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A documentary on Apollo program (I can't remember the name at the moment) states that Aldrin and not Armstrong was the first astronaut designated to walk on the moon. But after LEM landed, mission control realized that it was not possible for Aldrin to open the door and exit since the way was blocked by Armstrong. So they decided that since Armstrong was the mission commander, it would not be a problem if he would be the first.

I know that LEM is phone booth sized and there was not even a place to sleep on the floor. Moreover, Apollo 11-13 were considered attempts to land "before this decade is out", so probably no one expected success on the first landing mission (in fact, the landing was somewhat a mix of luck and ability).

But...it seems incredible to me that after all the simulations done, this aspect of the mission was not considered at all. Is the documentary right?

Disclaimer: I respect Aldrin, as well as Armstrong, for their contribution to space exploration, I just want to fact-check that statement.

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    $\begingroup$ I believe that was in From the Earth to the Moon? $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Aug 8 '13 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ I spent last hour trying to figure out which doc was..I can't remember :-( $\endgroup$ – user55 Aug 8 '13 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ It's true. It was supposed to be Gus Grissim. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Sep 24 '15 at 20:45
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Apollo 11 (AS-506) was considered to be the first landing mission. And yes, up to early 1969 nobody thought the plan out thoroughly enough.

Note on lunar module crew positions:

  • Neil A. Armstrong - commander
  • Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. - lunar module pilot

Above them, in the 183x186 orbit:

  • Michael Collins - command module pilot

Now let's see: Chariots for Apollo :

Landing, surface work, and ascent were going to be difficult, complex, and demanding tasks. George Mueller, the manned space flight chief in Washington, had therefore urged in mid-1968 that the first lunar landing crew be selected as soon as possible. (George E. Mueller to Robert R. Gilruth, 5 June 1968)

(source)


When Houston began work on the two-man scheme, the planners used a 1964 concept that called for the lunar module pilot to emerge first. Armstrong and Aldrin began concentrating on Apollo 11 as soon as they finished their backup duties for Apollo 8 in December. Almost immediately, on the 20th, a procedures document listed the commander as the first crewman to leave the lunar module. On a summary minute-by-minute work chart, issued in January 1969, the crew positions - commander and lunar module pilot - were crossed through and the letters A and B were penciled in. A lunar surface operations chart, using these letters, was then published, but without any identification of either A or B.

Collins wrote in Carrying the Fire that Armstrong had "exercised his commander's prerogative" and that Aldrin's "basic beef" was this switch in who crawled out first. But Slayton later took the credit (or blame) for making the change. "I observed the procedures under the old plan one day," he said, "and they appeared awkward to me." Slayton told Raymond G. Zedekar, in charge of preparing a lunar surface operations plan, to change the sequence. At the 15th lunar surface operations planning meeting on 14 February, Zedekar said that Aldrin would follow the commander to the lunar surface in less than the hour listed in the old plan, to assist Armstrong with the outside tasks, and that the lunar module pilot would return to the lander first. "If the CDR returns last," Zedekar remarked, "the crewmen will be in their proper respective positions in the LM." Since the portable life-sustaining backpacks were stored directly behind the lunar module pilot's crew station, getting out and then back in this sequence made crew movements in the cabin easier. (23)

Surprisingly, Mueller did not inform Administrator Thomas Paine that the two men would take a 2-hour 40-minute walk, nor did he tell him that the order of exit had changed, until 7 April - at least, that was the date of his written report. Even more surprising was the fact that it was not until 14 April that a newsman asked Low, "Who will be the first out to the moon?" Low replied that, from "the present way that we're working, . . . the Commander gets out first." The change later roused a small furor. Low was awakened in the middle of the night on 27 June by a call from an Associated Press reporter, who told the Apollo manager that the wire service had a story" that Neil Armstrong had pulled rank on Buzz Aldrin." (Armstrong, incidentally, was a civilian and Aldrin a colonel in the Air Force.) (24)

(23) Collins, Carrying the Fire, p. 347; Robert Sherrod, "Men for the Moon," in Edgar M. Cortright, ed., Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, NASA SP-350 (Washington, 1975), p. 160; Slayton and Raymond G. Zedekar, telephone interviews, 18 March 1976; Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., Space Div., "Anatomy of the NASA Grumman Apollo Lunar Module," in Apollo Spacecraft News Reference (Bethpage, N.Y., 1969); MSC, "Results of 15th LSOP Meeting," 14 Feb. 1969; L. J. Riche, G. M. Colton, and T. A. Guillory, "Apollo 11, Apollo AS-506/CSM-107/LM-5, Preliminary Flight Plan," 15 April 1969, pp. 3-78, 3-79.

(24) OMSF Weekly Report, 7 April 1969; Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1969: Chronology on Science, Technology, and Policy, NASA SP-4014 Washington, 1970 , pp. 68, 100; MSC, "Apollo Program History," briefing, 14 April 1969, tape D-1; Low to Brian M. Duff, "Press Inquiry," 27 June 1969, as cited in Ertel and Newkirk, Apollo Chronology, 4.

(source)

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One of the issues that entered into the decision to have Armstrong out the hatch first was that he was a civilian, and Aldrin was still in the Air Force. Someone high up thought it would look better to have a civilian plant the first boot-print on the Moon, rather than a military man. Given the US's unpopularity in the world due to the Vietnam War, and the desire to make the Space Program look like a peaceful civilian endeavor, this was probably a wise choice in the end.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting if true, but do you have evidence that this was actually taken into account? $\endgroup$ – Keith Thompson Jun 9 '14 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ I can't quote chapter and verse, as I read it 20 or more years ago (in a reputable account), but if someone wants to spend some time Googling, they may be able to track down the source. After a few minutes all I could find was that there was "intense press speculation" that Armstrong would be first because he was a civilian. If the higher-ups took this into consideration, no one is talking. As others have said, there were also technical considerations (i.e., how the hatch was hinged). $\endgroup$ – Phil Perry Jun 12 '14 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ From this article, the fact that Armstrong was a civilian was not the reason. The article highlights seniority and hatch location. $\endgroup$ – mins Jan 24 '15 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @mins. Thanks for the link to the article. I noted the psychologist's opinion of Armstrong's cool or modest personality, but as the article said, that opinion was more to do with how the astronauts would handle the glory and publicity when back on earth. However, Armstrong's coolness after a LLRV (lunar lander research vehicle) crash after ejecting from it a split-second before it exploded in flames on the ground, earned him a great level of respect among the astronaut corp. I guess that put the "icing on the cake" of seniority and hatch location. $\endgroup$ – Stan H Oct 14 '17 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ 3rd comment above has a bad link to the article at NewScientist.com $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Jul 12 '18 at 17:53

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