Only a dozen men in human history have had the privilege of walking on the surface of the moon, and a few days ago the first of these pioneers — Neil Armstrong — passed away at the age of 82. Armstrong leaves behind a sterling legacy of service as a US Naval aviator, professor, statesman, and astronaut, but his most storied accomplishment took place the day he left the first human footprint amongst the dust of the Sea of Tranquility.
Perhaps Buzz Aldrin, the second moonwalker, spoke best of his historic companion, “My friend Neil took the small step but giant leap that changed the world and will forever be remembered as a historic moment in human history. … [M]ay his vision for our human destiny in space be his legacy.” I could not have said it better, and not just because I make it a point to never get on the wrong side of Buzz Aldrin.
Despite Armstrong’s unimpeachable place in the annals of human exploration, there are precious few photos of Armstrong taken during the Apollo 11 mission that put him on the moon. The reason behind this deficit of visual evidence is simple: Armstrong was the lead photographer on Apollo 11, and he couldn’t be in the photos he was taking. Instead, Buzz Aldrin is the feature model in all the Apollo 11 astronaut glamour shots.
This has the effect of making the scant few photos of the first moonwalker in human history actually walking on the moon a rare and precious commodity.
HOW MANY PHOTOS EXIST OF NEIL ARMSTRONG WALKING ON THE MOON?
Get the answer.
Precisely five photographs were ever taken of Neil Armstrong while Apollo 11 operated on the surface of the moon. Only four of those photos show Armstrong outside the Lunar Module and actually moonwalking. Only three of them show Armstrong in direct view, rather than a reflection. Only two of them show Armstrong in the full frame of the photo, rather than cut off.
No photo exists showing Neil Armstrong’s face as he walked on the surface of the moon.
NASA has teased some low-quality still-frames of Armstrong out of the television footage of the Apollo 11 moonwalks, but none of them approach reasonable photo quality. We’ve all seen the grainy footage of Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind, but it’s not the same as having a full shot of Neil Armstrong to rival the poster-quality pic of Buzz Aldrin (with Armstrong the tiny reflected figure in Aldrin’s visor), itself the most famous NASA photo this side of the Blue Marble.
Don’t blame Buzz Aldrin for the oversight, either. Aldrin was assigned to photograph specific items and experiments at specific times, and he had virtually no mission leeway to take idle snaps of Armstrong. Nonetheless, he did manage to get a great reaction shot of Armstrong right after the first moonwalk.
Armstrong may never have had the time (or the ego) to pose for a momentous photograph on the surface of the moon, but that in no way diminishes the impact of his bravery or his service. Neil Armstrong was the first of us to set foot on another world. By honoring his example, he almost certainly won’t be the last.
That’s more than just a legendary legacy of lunar exploration; it’s an indefatigably image-defying instance of Geek Trivia.
Bonus Apollo Geek Trivia
- What were the ‘controversial’ call signs for the Apollo 10 spacecraft?
- How many Apollo goodwill moon rocks have gone missing?
- What onboard Christmas gifts did the Apollo 8 astronauts leave famously unopened?
- What did a 404-error code signify in the Apollo Guidance Computer software system?
- How many nuclear power sources have operated on the moon?