Every once in a while, a story comes along that makes you do a double-take. That's the case today for an item circulating the Web that asserts that the U.S. government was so determined to beat the Soviet Union to the moon that it launched the historic Apollo 11 mission before it was completely ready and was prepared to announce their deaths at a moment's notice. The story comes from a documentary, Apollo 11: The Untold Story, being aired tonight on Britain's Channel Five TV station.
We're all well aware that astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were down to their last few seconds of fuel as they touched down at "Tranquility Base" on the lunar surface on 20 July 1969. According to the account in the Channel Five documentary, apparently, NASA's management and senior U.S. officials were just as prepared for them to crash into the Sea of Tranquility as they were for them to land successfully.
As reported in today's London Daily Mirror, a bastion of journalism, the film claims that U.S. President Richard Nixon had a speech to the nation at the ready to announce that the intrepid astronauts had perished in their attempt. It apparently also claims that the mission was again saved on take-off from the moon when Aldrin noticed that the switch of a key circuit breaker had broken off during the comings and goings of the astronauts during their historic moonwalks. Keeping his wits, Aldrin reportedly jammed the plastic end of a standard ballpoint pen into the opening and set the circuit to "go"—saving the Eagle and its crew.
The most far-fetched element to the revised history of Apollo 11 in the documentary, again apparently, is the claim that the explorers believe they viewed an unidentified flying object during the mission and that NASA has been covering up this aspect of the record for the last 37 years. Multiple published accounts have Aldrin stating: "There was something out there that was close enough to be observed."
We haven't seen Apollo 11: The Untold Story, so we're not going to judge. Still, on just reading the breathless accounts in the British tabloids, it sounds like we can count on it being, at least, as accurate as the latest news on David Beckham and Posh Spice.