Apollo 11 flown star chart, as reproduced in Universe

How Buzz Aldrin saw the night sky

This Apollo 11 star chart served as a route map of the heavens for the lunar pilot and American hero

Older readers will have experienced that disquieting feeling when, on a long journey, the signal for the phone's navigation app drops out, leaving them to rely on a printed map they've (wisely) brought as back up. Thankfully, none of us will have been on quite so long a journey as Buzz Aldrin, who took the paper star chart above with him on Apollo 11. He used it to take visual sightings of stars which he would then feed into the 1969 mission's navigational computer. Here's how our new book Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World, contextualises this route map of the heavens.

"These charts (printed back-to-back on a single punched card) display the constellations, with stars named and given a numerical code. They were carried on the Apollo 11 Lunar Module to help the pilot, Buzz Aldrin, to use star sightings for navigation during Trans Lunar Insertion, a propulsive movement to set the Lunar Module to arrive at the Moon.

"Aldrin used Apollo’s Alignment Optical Telescope to sight three stars, locate them on these charts and enter the grid coordinates into the Lunar Module’s navigation system. The information was processed by the onboard computer, and the best course determined."


Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World
Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World

The map also contained a chilling reminder of the fatal consequences of an astronomical slip up if Aldrin's eyes had wandered from the task in hand.

"The chart contains a memorial to three astronauts who lost their lives on Apollo 1 in 1967," explains the book. "Stars 3 (Navi), 17 (Regor) and 20 (Dnoces) are named in honour of Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Edward White II: Navi is Grissom’s middle name, Ivan, backwards; Regor is Roger spelled backwards; and Dnoces is second backwards, for White." 

For more cosmic images by such varied star gazers as NASA, Andy Warhol, Picasso and Hergé order a copy of Universe: Exploring the Astronomical World here.