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Posted on Jun 22, 2009 in space, zeitgeist | 5 comments

Armstrong or Cernan?

Looks like the world is waking up again to the greatness of Apollo again. Perhaps my dull space related ramblings herein will be scoffed at less now. Perhaps not.

Anyway, I was watching some of the various Apollo/Moon related coverage last night (who’s surprised?) and a question occurred to me.

If you could choose, would you rather be the first or last man on the moon?

You may jump to an immediate answer of saying “Armstrong“. Yes, OK, he’s now historically famous but he’s also famously not all that bothered about that. Thing is, I think my answer would be Gene Cernan. Here’s why…

Apollo 11 for all its historical significance did little else than land, stick up a flag and get back. I’m not playing this down at all but, from the point of view of the astronauts they spent on 21 1/2 hours on the moon and only 2 1/2 hours outside the LM on the surface. As individuals they have spectacular, if very short, memories of the moon.

Compare with Apollo 17. They spent longer wandering about the moon outside the LM than Apollo 11 spent on the surface in total. They also drove the lunar rover. They had a lot more fun and had much more to remember. As a human experience, it was surely better?

I suppose the pseudo-philosophical-bobbins question is, would we choose a place in history over a better individual experience while we’re alive? (Not that I think any discussion of hedonistic intent is ever sensibly applied to the space programme.)

The person to ask would, of course, be Buzz Aldrin. Give that he never got the top billing he wanted (although he’s still a household name) he may have preferred the memory of days on the moon?

In the end, the desire to be the first was more related to the test pilot adrenalin junky thing. They won’t have been bothered about only staying there for a few hours (although, after landing they refused to sleep and wanted to get out asap, so the excitement of being there did happen).

Being first meant you got the squeaky bum landing and the “Right Stuff” way that Armstrong landed the Eagle. The pinpoint landings that followed (Apollo 17 was only 640m off target) were, by that time, a bit too easy from a fly-boy’s perspective. So, at the time, there would have been no question, 2nd is nowhere. But looking back now, I would wonder if more time on the moon would have been worth trading.


  1. Good point.
    I reckon people only remember Buzz Aldrin because he has a funny name. If his name was Dave Smith or something, he would have been 'the other guy' that landed on the moon with Neil Armstrong and that other guy that was there.

  2. Oh yes, despite their protestations to the contrary, the CMP's must have the major hump…

  3. I found the answer, Aldrin says in his book that he would rather have gone on a later mission. So that's that answered.

  4. What about poor old Michael Collins that never even got to the moon??? Does anybody ever remember him? I think John Swigert from A13 is probably more well known than poor old Collins…Kevin Bacon has got a lot to answer for…

  5. Collins probably would have commanded Apollo 17, it was his choice not to fly again.

    I suppose he might have changed his mind had the budget not been cut and the programme extended.

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