On July 20, 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission successfully landed on the Moon. The event brought the world to a standstill as millions watched anxiously on live TV while Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the lunar surface, shortly followed by Buzz Aldrin. Armstrong then delivered his legendary “one small step” speech that marked the end of the Space Race with the Soviet Union.
President John F. Kennedy had sparked a race to the Moon in 1961, when he pledged to put a man on the lunar surface by the end of the decade.
His promise came just days after the USSR successfully sent the first man – Yuri Gagarin – into space to complete one orbit of Earth.
The two superpowers were locked in a Cold War battle at the time, which would see them jostle for supremacy in geopolitics and scientific advancement.
While the US was open about both its plans and its successes – creating public media events to boast about their capabilities, the Soviets were very hush-hush.
It was in the course of going through that hall that we saw this spacecraft.
Then, after Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and Armstrong buried the US flag in the dusty surface, the Soviets claimed it was never in a race.
The communist government said it was more interested in creating satellites and sending robotic probes to the Moon than manned missions that risked human life.
In broadcasts to Latin America, Africa and Asia, Radio Moscow framed Apollo 11 as “the fanatical squandering of wealth looted from the oppressed peoples of the developing world”.
Unlike modern Moon landing deniers, many prominent Moon Race deniers held influential positions in politics and media.
Senator J. William Fulbright said in 1963 that “the probable truth is that we are in a race not with the Russians, but with ourselves”.
On the Moon landing’s fifth anniversary in July 1974, iconic CBS anchor Walter Cronkite – the man immortalised for the announcement of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 – told US viewers: “It turned out that the Russians were never in the race at all.”
However, the truth was that Moscow was very much in a Moon race with the US and they were so confident they would beat them, they were forced to lie about their efforts.
They even continued a secret lunar-landing programme into the early Seventies, with the hope of outdoing the US after its Apollo missions.
The fact that the Soviets had built a lunar-landing craft intended for the Moon remained a secret until 1989 when American aerospace engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology received a tour of the student engineering laboratory at the Moscow Aviation Institute.
Even then, the revelation was an accident according to one of the engineers on the trip – Laurence Young.
He said: “It was in the course of going through that hall that [Ed Crawley another MIT engineer] and I saw this spacecraft.
“I said: ‘What is that thing that sort of looks like our lunar insertion module?’”
According to Young, the Soviets admitted it was their own lunar lander.
Today, the LK-3 can be seen on display at the Moscow Aviation Institute.
Yesterday, it was revealed how astronauts still honour the same pre-flight rituals of Apollo 11.
Before they said goodbye to the Earth for eight days, Armstrong, Aldrin and Command Module pilot Michael Collins sat down for one final meal.
The trio tucked into a breakfast of steak and eggs, washed down with coffee, before a slice of cake to celebrate the monumental event.
This is a tradition started by Alan Shepard eight years earlier when he became the first American man in space.
The high-protein meal was designed to fill him up while being low residue enough that he wouldn’t need to relieve himself for a few hours.
Shepard’s flight that morning was NASA’s first, the suborbital Freedom 7, and it was a striking success.
So much so that the traditional pre-launch breakfast became steak and eggs for all the astronauts.
It is far from the last secret that has come to light since the monumental event half a century ago.
Christopher Kraft was the lead flight director of the first Apollo mission – later known as Apollo 1 – which exploded during a test flight.
Mr Kraft claimed during Altitude Film’s “Armstrong” that the accident was pivotal to the rest of the Apollo missions.
He said: “It took the fire to rebuild the vehicle.
“And I think that was the secret to Apollo.
“Without it, it just wouldn’t have happened, I don’t think we would have got to the Moon.”
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