The first word on the moon

What was the first words said on the moon and who said them?

As you can guess, it wasn’t Neil Armstrong’s One Small Step. It was, according to a lot of sources, his colleague, Buzz Aldrin.

Contact probe on the moonThe first actual words on the moon is claimed to be Contact Light. I’m not sure as that light happens when the spacecraft was still flying just over 5 and a half feet [ 67 inches / 1.73m] feet above the surface. It was the indication to kill power and let the lander fall the last bit to the surface. So let’s go and find out if this is correct. The Apollo Surface Journals will answer that question. A great source that has the transcripts of the Apollo missions.

The quote mentioned earlier was uttered at 102:45:40 MET [ Mission Elapsed Time ] 20:17:40 GMT on July 20, 1969. That was when the first piece of the lander touched the surface. It seems that the first words from the actual surface was Neil saying Shutdown. instructing Aldrin to turn off the descent engine. That was performed a second after that call at 102:45:44 MET. four seconds after Aldrin should have shut down the engine as the last few feet should have been un-powered. Neil had decided to do the full descent under power as a safety option so to protect the vehicle as much as possible.

The most famous conversation after the landing is when CAPCOM, Charlie Duke, gets himself tongue-tied due to the change of call sign. When the landing occurred, convention stated that the lander Eagle changed from the call sign Eagle to Tranquility Base. That to confirm that the landing had been successful.

102:45:58 Armstong: Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.
102:56:06 Duke: (Momentarily tongue-tied) Roger, Twan…(correcting himself) Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.
102:46:16 Aldrin: Thank you.

We’re not 100% sure that it was Aldrin who thanked CAPCOM. It seems a very Buzz thing to do ‘tho!

It was quite a fraught landing with the computer throwing up strange errors as well as fuel issues that were, just about, sorted out. When Buzz said Contact Light they had 17 seconds of fuel left before they had to abort the landing. A little less time than it takes an Olympic athlete to cover 200 meters!

The errors mentioned above were 1201/12012 errors. In layman terms it meant that the computer was getting too much information and didn’t have the capacity to deal with it all. It was doing its job and was ignoring jobs that it knew weren’t important and carrying on. It was discovered in the post-mission debriefings that the radar was running in the wrong mode. This was altered in later missions so to remove that possible error occurring again. An amazing computer that worked flawlessly even if the mission plan was flawed.

Jack Garmans famous cheat sheetThe alarms could have ended in the abort of the mission if the simulator trainers hadn’t decided to run a training session using computer error codes to see if people actually knew what they all meant. At that time they didn’t and called an unneeded abort of the landing. Something that Jack Garman remembered and had written all the error codes on a piece of paper that he kept on his desk during the Apollo 11 landings. You could say that piece of paper saved the landing.

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  • Zephron

    Was it Shepard saying “and it’s made up to look ‘exactly’ like the moon, wow!”

  • Polaris1

    I’d suggest that if you’re still moving towards something you’re not there yet. “Contact light” was indicated as the spindly sensors on the LM pads deformed. This was the signal to cut the descent engine and the the LM fell the 2-3 ft to the surface. At that point Aldrin urged Armstrong to give control back to the computer with the command “ACA out of detente” until the relevant program shutdown sequences were inputted. The first words spoken on the lunar surface was an acronym “ACA” – Attitude Control Assembly. Do your research

    • silentgarfield

      The Apollo surface journal, as mentioned in the article, gives quite a vague time of actual touchdown. It seems to be in the range of 102:45:43 to 102:45:45 MET.

      It seems, to me, Aldrin saying “ACA out of Decent” was the first piece of the post-landing check-list