What Was the Name of the First Lunar Lander?
It's July, 20, 1969. The first lunar lander descends as a billion people around the world hold their breath. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin maneuver their tiny lunar module toward the first moon landing as their fuel begins to run out. Suddenly, Armstrong makes a stunning announcement that crackles over 240,000 miles of space.
"The Turkey has landed," he declares as the world cheers.
After the first Lunar landing, Aldrin salutes the U.S. Flag
Sounds strange, doesn't it? Well, the first lunar lander might have been named not Eagle but Turkey, at least if one Founding Father had his way.
Benjamin Franklin was not pleased when Congress decided to put the bald eagle on the Great Seal of the United States. In 1884, he wrote to his daughter Sally from Paris that the eagle is a "bird of bad moral character" that steals food from others rather than to hunt for its meals honestly.
Franklin found the turkey to be "a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America... He is besides, though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."
A native bird. And patriotic to boot. Who could argue with that? Congress could. And Franklin lost.
Fast forward 185 years. Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins is busy designing the mission's insignia. Neil Armstrong's backup, Jim Lovell, suggests using the bald eagle. Collins creates with an insignia of an eagle swooping down for a landing on the moon with an olive branch in its beak to emphasize the peaceful nature of the mission. Setting aside tradition, the astronauts decide not to put their names on the insignia in order to honor the thousands of people whose work made the Apollo missions possible.
Collins sent the design to NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., expecting officials to rubber stamp it. But, upper management has concerns. The eagle's talons look too sharp, too warlike. The olive branch was moved from the beak to the claws to soften the image. Collins thinks it makes the bird look awkward, but he relents. NASA management approves the modified design.
The lunar module quickly became known as the Eagle. In addition to being patriot, it sounded good over the radio. This was not an insignificant concern; radio transmissions tended to drop certain sounds. Clear communications is crucial in the dangerous environment of space.
Apollo 11 mission patch and a lander
Collins' design proved popular and would live on in American coinage. The U.S. Mint used the insignia, minus the words Apollo 11, on the reverse side of the Eisenhower dollar coin, which was minted from 1971-78. The decision was a bit ironic; although he began America's human spaceflight program, President Dwight Eisenhower had opposed NASA's plans to send astronauts to the moon.
The design was carried over to the Susan B. Anthony dollar, which was unveiled in 1979 during the 10th anniversary of the moon landing. An eagle, not a turkey, is on final approach to the moon on the reverse side of the coin.
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