Quiz: The Apollo Missions Quiz
The Apollo Missions Quiz
By: Torrance Grey
Image: WikiCommons by NASA / Neil A. Armstrong

About This Quiz

The Apollo project was a 1960s-era program to get a U.S. spacecraft to the moon. Initially, the idea was an unmanned mission, but it wasn't long before an American president stated—quite publicly—the goal of putting a man on the moon and getting him back safely. As we all know, this goal was accomplished in 1969. 

However, to this day, there's a small but adamant minority who believe it was faked, with footage shot in the desert of the American Southwest. Fun fact: The late Stanley Kubrick, a movie director, was dogged by the rumor that he participated in the fraud. This idea persists after his death, being raised again in the documentary "Room 237," which is specifically about "The Shining," and it points out that in that film, a child actor wears an "Apollo 11" sweater. (Coincidence? We think so! Costumes are selected by a wardrobe designer, not the director, after all). 

But there's more to the Apollo missions than just the one that put a man (actually, two men) on the moon. The story of the Apollo project is one that includes tragedy along with triumph, hard work, setbacks and scientific inquiry. How much do you know about this important chapter in American history? Find out now with our quiz!

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"Apollo" has become a name closely linked to the moon missions. But where does it come from?

Apollo was the Greek god of the sun, depicted as driving it across the sky as a flaming chariot. He is also associated with rational thought and learning. So, overall, an excellent choice. (As much as we loved the old "Battlestar Galactica," with its heroic Captain Apollo, it premiered long after the lunar missions).

For this question, the devil is in the details. NASA stands for "National Aeronautics and Space Administration," not "Air and Space." Nor is the second "A" for "Agency," as some people might tell you. It's an "Administration."

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Prior to the Apollo project, which of these Americans was the first human in space?

Yuri Gagarin, of the USSR, was the first human to escape the Earth's atmosphere in a spacecraft. This inflamed America's desire to explore space as well, matching the accomplishments of the Soviet Union, then our political and cultural rival. Alan Shepard was, however, the first American in space.

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The Apollo Project began in 1960. What year did it come to a close?

Project Apollo lasted for 12 years. Kennedy was still in office when the final mission flew; he would be assassinated the following year in Dallas, and the lunar missions would stand as a tribute to his sense of optimism and adventure.

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What was the number of the Apollo mission that put a man on the moon?

Apollo 11 was launched in July 1969, with a three-man crew. If you chose (or were tempted by) "Apollo 13," it's likely because it was the subject of a movie by Ron Howard. "Apollo 13" was about an aborted lunar landing and the struggle to get the crippled craft and its astronauts home safely.

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Which of these astronauts was NOT part of the famous Apollo 11 mission?

John Glenn's triumphs came earlier. Well, and later. He was the first American to get into orbit, as opposed to just into space, in 1962. Later, he became a successful U.S. senator from Ohio. We lost Glenn in late 2016.

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What was the number of the final mission?

Though overshadowed by Apollo 11, the Apollo 17 mission was an ambitious one that also put men on the surface of the moon. It was the longest lunar orbit and lunar landing, and it brought home more geologic material than any other mission.

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How many humans, total, did the Apollo missions put on the moon?

Ask many Americans, and they'll probably think either of Armstrong and Aldrin, or of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, the entire three-man crew of the Apollo 11 mission. Later lunar missions didn't get nearly the same amount of attention.

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The second man to walk on the moon is commonly known by his nickname, "Buzz." What was Aldrin's real first name?

The nickname "Buzz" came from Aldrin's sister mispronouncing the word "brother" as "buzzer." At least, that's the story. But really, a high school football star who became a fighter pilot and then an astronaut ... Why wouldn't you call him "Buzz"? "Edwin" just doesn't seem to fit.

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How many pounds of lunar material did the missions bring back to Earth?

Scientists wanted the soil and rocks to learn about the moon's geologic history, past volcanic activity and the like. These things can tell us a lot about the history of the Earth, as well. However, we can't help but wonder if a certain amount of lunar material went for "souvenirs," secretly passed out to kids or used to impress first dates. Maybe we're just being cynical.

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The spacecrafts used consisted of 3 main parts: a command module, a service module and a ______ module.

The lunar module was the craft that went down to the surface of the moon to make a soft landing (one in which the craft wasn't destroyed by the impact). The most famous one was the "Eagle," whose name allowed for the famous phrase, "The Eagle has landed."

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Which president oversaw the beginning of the Apollo project?

Eisenhower was a well-liked former general of the Army, who was the Supreme Allied Commander of U.S. forces in World War II, managing Operation Overlord (better known as the D-Day invasion). John F. Kennedy gets a lot of credit for the Apollo missions, having stated explicitly the goal of putting a man on the moon, but he wasn't the first president involved with Apollo.

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The Apollo missions were the first to get out of what's called "Low Earth Orbit (LEO)." How far from Earth's surface is this?

This doesn't sound like a great distance in the context of "all of outer space," but it's about the distance from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas. Most satellites operate in LEO, as does the International Space Station.

The fatal fire took place during a launch rehearsal, not the attempted launch itself (which, obviously, never happened). It was a terrible start to the lunar exploration program, and the mission's name, Apollo 1, was retired to honor the dead.

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Who was the commander of the doomed Apollo 1 mission?

Virgil "Gus" Grissom had made two previous trips into space. He was the second American to achieve suborbital flight, after Alan Shepard. With service in both World War II and the Korean War, two spaceflights and an engineering degree from Purdue University, Grissom packed a lot into a life cut short.

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The Apollo 13 accident was somewhat unusual in that it took place more than two days into the mission. Most mechanical problems would be expected to occur during launch or re-entry. But the astronauts were 56 hours in and had just turned on oxygen-stirring fans in the service module when the tank exploded, creating a crisis.

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The names "Columbia" and "Eagle" for the Apollo 11 command and lunar modules replaced two chosen by the crew. What were they?

NASA overruled the astronauts on this one, finding the names too lighthearted, given that the public would be hearing them in new stories. "Columbia" and "Eagle" were chosen because they were national symbols. The former is a poetic alternate name for America, while the bald eagle is, of course, America's national emblem.

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True or false: With an 8- or 10-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, you can see the flags planted on the moon.

There is no consumer-issue telescope powerful enough to spot the American flags (there's more than one) on the moon. Don't let that discourage you from checking out the lunar surface: as Earth's closest neighbor, it makes for great viewing. A Schmidt-Cassegrain-style scope, with a wide, solid body that "folds" the beam of light several times for maximum clarity in a small space, is ideal for moon viewing.

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What role did James Lovell Jr., William Anders and Fred Haise Jr. play in the Apollo 11 mission?

Each mission had a "prime" crew, a "backup" crew and a third "support" crew. If there's one thing space flight requires, it's contingency plans.Throughout the Apollo program, astronauts got pretty accustomed to switching back and forth between these roles, as medical or other issues necessitated changes in the prime crew.

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Everyone remembers Neil Armstrong's first words on the moon. But what were Aldrin's?

When Aldrin joined Armstrong on the moon's surface, they exchanged comments about the scene, with Armstrong responding "Magnificent sight out here" and Aldrin adding, "Magnificent desolation." This friendly exchange belies Aldrin's resentment over being the second one out of the lunar module; an original plan had him going out the door first, making him the first man to step on the moon.

The Apollo missions are sometimes credited with the rising interest in environmentalism in the 1970s. This is largely due to the image of Earth as a self-contained ecosystem in space, captured by the crew of Apollo 17. To many, the photo underscores both the unity and fragility of planet Earth.

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What kind of rockets launched the Apollo modules into space?

The choice of name was fairly practical: A previous family of rockets had been called "Jupiter," after the fifth planet in our solar system, and Saturn is the sixth planet. The Saturn rockets capably launched the Apollo command modules into space with no significant problems.

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Which famous scientist was centrally involved in the Saturn rocket program?

Von Braun is a somewhat polarizing figure in American science history. Undeniably a genius, he worked in his early years for the Third Reich before defecting to the United States and helping NASA to get its spacecraft off the ground. He became a devout Christian after coming to America.

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True or false: The "capsule commander," who spoke directly to the crew, was always an astronaut himself.

Did you think the person talking to the crew would be a NASA egghead from within the ground crew? So did we, but it turns out that NASA felt an astronaut would be best able to understand what the crew was trying to tell him and relay information back. That's why a fellow space jockey (or at least an aspiring one) filled the role.

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Which ocean did the Apollo 11 capsule splash down in?

Returning spacecraft and astronauts always make a water landing. The three Apollo 11 spacefarers were retrieved from the Pacific Ocean and taken to the USS Hornet, where no less a figure than the President of the United States waited to greet them.

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About how long did Armstrong and Aldrin spend on the moon's surface?

Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Sea of Tranquility and left the lunar module for a bit more than two hours. During this time, the pair collected soil samples for analysis back on Earth. They also took pictures and hit some golf balls—you know, the usual tourist stuff.

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How did the three Apollo astronauts spend the day after their splashdown and recovery?

Though NASA scientists understood that the risk of pathogens from the moon was low, because of its dry, sterile environment, they didn't take any chances. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins had to greet well-wishers like President Nixon and the head of NASA through the window of an isolation room.

The "moon" speech is an example of the power of stirring oratory. Kennedy's speech, linking the Apollo project to the American spirit of ambition and exploration, went a long way to overcoming the near-60-percent opposition to a lunar mission. Needless to say, Kennedy didn't mention the projected $22 billion price tag.

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Pete Conrad was the commander of the second manned moon mission. What was his first word on stepping onto the surface?

The whole quote is, "Whoopee! That may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me!" He was joking about being shorter than Armstrong, so it was a bigger step down off the ladder for Conrad.

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Which astronaut took communion on the surface of the moon?

Aldrin was a practicing Presbyterian and brought the elements for communion with him on the Apollo 11 mission. He later said that he had mixed feelings about conducting a specifically Christian ritual on the moon, as he and Armstrong were there to represent all of humanity, whatever their religion.

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What word is apparently left out of Armstrong's "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" statement?

Many people have noted that while Armstrong's sentiment was clear, it really doesn't make sense as he said it. "Man" and "mankind" are used interchangeably to mean "humanity," so the word "a" before "man" was needed for adequate contrast. (You can listen to the recording and try to discern the article "a" in his speech, but it really isn't there).

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Some of the hardware made for the Apollo missions was used in a famous early space station. Which was it?

Skylab was an early 1970s space station, which used the Apollo Telescope Mount. Skylab crashed back down to Earth in 1979, with the world's eyes on it, wondering where it was going to land. Western Australia turned out to be the winner. Given the ingenuity of Australians, we like to think that a couple of back-country mechanics put it back together and are happily flying around in it to this day.

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Three countries have made an Apollo-style "soft landing" on the moon. They are the U.S., Russia and which nation?

A "soft landing" means the craft is undamaged and able to perform activities on the surface of the moon (e.g., take soil samples). Most recently, China made a soft landing on the dark side of the moon, the first mission ever to land there. (It's nice to get away from all the noise and traffic of the tourist side, we suppose).

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For the Apollo program, several types of missions were planned, starting with type "A." How high did the scale go?

An "A" mission was the launch of an unmanned vehicle; Apollo 4 and 6 were of this type. The most ambitious mission, the "J-type," involved a multi-day lunar orbit and lunar landing, and this was, in fact, achieved with the final mission, Apollo 17.

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How many other countries have placed a person on the moon since the U.S. went?

So far, only the United States holds this distinction. It's hard to understand why other countries haven't followed suit. We mean, after the U.S. found a source of cheap fuel up there, and plentiful mining resources and a hospitable environment for colonization, ... oh, *wait.* We're starting to see the problem.

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