There were many aspects about Earth’s sole natural satellite that we didn’t know when the Apollo 11 mission launched into orbit and Neil Armstrong made the first steps on the moon on July 20, 1969. The lunar landing provided answers to many of the burning problems that plagued scientists, but it also sheds light on some peculiar features of the moon. Even some odd things happened in the run-up to the launch. Discover some surprising details regarding the moon landing by reading on.

Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images

1. Moon dirt smells

photo of the lunar surface

Close-up view of an astronaut’s leg and footprint in the lunar soil during the Apollo 11 lunar surface extravehicular activity. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

You probably haven’t even given that a second thought. But it’s the case. They were unsure of the surface they would land on when Armstrong and Aldrin stepped foot on the moon. It was virgin territory. The two astronauts collected lunar rock and soil samples for analysis and discovered that it was rock-solid. They had tracked dirt from their walk around the moon back into the spacecraft on their suits.


After repressurizing the lunar module, the astronauts discovered that the moon’s dust had a distinct smell. It smells like ashes from a fireplace or the air after a fireworks display. Burnt gunpowder was the aroma. Sadly, the samples never made it back to the labs in time for scientists on Earth to get a chance to smell lunar dirt; by then, the samples had lost their smell.

One Giant Leap author Charles Fishman illustrated it wonderfully when he said, “The smell of the moon remained on the moon.”

2. President John F. Kennedy wasn’t interested in space

JFK making a speech about space

President Kennedy held up two fingers to indicate that the United States was running second in the space race during today’s news conference. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

President John F. Kennedy declared in front of the world that the US would “set sail on this new sea” because “new knowledge to be gained, new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.” JFK didn’t give a damn about space. Secret recordings showed that his primary goal in private was to defeat the opposition.

JFK was more concerned with showing US supremacy over the Soviet Union than he was about landing on the moon because the space race took place during the Cold War. Kennedy was frantic to find a means to show the US could outdo the Soviets because they had previously beaten the US in getting into space.

He then turned to look at Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had shown early enthusiasm for the space race. Johnson’s initial recommendation to JFK to put an American on the moon is hardly surprising given his earlier statement that “control of space means control of the world.”

3. Astronauts trained by walking “sideways”

Astronaut hung and walking sideways

A test subject using the Reduced Gravity Walking Simulator in the hangar at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia, 1963. (Photo Credit: NASA / Interim Archives / Getty Images)

It took a lot of effort to prepare the Apollo 11 astronauts to explore a new location. NASA had to offer a wide range of training simulations to prepare for the event. Taking off and landing the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle in Houston was one of the astronauts’ more practical training exercises. They gained a solid understanding of what it would be like to operate the lunar module after receiving such instruction.

Walking on the moon’s atmosphere, which has reduced gravity, was a less serious training exercise. Early training involved the astronauts dressing up and being suspended sideways such that their feet were walking on vertically inclined walls before NASA’s first zero-gravity research facility was built in 1966. Walking sideways was their best attempt to simulate the sense of being in zero gravity because they had no other training options. As you can imagine, it probably didn’t completely replicate that feeling.

4. Civil Rights activists got VIP seats at the launch

Protestors at the Apollo 11 launch

Reverend Ralph Abernathy, flanked by associate Hosea Williams stands on the steps of a mockup of the lunar module displaying a protest sign while demonstrating at the Apollo 11 moon launch. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

While most Americans supported this mission, not everyone was thrilled about the decision to spend millions of dollars to send a small group of people to the moon. In reality, protesters gathered outside the Kennedy Space Centre to voice their opposition to the situation. They brought two mules and a wooden wagon to contrast the advanced rocket ship with folks who couldn’t afford food.

NASA administrator Thomas O. Paine addressed the protesters. He wished that Ralph Abernathy, a prominent advocate for civil rights, would “hitch his wagons to our rocket, using the space program as a spur to the nation to tackle problems boldly in other areas, using NASA’s space successes as a yardstick by which progress in other areas should be measured.” After several lengthy conversations with Abernathy, Paine persuaded the group to stop protesting and set up a VIP viewing location for them to see the launch. Because Abernathy and the group even prayed for the astronauts, expressing their pride at the accomplishment as much as anyone, Paine must have made a strong enough impression to get their attention.

5. Scientists were scared of space germs

Apollo 11 astronauts in quarantine pod

Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin Jnr, the historic Apollo 11 moon landing mission crew, are subjected to a period of quarantine upon their return to Earth. Through the window of their Mobile Quarantine Facility, they hold a conversation with President Richard Nixon, circa July 24, 1969 (Photo Credit: MPI / Getty Images)

Scientists had a lot of questions about the moon, including what kind of microbes lived there and what would be carried back to Earth after re-entry. Any dangerous space-borne disease may be transported to Earth on the astronauts’ suits. So, scientists devised a strategy to stop the spread of any space germs.

On July 24, 1969, the re-entry spacecraft touched down in the Pacific Ocean, and the astronauts were promptly transported to the Johnson Space Center’s Lunar Receiving Laboratory, a portable quarantine facility. They couldn’t spread any deadly space bacteria because they were compelled to remain here. While in quarantine, Armstrong even celebrated his 39th birthday. On August 10, 1969, they received the all-clear and were released.

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