Four months after NASA’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon on July 21, 1969, the Apollo 11 crew embarked on a tour of celebration. Together with Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, the three American heroes met with dignitaries and leaders around the globe. The journey took the astronauts to London, where they visited the US embassy, No. 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. The royal leg of the tour likely proved to be the most memorable for Mr Armstrong, after the astronaut suffered an incredibly embarrassing gaffe in front of the Queen herself.
The Apollo 11 astronauts visited London on October 15, 1969, where they received an incredibly warm welcome.
The astronauts were invited to Buckingham Palace where they had a chance to meet in person the Queen, her husband Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh and their children.
Unfortunately, for Mr Armstrong, the astronaut was suffering from a severe cold that left him unable to talk without erupting into a coughing fit.
And as the historians Francis French and Colin Burgess pointed out in their book Into That Silent Sea, the astronaut’s predicament did not spare him any embarrassment when he coughed directly into the Queen’s face.
Neil Armstrong blunder: The Apollo 11 astronaut stunned the Queen in 1969
The Apollo 11 astronauts visited Buckingham Palace after the Moon landing
The incredible story was recalled years later in Into That Silent Sea by Paul Haney, a longtime NASA announcer and spaceflight commentator.
He said in the book: “As I commuted between London and Houston, Apollo 10 flowed into Apollo 11.
“The whole world stood still listening to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.
“In time for Apollo 12, ITN opened a new broadcast centre in downtown London. Queen Elizabeth herself showed up to dedicate the new facilities.
“During a break, the Queen walked up to me and asked: ‘Mr Haney, how is Mr Neil Armstrong’s health?’
She held up both hands in surrender
“I didn’t presume to ask why she was asking. I simply said, ‘Just fine as far as I know ma’am.’ That was the entire conversation.”
According to Mr Hanes, he would later tell Mr Armstrong of a “lady in London” asking about his health, to which the Apollo 11 Commander replied: “That must have been the Queen.”
Based on Mr Hanes’ account of the incredible blunder, Mr Armstrong was hoping to skip the visit to Buckingham Palace because of his cold.
READ MORE: What was NASA’s last mission to the Moon?
However, the astronaut’s wife Janet Armstrong insisted on seeing the royal residence.
Mr Hanes said: “By the time they got to London, about the fifth stop, Armstrong had an old-fashioned cold, so thick he couldn’t talk.
“He thought about cancelling a visit to Buckingham Palace to load up on cold medicine and sleep, 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.
Neil Armstrong was suffering a terrible cough and cold on the day
Apollo 11 crew: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin
“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.”
Regardless of the blunder, the Queen is said to have impressed the Apollo astronauts with her knowledge of the Moon landing.