When Apollo 11 stood on its launch pad in July 1969, NASA and contractor engineers had done everything they could to make sure it was ready for a lunar landing. In the eight years since President Kennedy had issued his challenge, thousands of persons had designed, developed, and figured out how to use the millions of pieces that made up the launch. vehicle and spacecraft.1 Confidence in this hardware had come from several flights, one of them to within a few kilometers of the target. By and large, then, worries about the last stage of the journey should have been few. Such an expectation, however, did not prove true.
Many of the prelaunch activities were peculiar to the Apollo 11 mission. Landing on the moon, walking on its alien surface, and then leaving it (all new experiences) affected other areas. For example, the lack of knowledge about the problems a crewman might encounter as he moved about in low gravity in the "third spacecraft" - a bulky suit and backpack - raised numerous questions. What would he do? How long would he stay? How far would he explore? And what kind of experiments would he set up for scientific interests? Some scientists worried that the astronauts might bring back pathogens to contaminate the earth. So the Lunar Receiving Laboratory became a quarantine facility as well as a place in which to store and study lunar soil and rocks. A precise protocol was drafted to keep the astronauts isolated from other Earthlings and to move them and their cargo from a Pacific splashdown to a special building in Houston with dispatch.
Crew training, already complicated by the need to master the controls of two different and very complex spacecraft, took on new dimensions, principally in learning how to set a 14.5-metric-ton lunar module safely down on the moon. The astronauts practiced this task on fixed-base lunar module simulators in Houston and at the Cape, on a swinging suspension device at the Langley Research Center, and on a free-flight apparatus called a lunar landing training vehicle - a set of rocket motors laced together and supported by an odd-looking arrangement of pipes - at Ellington Air Force Base, Texas.
Landing men on the moon raised national and international issues never before faced in space flight. In the past, an explorer had implanted his country's flag on new soil to symbolize a territorial claim. When an astronaut raised the banner of the United States over lunar ground, would he be claiming the moon for America? Other symbolic acts and articles also prompted questions about man's first visit to the earth's moon. What tokens should he take with him, what should he leave there and what should he bring back, what memorable words should he say, and what ceremonies should he enact? NASA public affairs officials, more accustomed to responding to queries than to using the high-pressure selling tactics of public relations promoters, realized that they would have to answer these new questions almost before they were asked. They also recognized that public interest in Apollo might wane after the first landing. Apollo 11 must, therefore, tell NASA's story aggressively while a worldwide audience watched and listened.
From almost any vantage point, Apollo 11 was unique - a totally different venture from any the earth's people had ever embarked upon. But the men and women most directly responsible for this flight focused on mission techniques, crew training, space vehicles, and qualification of an extravehicular mobility unit, with only fleeting thoughts for what this mission might mean to the world.
1. Jane Van Nimmen and Leonard C. Bruno, with Robert L. Rosholt, NASA Historical Data Book, 1958-1968, vol. 1, NASA Resources, NASA SP-4012 (Washington, 1976), p. 10; "Interesting Information on Apollo Program and U.S. Space Programs," typescript by unknown author, 27 May 1969.