From Playtex space suits to Neil Armstrong's missing three minutes, here's 11 things you might not know about Apollo 11

Neil Armstrong leads the Apollo 11 to the spacecraft. Credit: NASA
  • Words by ITV News Content Producer Mark Dorman

Millions of people will this week find themselves casting a lingering look to the heavens as they contemplate the momentous events that captured the planet 50 years ago.

Back in July 1969, three intrepid astronauts kept the world on the edge of its seat as they hurtled towards the Moon, set on an extraordinary mission to become the first humans to set foot on our nearest planetary neighbour.

While the exploits of Neil Armstrong, Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin and Michael Collins, have been extensively documented, there are dozens of lesser-known achievements and quirks associated with those momentous events.

So, here are 11 things you may not know about the lunar landings...

A lingerie company made the spacesuit

Playtex - most famous for its 'Cross Your Heart' bra was hired by NASA to make the spacesuits worn by the Apollo 11 crew.

The company's design was initially handed over to another company - Hamilton Standard - but it decided to ignore the Playtex version and produce it own.

When that design was submitted to NASA, it was rejected, so it was back to the drawing board for NASA which decided to hold a competition to see if someone else could come up with a better design.

Nicholas de Monchaux's book, Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, chronicles how Playtex staff sneaked back into offices of Hamilton Standard to get its original design drawing back, resubmitted it to NASA and, well, the rest is history.

Playtex's industrial division, ILC Dover, based in Delaware, has been making space suits for NASA ever since.

Workers at the ILC Dover factory are pictured making boots for NASA. Credit: ILC Dover/Nasa

What they left behind

In space, weight is critical, so some things have to be sacrificed - including dignity.

Armstrong and Aldrin were the first humans to leave a lasting reminder of themselves for others who followed: human waste.

They left two urine bags, a "defecation collection device" and a vomit bag.

According to NASA, after subsequent lunar missions, there are now 96 bags of human waste on the Moon.

Nasa feared the crew may have had 'Moon plague'

The wives of the Apollo 11 crew greet them during their 21-day quarantine. Credit: NASA

The crew spent eight days in space but they spent even longer in isolation.

NASA was concerned the trio could return to Earth carrying some kind of extraterrestrial disease, a Moon plague, so the crew was kept under strict quarantine for 21 days.

The astronauts were housed in a converted Airstream caravan on USS Hornet - they even had a visit from US president Richard Nixon - although everyone seem to forget that any bugs they were carrying could have been released the moment the capsule that splashed down in the ocean was opened.

Freeze-dried foods

In planning for the long duration Apollo missions, NASA conducted extensive research into space food.

One of the techniques developed was freeze drying. Action Products commercialised this technique, concentrating on snack food including the first freeze-dried ice cream.

The foods are cooked, quickly frozen and then slowly heated in a vacuum chamber to remove the ice crystals formed by the freezing process.

The final product retains 98 per cent of its nutrition and weighs only 20 per cent of its original weight.

The development has been adapted by the mainstream food industry and the military.

Marathon runners benefit from the space race

Well-wishers 'wearing' foil blankets camped out last year for the wedding of Harry and Meghan. Credit: PA

The shiny foil blankets that long-distance runners are covered with, typically after a marathon, can be traced back to the space programme.

The technology was developed in 1964, the foil was used to cover the exterior of space craft to reflect the Sun's rays.

But most people will be familiar with them in use at the end of marathons or in rescue situations where their design can keep people from losing too much heat, too rapidly, or keeping heat in and cold out.

Anything to declare?

Even astronauts have to go through customs.

When the crew of Apollo 11 returned from space, they had to fill in customs paperwork.

The US Customs document, a copy of which can be seen at the National Space Centre in Leicester, shows their origin of departure as the ‘Moon’ and arrival at ‘Honolulu Hawaii’.

Cargo is noted as ‘Moon Rock and Moon Dust samples’, and, in the section relating to the ‘Declaration of Health’, the question ‘any other condition on board which may lead to the spread of disease’ is answered ‘TO BE DETERMINED’.

There has been much debate as to whether the document ever actually existed but it remains a source of great interest.

US President Richard Nixon visits the quarantined astronauts. Credit: Nasa

If it all went horribly wrong...

There is a speech in the US National Archives that would have been read by then US president Richard Nixon had the mission ended in disaster.

Speech writer William Safire had to prepare for the worst to happen; it's dated July 18 1969, two days after the mission launch and, strangely, imagines Armstrong and Aldrin being left, marooned on the Moon surface.

It reads: "These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know there is no hope for their recovery.

"But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice."

A section of the speech written for President Nixon in the event of disaster. Credit: US National Archive

Innovate, adapt, survive: reaching tip-ping point

Speaking of not making it back, Aldrin and Armstrong may not have done had it not been for a felt-tip pen.

As they were preparing to blast off from the Moon's surface, Aldrin noticed a switch to a key circuit-breaker lying on the module's floor.

It was the switch to the circuit breaker that activated the ascent engine on the Eagle that would lift them off the Moon to rendezvous with Collins, who was orbiting overhead in the Columbia.

Mission control had no ideas but Aldrin had a felt-tip pin. As he recounted in his book, Magnificent Desolation: “I inserted the pen into the small opening where the circuit breaker switch should have been, and pushed it in; sure enough, the circuit breaker held.

“We were going to get off the moon, after all."

Armstrong's missing three minutes

Neil Armstrong was 'off the grid' for three minutes. Credit: Nasa

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent two-and-a-half hours on the surface of the Moon, working closely together collecting samples, documenting their findings and surroundings.

But for three minutes, Armstrong went off the grid. Neither Mission Control nor Aldrin could get in touch with him.

Other than taking nine pictures at Little Crater, little is known about what else he did there.

It's since been speculated that - as depicted in film - he dropped a bracelet bearing the name of his daughter, Karen, who had died aged two from brain cancer, some seven years beforehand.

No one, not his crewmates, not even his sons, know what if anything Armstrong left behind.

Communion on the Moon

Buzz Aldrin took Communion on the Moon, minutes after the Eagle had landed.

Aldrin - an elder at a Presbyterian Church in Texas - switched off his radio, opened small plastic containers of bread and wine and read to himself from the Gospel of John.

The only flag not flying is from Apollo 11

Buzz Aldrin poses next to the Stars and Stripes. Credit: Nasa/AP

While subsequent missions all followed Apollo 11 by planting a Stars and Stripes on Moon, the first flag is the only one not still standing.

It was blown over as the Eagle module blasted off to head back to Columbia.