NASA Chief of Photography
Richard Underwood had just finished processing the precious film brought back by earth's first moonwalkers, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, when he realized something was missing.
He hurriedly looked again through the hundreds of images taken on the night of July 20, 1969. Then he looked again… and again. There was plenty of Aldrin—saluting the U.S. flag, scooping up soil samples, standing on the ridge of small craters. But nowhere could Underwood find a picture of Armstrong.
“I told one of the lab technicians,” Underwood recalls. “He said, 'Aw, they're in those spacesuits. They both look alike.' Then we got the film dry and looked at it. Sure enough, none of Neil. Buzz didn't take any.”
It created a nightmare for NASA's public relations office. “In a meeting, there were people from “public affairs” who said, 'Look, this one of Aldrin standing by the flag? Let's just say it's Neil Armstrong. You can't see his face.'” Underwood says. “I quickly told them, 'Yeah, but there's some nine-year-old groupie out there who understands these space suits as well as the people who made them. And if you say that, three days from now there will be a letter in the New York Times saying, 'You're full of crap, that's Buzz Aldrin.' So they just decided not to say anything.
“And the amazing thing is, the news media never asked about it. Year after year, no one ever said a thing about it.”
Underwood, who now gives speeches about the Apollo moon missions for Crystal Cruise Lines, says his audiences are stunned when he tells them there are no pictures of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.