On July 20, 1969, NASA completed the seemingly impossible Apollo 11 mission to put the first two men – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – on the Moon. Mr Armstrong made history, jumping off the lunar lander Eagle and delivering his legendary “one small step” speech to the millions watching back on Earth. The late astronaut became an overnight sensation after planting the US flag into the lunar surface and bringing an end to the Space Race with the Soviet Union.
However, his selection by NASA boss Deke Slayton was no mistake.
Michael Collins, who joined Mr Armstrong on his journey revealed the real reason for his selection more than 50 years ago during Altitude Films’ “Armstrong”.
The 89-year-old said in July: “There was one command seat and in it was a fellow named Neil Armstrong, why was that? Why was he the one?
“If you take the short view it is because he was the best qualified, he’d been a combat pilot during the Korean war and proved his mettle there.
“He was flying the X-15, and that put him above and beyond all of the rest of the candidates.”
Mike Collins revealed the truth behind the Apollo 11 selection
The Apollo 11 crew
You have to consider what he was going to be like after the flight
But Mr Collins revealed Mr Slayton was looking at the much wider picture.
He added: “But if you take the longer view, you have to consider what he was going to be like after the flight.
“That was equally important.
“They knew he wasn’t going to go out and drink too much or make a fool of himself, he was a straight arrow.
“A lot of people criticised Neil because he didn’t get out and sell the story.
Mike Collins speaking in July
“But I think he was much more effective in his quiet life.”
Mr Slayton’s decision did not go down well, though, especially with Mr Aldrin.
James Donovan revealed during his book “Shoot for the Moon” how Mr Aldrin lost his temper when he worked out he would play second fiddle in the mission and decided to stick it to NASA and Armstrong himself.
He wrote: “When Aldrin heard a rumour that Slayton had decided that Armstrong would be the first to walk on the Moon, he was not happy.
“He also heard that Neil’s civilian status was a reason for the choice – NASA wanted to make a clear statement about the non-military nature of the landing and of the American space programme as a whole.
“Aldrin decided to confront Armstrong about it.
Deke Slayton with his Apollo 11 crew
Buzz Aldrin on the Moon
“According to Aldrin, Neil ‘equivocated a minute or so, then with a certain coolness, I had not known he possessed he said that the decision was quite historical and he didn’t want to rule out the possibility of going first.’”
However, according to Mr Donovan, his scheming did not stop there.
He added: “Aldrin approached a few other lunar module pilots and used charts and graphs and statistics to show why he, and they, should step out on the Moon before other crewmen.
“When he tried to discuss it with Mike Collins, Mike cut him off.
Aldrin also bugged Apollo 10 commander Tom Stafford, who was involved in mission planning.
““He pushed for the final mission plans to show the LM exiting first.”
Apollo 11 timeline
But Mr Slayton put an end to the quarrel.
Mr Donovan added: “Slayton heard about Aldrin’s evangelising and decided a talk with him was necessary.
“He explained that since Neil had seniority, it was only right that he be the first.
“Aldrin would later claim that this satisfied him, it had been the ambiguity, he said, that he found unsettling.
“Buzz may have been okay with the explanation, but his father wasn’t.
“Soon after Buzz told him about it, the elder Aldrin contacted high-placed friends with connections to NASA and the military and tried to have the plan changed.”