Buzz Aldren- the second man to walk on the moon. (Image credit: Neil Armstrong via Pixabay)


Fifty years seems like such a long time ago since Neil Armstrong, Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldren Jr., and Michael Collins went to the moon for the first manned mission to collect lunar rocks from an area known as “Tranquility Base.” While the accomplishment of Apollo 11 was unprecedented in the history of mankind, it took years and an estimated backup crew of over 400,000 engineers, scientists, programmers, and technicians to get the trio to the moon and back.


The mission took over eight days to complete, and while it looked like a smooth ride there and back, there were several moments that could have ended in tragedy. While preparing to land the lunar module, Armstrong and Buzz encountered a 1201 and 1202 alarm on the navigational computer, which signaled an overload in the main computer that represents an executive overflow and exhaustion of core sets- essentially crossed wires. The problem was, neither Neil or Buzz knew what those codes meant, and had to radio NASA for an explanation before they aborted the landing.


Soon after those alarms, the astronauts encountered another problem, this time fuel, or the lack of it. The Eagle landing module had enough fuel to land at the designated area on the moon’s surface. Armstrong realized that area was a giant 300-foot crater littered with boulders, so he took manual control of the lander and positioned it to another location with a flat surface, nearly running out of propellant.


The Eagle lunar lander descending to the moon’s surface, which might not have happened if it wasn’t for Armstrong and Aldrin’s quick thinking. (Image credit: NASA via Wikipedia)


Now on the surface, both Armstrong and Buzz suited up in their bulky gear with portable life-support systems to head, and while doing so broke a circuit breaker- not just any circuit breaker, but the one responsible for controlling power to the ascent engine that would launch them off the moon. Again, the pair radioed NASA for a solution and then headed out on their expedition while waiting for a reply. Being an engineer, Aldrin figured out that if he could shove an object where the circuit breaker button used to be, he could depress it and activate the engine, which turned out to be a soft-tipped marker.


The last problem the crew encountered came during the reentry phase of returning to earth. A storm prevented them from touching down at a designated spot in the Pacific Ocean and was directed to another area. The problem was that the rescue ship, the USS Hornet, was miles away and if the Columbia encountered a problem- say, like taking on water and sinking, there would be no rescue crew to save them. Despite these terrifying issues, the mission was a success, and the lessons learned were applied to the other Apollo moon missions (except Apollo 13, they encountered a whole slew of new ones) that put ten more astronauts on the moon.


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