Quiz: Landing on the moon

It was 50 years ago when President Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon and return him safely. Take this quiz and find out if you're a rocket scientist.
Written by Andy Smith, Contributor on

On May 25, 1961, three weeks after the U.S. sent its first astronaut, Alan Shepard, on a successful suborbital flight, President Kennedy urged the nation and Congress to get behind his challenge of putting a man on the moon and successfully returning him to Earth by the end of the decade. At the time, the U.S. was lagging behind the Russian space program and deeply embroiled in the Cold War. The rest is history.

In light of Kennedy's proposal, we invite you to take this challenge in his words (1962), "not because it's easy but because it is hard." We've also added a couple of questions about today's space race.

Instructions: Click on your answer and then see how many others agree with you. Then click to see the answer and the next question.

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1. Apollo 11's biggest scare on its decent to the lunar surface was the 1201 and 1202 alarms for the Guidance System computer that kept going off. What did this mean?

A. The computer was crashing and rebooting.

According to Fred Martin, Deputy Director of the Mission Development Group, a note in the 4-inch thick book of astronaut instructions incorrectly said to put the Rendezvous Radar Switch in the auto position during descent. This caused the computer to unsuccessfully search for radar data and eventually reboot.

The Guidance Computer ran on 2K of 16-bit RAM and 36K of hard-wired core-rope memory with copper wires threaded or not threaded through tiny magnetic cores. As a comparison, the IBM PC XT which was launched in 1981 had twice the computing power.

By pure luck, Mission Control was prepared as these two error codes had popped up in their last dress rehearsal days before the landing. During the test, they were caught off guard, ordered an abort, and failed the test.

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2. The chimp who was the first mammal sent into space by the United States was named:

The correct answer is C. Ham

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3. The cause of the biggest delay in the Apollo program was

The correct answer is B. A training explosion which killed three astronauts

After the accident, NASA was forced to take a needed breather from their previously breakneck pace and install critical safety systems and procedures. The last Gemini manned space flight was in Nov. 1966 and it was almost two year, Oct. 1968, before another American returned into space.

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4. While asked about what he was thinking while waiting atop a rocket for his launch which astronaut said, "the fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder."

The correct answer is D. Alan Shepard

His historic flight was also 50 years ago (gallery).

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5. Mercury Program astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter said they saw "fireflies" outside the window of their space capsule. What did they see?

The correct answer is D. Particles of frozen liquid around the craft

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6. President Kennedy made his famous challenge primarily because the Russians had a significant lead in the space race at the time. What was the main reason why Russia eventually fell behind?

The correct answer is A. Russia's top rocket scientist, Sergei Korolev died in 1966.

Korolev is credited as being the brains behind the Russian space program from the first orbital flight until his death. Korolev frequently improvised to establish new firsts for the Russian space program and make it look farther ahead of the U.S. than it actually was. An example was the first three-man flight when Korolev simply crammed a third seat into a two-man capsule.

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7. Apollo 10 was the last dress rehearsal before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. What was allegedly done to keep astronauts from trying to land on the moon on their own accord?

The correct answer is B. The LEM was purposely left short of enough fuel for a lunar landing and takeoff.

This was a legitimate concern of NASA administrators.

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8. In the current space race, which countries have sent spacecraft to the moon?

The correct answer is D. Japan, China, India, Russia, European Union, U.S.

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9. Each country that is currently visiting the moon is looking for something to bring back to Earth. What is one possibility?

The correct answer is Helium 3

Helium 3 which contains two protons and one neutron is rare on Earth but is more plentiful on the moon and could very well be a potential source of energy if scientists can figure out how to harness it.

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10. The rocket that launched Apollo 11 into space was called the:

The correct answer is C. The Saturn V rocket

And, now for your results (correct answers):

10: You are a true space cadet. 7-9: You must be a rocket scientist. 4-6: You must like Ham - without eggs. 1-3: You've earned a one-way ticket to the moon. 0: Reminder, the moon is that big round ball in the sky at night.

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