July 20 – Blue Moon

Today’s factismal: The first words spoken from the Moon were “Contact light”.

If there’s one thing that Texans are proud of, it is that the first word spoken from the Moon was “Houston”. Except that it wasn’t. Houston (where Johnson Space Center is located and where the Apollo missions were controlled) is actually the 34th word spoken after the Apollo Lander had touched down on the surface of the Moon.

Astronauts Neil A.Armstrong (Commander for Apollo 11), Michael Collins (Command Module Pilot), Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin (Lunar Module Pilot). (Image courtesy NASA)

Astronauts Neil A.Armstrong (Commander for Apollo 11), Michael Collins (Command Module Pilot), Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin (Lunar Module Pilot).
(Image courtesy NASA)

Here’s the official transcript from NASA (the numbers refer to the time since Apollo 11 was launched):
102:45:40 Aldrin (onboard): Contact Light.
102:45:43 Armstrong (onboard): Shutdown
102:45:44 Aldrin (onboard): Okay. Engine Stop.
102:45:45 Aldrin (onboard): ACA out of Detent.
102:45:46 Armstrong(onboard): Out of Detent. Auto.
102:45:47 Aldrin(onboard): Mode Control, both Auto. Descent Engine Command Override, Off. Engine Arm, Off. 413 is in.
102:45:57 Duke (in Houston): We copy you down, Eagle.
102:45:58 Armstrong (onboard): Engine arm is off. (Pause) (Now on voice-activated comm) Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.
102:46:06 Duke (in Houston): (Momentarily tongue-tied) Roger, Twan…(correcting himself) Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.
102:46:16 Aldrin (onboard): Thank you.

So why does everyone remember “Houston, the Eagle has landed” and not “Contact light”? Well, other than the fact that the famous saying is a lot more poetic, there’s the problem of the first thing being something that only people who parallel park would understand.

Planting the US flag on the Moon (Image courtesy NASA)

Planting the US flag on the Moon
(Image courtesy NASA)

When you park a big vehicle (like the Lunar Excursion Module) in a strange place (like the Moon), you probably have someone get out and tell you when you are getting close to the thing (another car, a tree, a large planet) behind you. But that wasn’t something that could be done for the Apollo mission; we couldn’t just have one astronaut jump out and coach the other as he backed the LEM into place. So NASA came up with something to take the place of the busybody friend; they put a long stick on the bottom of three LEM legs and wired it up so that a light would come on when it touched the ground. That’s why Aldrin said “contact light” – it meant that they had contacted the Moon.

Today is the 44th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the Moon. So go out and celebrate our achievement. Take part in a lunar experiment. Join a party (like the National Space Society of North Texas’ annual Moon Day fiesta at the Frontiers of Flight museum in Dallas {I’ll be there!}). Or just go out and look at the Moon and say “I’m going to go back there someday!

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