Why did Armstrong land Apollo 11 instead of Aldrin?

Buzz Aldrin is listed in all of the sources that I’ve read as “Lunar Module Pilot” while Neil Armstrong is the Commander. ISTM that landing the craft would be something for the pilot to do. Why was it Armstrong’s responsibility?

It was planned that way.

Armstrong sat on the left where all of the flight controls were. Aldrin sat on the right where all the computer stuff was. If everything worked perfectly, Aldrin would have monitored the computer as the auto-pilot brought the lander down to the surface.

It didn’t go anywhere close to perfectly. They chose three landing sites. All three ended up being too rocky to land on. This ended up putting the lander in a more shallow descent than they usually practiced for. The computer became overloaded and crashed. Twice. Armstrong still had control of the craft so he knew the computer was still basically working even though the displays had all frozen. They relayed the error codes to Houston, who looked up the codes and realized that the computer just wasn’t getting enough time to process its lower priority tasks. Houston told them to keep going. That countdown you hear on the video of the landing isn’t the time left until they land, though it sure seems like it. It’s actually the time remaining in fuel that they have left.

Aldrin didn’t have any manual flight controls on his side. If it all went wonky, like it did, they wanted Armstrong to fly it manually.

In the astronaut world, there are no “co-pilots”. Their egos are too big. So pilots are called Commanders and Co-Pilots are called pilots. Hell, look at the crew of Apollo 1.
Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Command Pilot
Edward H. White, Senior Pilot
Roger Chaffee, Pilot

Astronauts would never settle with being “co-pilot”. Even in the Space Shuttle, its Commanders who do most of the flying.

All the Apollo astronauts were pilots.

From what I’ve heard, Armstrong was considered the best of the three for the Apollo 11 mission, thus it made sense he’d do the actual landing.

They were standing, not sitting. And they both had a set of controls.

According to Andrew Chaikin’s excellent book on the Apollo program the LMP could indeed land the LM from his station on the right.

Aldrin, as I recall, was not particularly happy with this arrangement. I thought I remember reading he was upset about not being the first to exit the LM and the first to walk on the Moon?

Apollos 7 and 8 even had Lunar Module Pilots despite lacking Lunar Modules.

Sorry; I just don’t buy that the Apollo crews were too full of themselves. They were doing something quite impressive and seemed to be otherwise normal, humans without “big heads”.

You’d be very, very wrong. They were all test pilots/fighter pilots. There are fewer professions with individuals with bigger egos. Obviously there’s a limit but self-confidence to the point of arrogance is often rewarded in those professions.

Of the six Apollo missions that landed on the Moon, none were landed by the ‘pilot’. All were landed by the commander.

It still sounds to me like you’re saying that just because those guys were test/fighter pilots of course they had big egos. That does not necessarily follow. You wouldn’t happen to have any actual examples of specific Apollo astronauts displaying such an ego, would you?

There are many accounts of Apollo 11 that conclude that Armstrong was chosen to be the first to walk on the moon “because he had no ego.” The implication being that Aldrin, by contrast, had a huge one and would have been insufferable if chosen. These accounts may be overblown, and there were of course plenty of practical reasons why each one’s role was defined the way it was.

Certainly, though, Neil Armstrong never went on “Dancing With The Stars.” :wink:

I always thought Armstrong was chosen for PR purposes because he had the more heroic name, one that would go down well in the history books. The man bearing such a macho surname was worthy to utter the portentous phrase, “One small step …”

Now me, if I’d been one of the TPTB at NASA, I’d have given Buzz Aldrin the top role because I like the cheerful jauntiness of his name. A man with the name Buzz would’ve made a wisecrack as he alighted from the craft and probably would have danced a few steps of the Watusi or the Cha-Cha. Not an ideal scene to be recounted in the history books, but certainly more entertaining.

After the decision was made, NASA PR released the idea that Armstrong was the first to step on the moon because he was a civilian.

The facts are the Commander’s station was on the left of the LM and the LMP’s station was on the right side. That came out of the convention that in 2 pilot aircraft where they sat side by side, the pilot sits on the left and the co-pilot sat on the right. And another fact was that the door to exit the LM opened inward and was hinged on the right side. So, for Aldrin to exit the LM first, he and Armstrong would have had to swap sides inside the LM while fully suited up. They tested that in the simulator. It was too complicated. It was only an issue after Aldrin raised it; all the other pilots, Slayton, and those higher in the hierarchy assumed the command pilot would exit first. As it was, during the mission, somehow one of them snapped the lever off one circuit breaker they needed to operate to fire up the LM to leave the moon. Buzz was able to use a pen to switch it on.

True Fact: re “Buzz”'s name. As a toddler, his baby sister was unable to pronounce “Brother” and called her older brother “Buzzer”, and that became his nickname “Buzz”. Very few men entered military flight school with existing call names. Slayton became “Deke” because there was another “Donald” in his class. And Grissom became “Gus” because, well hell, his first name was “Virgil” and his middle name was “Ivan”.

So did Aldrin fly the LM at all, perhaps while Armstrong was asleep? Did they sleep in shifts?

I think Armstrong’s performance during the near-disaster of Gemini 3 was at least 51% of the reason he was chosen. Everything else, his soft-spoken demeanor, his dislike of the spotlight, and his boyish, all-American good looks was just icing on the cake.

Forgive me for asking, but is this a joke?! If not, you need to read up on the Apollo program’s mission profiles. Nobody was ever asleep while the LM was in flight*!* On the contrary, nobody was ever NOT 150% awake, seething with adrenaline, and hearing "DON’T FUCK UP, DON’T FUCK UP!!" in their heads even when they were in the LM simulator*!* This includes everyone in mission control too*!*

The time from separation from the Command/Service Module to the lunar landing was only two hours and five minutes. The lunar ascent from the Moon to the Command/Service Module was only three hours forty one minutes.


A very common misconception. My father was a Marine fighter pilot who flew in two wars. Through him I met many other Marine fighter pilots. I can’t remember meeting/observing any with that attitude. I suspect it’s Hollywood that promoted that image. I can assure you that the “Pappy Boyington” egocentric attitude would never survive in an environment that favored conforming to the proper image and not making waves. There were/are just too many qualified pilots waiting in line to take the place of those who didn’t conform.

That said, I’m sure you can point to an example or two, but it was far from the rule.

No. Not a joke. I had no idea that the scheduled time spent in the LM was so short. I guess I’ve seen Apollo 13 too many times.

Wait, wasn’t Aldrin the expert on module-to-module rendezvous docking?