Neil Armstrong’s epic blunder when he met Queen at Palace after moon landing

In the new series of The Crown, Prince Philip is plunged in to a personal crisis after watching the first man land on the moon.

Knowing the astronauts had become world class trailblazers made the Duke of Edinburgh, played by Tobias Menzies, question his role in life as the Queen’s sidekick.

And while the scenes were created for dramatic effect in season three of the Netflix series, it’s true that the royal family are transfixed by the blurry black and white footage of Apollo 11’s historic mission.

On 20 July 1969, over 600 million people across the globe tuned in to see Neil Armstrong become the first man to step on to the lunar surface and hear his historic words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Weeks later, the Queen and her family invited Neil, Buzz Aldrin and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins to Buckingham Palace. And the rocket men were impressed at how “well informed and interested in the American Moon programme” Her Majesty was.

She gave them “a particularly warm welcome” and the delight in the royal family’s faces is clearly seen in photographs marking the occasion on October 15, 1969.

The astronauts shook hands with a five-year-old Prince Edward, Prince Andrew, Princess Anne and Princess Margaret.

However, Neil Armstrong remembers an epic blunder during the meeting.

Suffering from a heavy cold that rendered him barely able to speak, he had tried to cancel his visit. But his wife Jan had other ideas. “She told me that if I had to be embalmed, we were going to the palace. She wanted to see the place,’ Neil recalled.

Paul Haney, a longtime NASA announcer and spaceflight commentator, recalled Neil’s huge etiquette fail in his book Into That Silent Sea.

He said: “After meeting the little Princess and Princesses and sipping white wine for maybe an hour, Armstrong said he was close to the Queen’s ear as they were leaving. She knew he had a cold.

“He tried to say something like, ‘Thanks – we had a great time.’ Instead, he coughed in her face.

“Mortified, he again tried to mouth an apology and hit her in the face with another cough. She held up both hands in surrender.”

The queen came very close to committing her own faux pas over the moon landings. Before the crew’s monumental achievement, she was invited to send to send messages to the moon. But Her Majesty was not enthused.

In papers recently released from the national archives, Buckingham Palace thought the idea was a “gimmick”.

But the government gently pushed. “Their idea of emphasising the international aspect of the first men on the moon is something we want to support,” wrote John Graham, principal private secretary to the then foreign secretary, Michael Stewart. He added that “it would look churlish” to decline.

The Queen’s then private secretary, Michael Adeane, wrote the Queen had approved the suggested text of a message. But, he added: “Her Majesty agrees that this idea is a gimmick and it is not the sort of thing she much enjoys doing but she certainly would not wish to appear churlish by refusing an invitation which is so obviously well intentioned.”

The Queen did write a message and the print out was sent, along with those from figureheads from 72 other nations, on a tiny disc carried by Neil and Buzz. It read: “On behalf of the British people, I salute the skills and courage which have brought man to the moon. May this endeavour increase the knowledge and well-being of mankind.”

The astronauts brought moon dust back with them. Four tiny pieces, embedded in clear plastic and mounted in a display with a miniature union flag, were given by US President Richard Nixon to Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Wilson sent the gift to the Science Museum, and it later went on a nationwide tour. By the time it landed back at No 10, Edward Heath was apparently “unable to identify a sufficiently public spot” for the display, according to records.

The priceless souvenir spent several years in a Downing Street cupboard, to be rediscovered by accident in 1979 during Margaret Thatcher’s days. In 1985 it was offered as a loan to the Science Museum, which was declined as the museum said it had plenty of moon rocks and “it was not really a very exciting exhibit”.

  • Series three of The Crown begins on Netflix on November 17.

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