On moon landing's 50th anniversary, Buzz Aldrin recounts his experiences on NASA's Apollo 11 mission
Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon after Neil Armstrong, recounts the highlights of NASA's 1969 Apollo 11 mission — from the launch to homecoming.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of that historic moment when humans first landed on the moon.
Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin were part of NASA's Apollo XI mission.
While Armstrong became the first man ever to set his foot on the lunar surface, Aldrin joined him to be the second one to achieve that feat.
By special arrangement | Editorial coordination — Suryasarathi Bhattacharya
On 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Eugene (Buzz) Aldrin Jr of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the moon. As Armstrong stepped out onto the lunar surface — the first man to set foot on the moon — followed by Buzz Aldrin, it collectively represented “a giant leap for mankind”.
Armstrong and Aldrin’s colleague, Michael Collins, orbited the moon in the Apollo 11 spacecraft’s command module Columbia while the duo spent two hours and 15 minutes collecting nearly 22 kg of lunar samples, and planting the American flag.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of that historic moon landing. Ahead of the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Gala held on 13 July 2019, Buzz Aldrin was in conversation with Robert Charles, president and managing member of the Charles Group. Aldrin spoke of what the Apollo 11 mission meant to him, and its various high points. Reproduced here with permission from Robert Charles are edited excerpts from the chat with Aldrin.
ON THE LAUNCH:
Well, getting into space always starts with the launch... As we headed for the moon, a lot had gone into this...We had all seen preparations for a launch go down to seconds, then have to start over – and so I think we were relieved when the launch went ahead. It went smoothly, and at last, we were on our way! The launch was almost imperceptibly smooth through the early abort modes, and nothing unexpected happened. We knew we were accelerating, but the launch was so smooth compared to Gemini launches that we did not know the instant of leaving the ground. We only knew it from the instruments and voice communications which confirmed lift-off. We saw our rate of climb, altitude changing, but were comfortable in our seats. We sort of looked at each other and thought, "We must be on our way... What’s next?"
FIRST THOUGHTS ON BEING ON THE MOON:
As for being on the moon, well, getting down was interesting. As we approached the moon, we levelled off and kept moving down and forward to land. We knew we were continuing to burn fuel. We knew what we had, then we heard 30 seconds left. If we ran out of fuel, we knew it would be a hard landing! We saw the shadow cast in front of us. That was new, not something we saw in the simulator. I saw dust creating a haze, not particles but a haze that went out, dust the engine was picking up. The light turns on, I said "contact light", "engine stop" and recorded "413" in, so mission control knew abort guidance shut-down conditions were satisfied. Neil remembers we shook hands, and I recall putting my hand on his shoulder and we smiled.
Once down, we climbed down the ladder and out. As Neil descended, we heard mission control saying "getting an image, but upside down." They could see he was on the ladder. I could see the top of his head from where I stood, then he said he was going to step off the LEM, and announced — "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" — and he said "for man," not "for a man." Neil thought of that. It wasn’t on the checklist.
I then got in position to come down; came down the ladder and jumped off, being careful not to lock the door behind me. When I got off and looked around, and it was easy to balance, I said "magnificent desolation." I guess I said that because it was magnificent...we had gotten there, and it looked pretty desolate. But it was a magnificent desolation. I think Neil remarked on the beauty too.
We were focused on mission control...they were the people we had to think about most. Transmissions did not occupy us much beyond mission control. Neil decided where to put the camera, and I got out the two experiments and carried them. We were focused on the experiments, making sure they were level, pointed toward the sun. Funny story about the level, it was the sort with a cone and small ‘BB’ that has to settle in the centre. It just kept going around and around in one-sixth gravity. I stepped away, did other work, and then came back – and found the BB centred and experiment level. On the moon, a levelling device does not give level right away!
On return and splashdown:
Well, we would later relax in confinement, but at the time I focused on a procedure associated with splashdown...Coming down, we had to wait until we hit the water, and you are not quite sure what altitude you were at. On splashdown, we had to throw a switch to release the parachutes, only it was a bit bumpy, so we tipped over before we could release the parachutes, then the balloons tipped us right side up again. It was good to be back, eventually to see and talk with the family. When we arrived on the carrier deck, we were placed in a containment trailer, and it had a window. When they played the national anthem, we wanted to stand. But the window was very low, and we realised that if we stood by the window, at full height, they would only see our lower half, so we decided better to bend and kneel by the window.
It was a privilege to have been able to undertake the first manned mission to the lunar surface, an honour to have worked with so many good and dedicated people, and to have left our footprints there. Even now, sometimes, I marvel that we went to the moon. But now, I think, it is time for the next generation to buckle up, get back to the moon, and get on to a permanent presence on Mars.
From 1969 to 2019 — Looking back and forth:
The Apollo 11 mission was many things to many people. To me, it was the dream we had all signed up to chase, what we had imagined, worked and trained for, the apex of national service to a country we unabashedly loved, the height of aviation and exploration. To my colleagues, as to me, Apollo was a mission of enormous national security importance – a way to prove America’s exceptional nature, pointing the way forward for mankind in space and forward to peace here on Earth.
I sometimes think the three of us missed "the big event."
You smile, but while we were out there on the moon, the world was growing closer together right here. Hundreds of millions saw their own reflection in our visors, efforts, a risk with purpose, doing what had not been done before. Even now, we say to ourselves: If America put men on the moon, what can’t we do? And that sentiment is right. We did then – and we can do now – whatever we put our combined minds to. So, Apollo 11 was a dream-come-true, for all of us. A launch so smooth we had to look at dials to confirm we were off; extraordinary journey made possible by tens of thousands of extraordinary patriots; a bit of excitement on the descent, then a wonderful walk-in “magnificent desolation,” making footprints in moon-dust. On return, it was knowing that we had done our job.
The Eagle had landed. We had walked, set out experiments, taken it all in, and left that plaque. "We Came in Peace for All Mankind." We lit the ascent engine and came safely home.
Watch the video of Apollo XI 50th Anniversary Gala at Ronald Reagan Library here.
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