few historical events have captured the interest in mankind quite like the Apollo 11 moon landing.  However, a few facts about this event have remained obscure through time.

Why was Neil Armstrong chosen to be the first man on the moon?

There was a group of 29 astronauts training for the Apollo mission; out of this group only three were chosen.  In January of 1969, the final announcement was made as to who would be those three astronauts:  Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins.  These three men became the official crew for the Apollo 11 mission.  Immediately following this announcement, speculation began turn towards who would be the first to step foot on the moon.  Michael Collins was the command module pilot, therefore, he was ineligible.

At first it was believed that Aldrin would be the candidate.  This was due to the precedent set by the Gemini program–a series of ten crewed flights for the purpose of testing ships and astronauts for spacewalk.  During this program the commander stayed with the ship and the pilot did the space walking.  For Apollo 11 the commander would be Armstrong and the pilot would be Aldrin.  So, obviously, it would serve to say that Armstrong would stay with the ship and Aldrin would be doing the space walking.

According to a memoir written by Chris Kraft, head of Mission Control, “Buzz Aldrin desperately wanted the honor and wasn’t quiet in letting it be known.”

However, in April, just three months before liftoff, it was announced that Armstrong would be the man to first take step on the moon.  This was mainly due to two reasons:  For starters, the main hatch on the Eagle lander did not up or down, rather it opened to the side–leaving a clear path for Armstrong.  Aldrin’s position in the lander was more in a pinned position and cramped.  It just made more sense for Armstrong to exit first.  Secondly, as NASA points out, Armstrong was actually the more senior member of the team, entering the program in 1962 to Aldrin’s initiation in 1963.

Was Armstrong’s “One small step” line actually pre-planned?

Up until his death, Armstrong always maintained that his famous “one small step” line was spontaneous and was only settled on in the moments prior to the walk.  However, a BBC documentary disputes that claim.  In the film, Dean Armstong–Neil’s brother–tells the story about how Neil Armstrong conveyed to him the famous line during a late night of board games.

During the months leading up to the mission, the Armstrong family was spending time together in Cape Cod.  After both Dean and Neil put their kids to bed they settled down for a nice game of “Risk.”  It was during this game that Neil handed Dean a piece of paper.

“On that piece of paper there was ‘That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.’  He says, ‘What do you think about that?’  I said, ‘fabulous.’  He said, ‘I thought you might like that, but I wanted you to read it.’ “

That being said, both Aldrin and Collins have made it clear that Armstrong never conveyed to them his thoughts on what he might say.  Maybe his brother was the exception.

What happened if the moon landing was a disaster?

President Nixon actually had an “In Event of Moon Disaster” speech ready.  Considering the fire that took place on Apollo 1 in 1967, the assurance of Apollo 11 returning home safe wasn’t exactly a definite thing.  President Nixon had to prepare for any possible event in concern to Apollo 11, including a “moon disaster” tragedy.  Speechwriter, William Safire, prepared remarks for the President in the event that Apollo 11 didn’t make it back, beginning with these chilling lines:  “Fate has ordained that the  men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.  These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery.  But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.”

In addition, there were instructions for the President for both before and after addressing the nation.  Before the speech, the President would first telephone each of the widows-to-be.  After the speech, NASA would end communications with the men and a clergyman would adopt the same procedure as burial at sea, commending their souls to the “deepest of the deep,” concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.

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