Sometimes the difference between mission accomplished and major disaster is a good office supply.

Today in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, as part of the Apollo 11 mission, with their colleague Michael Collins in the command module.

Billions of people watched as the two astronauts took the first steps on the lunar surface.

Giant steps for humans, to paraphrase Armstrong.

But even as they took those steps, there was a problem that could have jeopardized the important job of getting those astronauts back off the moon and home safely to Earth.


As Buzz Aldrin wrote in his memoir, when he returned to the lunar module after the first moonwalk, he spotted something on the floor: a circuit breaker switch that somehow had been snapped off the instrument panel.

And this circuit breaker happened to be the one that sent power to the ascent engine.

Unless they found a fix they wouldn’t be able to leave the moon.

Mission Control wasn’t able to come up with a quick solution from 238,000 miles away, so it was up to the astronauts.

And they delivered.

Aldrin figured out that the circuit would probably work if they could just push something in there in place of the switch.

He settled on the felt tip pen in the shoulder pocket of his moon suit.

When he put it into the circuit during the countdown, the ascent engine was able to do its job.

Aldrin and Armstrong were able to rendezvous with the command module in lunar orbit and return to Earth, though Aldrin says he kept both the broken switch AND the pen as reminders of how they’d gotten back.

And NASA remembered, too: for all future moon missions, the circuit breakers had guards on them so they wouldn’t run into that problem ever again.

Some of us celebrate the moon landing every July 20, but here’s someone who can mark the occasion every day.

In the community of Beverly, Washington, designer Kurt Hughes has built the Lunar Lander Dwelling, a 250 square foot getaway in the shape of the lunar module.

It’s got skylights so he can see the stars, and, of course, the moon.

When Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong Were Nearly Stranded on the Moon (

The Lunar Lander Replica House Just Might Be The Most Unique Home In Washington (Only in Washington)

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Photo via NASA