When NASA began to launch pairs of spacecraft during a single Apollo mission, it became necessary to introduce individual call signs while the vehicles were being operated independently. On seeing their CM arrive at the Cape tightly wrapped in a blue sheet, like a sweet, the Apollo 9 crew decided to name the CSM ‘Gumdrop’, and the LM was named ‘Spider’ for its arachnid appearance. In March 1969, after the Apollo 10 crew decided to name their vehicles ‘Charlie Brown’ and ‘Snoopy’ – characters in Charles L. Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts – Julian Scheer, Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, wrote to George M. Low, Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office in Houston, to suggest that the next mission, which was to try to land on the Moon, should use more dignified names. The Apollo 11 crew, of course, were fully aware of the historical significance of their mission. As Michael Collins recalled:11
Based on accounts in Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys, by Michael Collins, W. H. Allen, p. 332, 1975, and ‘All we did was fly to the Moon’: Astronaut Insignias and Call Signs, by Richard L. Lattimer, The Whispering Eagle Press, Florida, p. 66, 1985.
“We had a variety of non-technical chores, such as thinking up names for our spacecraft and designing a mission emblem. We felt Apollo 11 was no ordinary flight, and we wanted no ordinary design, yet we were not professional designers. NASA offered to help us along these lines – wisely, I think. On Gemini 10, which [I flew with John Young, and] in my view has the bestlooking insignia of the Gemini series, artistic Barbara Young had developed one of John’s ideas and come up with a graceful design, an aerodynamic ‘X’ devoid of names and machines. This was the approach we wanted to take on Apollo 11. We wanted to keep our three names off it, because we wanted the design to be representative of everyone who had worked toward the lunar landing – and there were thousands who could take a proprietary interest in it, yet who would never see their names woven into the fabric of a patch. Further, we wanted the design to be symbolic rather than explicit. On Apollo 7, Wally Schirra’s patch showed the Earth and an orbiting CSM trailing fire. On Apollo 9, Jim McDivitt produced a Saturn V, a CSM, and a LM. Apollo 10’s was even busier! Apollo 8’s was closer to our way of thinking, showing a figure of eight looping around Earth and Moon, on a command-module-shaped patch, but it had, like all the rest, three names printed on it. We needed something simpler, yet something which unmistakably indicated a peaceful lunar landing by the United States. Jim Lovell, Neil’s backup, introduced an American eagle into the conversation. Of course! What better symbol – eagles landed, didn’t they? At home I skimmed through my library and finally found what I wanted in a National Geographic book on birds: a bald eagle, landing gear extended, wings partially folded, coming in for a landing.1 traced it on a piece of tissue paper, and sketched in an oblique view of a pockmarked lunar surface. Thus the Apollo 11 patch was born – although it had a long way to go before final approval. I added a small Earth in the background and drew the sunshine coming from the wrong direction, so that to this day our official insignia shows the Earth [incorrectly oriented] over the lunar horizon. I pencilled ‘APOLLO’ around the top of my circular design and ‘ELEVEN’ around the bottom. Neil didn’t like the ‘ELEVEN’ because it wouldn’t be understandable to foreigners, so after trying ‘XI’ and ‘11’, we settled on the latter, and put ‘APOLLO 11’ around the top. One day, outside the simulator, I was describing my efforts to Jim Lovell, and he and I both agreed that the eagle alone really didn’t convey the entire message we wanted. The Americans were about to land, but so what? Thomas L. Wilson, our computer expert and simulator instructor, overheard us and said to add an olive branch as a symbol of our peaceful expedition.
Beautiful! Where do eagles carry olive branches? In their beaks, naturally. So I sketched one in, and after a few discussions with Neil and Buzz over colour schemes, we were ready to go to press. The sky would be black, not blue, but absolute black, as in the real case. The eagle would be eagle-coloured, the Moon Moon-coloured, as described by Apollo 8, and the Earth also. So all we had left to play with, really, were the colours of the border and the lettering. We picked blue and gold, and then Stan Jacobsen in Houston assigned James R. Cooper, an illustrator at MSC, to do the artwork for us. We photographed the finished design and sent a copy through channels to Washington for approval. Washington usually rubber-stamped everything. Only this time they didn’t, and our design came back disapproved. The reason? The eagle’s landing gear – powerful talons extended stiffly below him – was unacceptable. It was too hostile, too warlike; it made the eagle appear to be swooping down on the Moon in a very menacing fashion – according to Bob Gilruth [Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center]. What to do? A gear-up approach was unthinkable. Perhaps the talons could be relaxed and softened a bit? Then someone had a brainstorm: just transfer the olive branch from beak to claw, and the menace disappeared. The eagle looked slightly uncomfortable clutching his branches tightly with both feet, but we resubmitted it anyway, and it greased on through channels and won final approval.’’
As regards the call signs, when it became apparent that Apollo 11 would be the mission, the crew began to receive suggestions for naming their spacecraft, some of which comprised pairs, others not. Names from mythology were dismissed for the simple reason that investigation invariably turned up something inappropriate. Romantic name pairings such as ‘Romeo’ and ‘Juliet’ were also rejected. ‘Castor’ and ‘Pollux’ were appealing, but were too suggestive of the Gemini program. Pat Collins argued for ‘Owl’ and ‘Pussycat’. An important factor was that the names selected should have clarity in radio transmission. For Scott Carpenter’s Mercury flight, his wife, Rene, had suggested ‘Rampart’, after the mountain range of his native Colorado, but he chose ‘Aurora’, which, lacking hard consonants, proved indistinct on the radio. It was decided that while the names must reflect American pride in the mission, they must do so with subtlety. To paraphrase Collins’s account:
‘‘The choice of an eagle as a motif for the landing led swiftly to naming the landing craft Eagle. One day, I was chatting long-distance with Julian Scheer, Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs in Washington, who suggested the name Columbia for our CSM. It sounded a bit pompous to me, but it had a lot going for it – the close similarity of Jules Verne’s mythical moon-ship cannon, the Columbiad, and the close relationship between the word ‘Columbia’ and our national origins: Columbia had almost become the name of our country. Finally, the lyrics ‘Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean’ kept popping into my mind and they argued well for the recovery of the spacecraft, which hopefully would float on the ocean. Since Neil and Buzz had no objections, and since I couldn’t come up with anything better, Columbia it was.’’
The ‘Apollo 11’ call sign would be used until such time it became necessary to discriminate, whereupon the two vehicles would employ their own names. Prior to the mission, Armstrong and Aldrin had given some thought to whether they should continue to refer to themselves by the call sign ‘Eagle’ while on the lunar surface, or introduce some other name. As Aldrin recalls:13
‘‘It would be somewhat similar to a radio call sign, but we wanted to give it added significance. Moon One? Base Camp? Moon Base? When we made our choice, we told only Charlie Duke, who would be our Capsule Communicator back in Houston, who we felt should know the exact name in case transmission was garbled. I cannot remember which of us originated the selection, but once we had thought it over it was an obvious choice. We were landing in an area known as the Sea of Tranquility, and would call our landing site Tranquility Base.’’
Approval of the call signs was not forthcoming from headquarters until the beginning of July.