Rare is the opportunity to speak introspectively with an Apollo astronaut. Weirder still, Buzz Aldrin from Apollo 11. July 20 is 52North Dakota anniversary of his epic moon landing. Neil Armstrong died nine years ago, Mike Collins this year. But Buzz Aldrin is agile and confident.
In a recent interview, he recalled the mission. At 91, Edwin Eugene Aldrin remains future-focused, thoughtful, and hopeful. He is both a storyteller and a stoic.
When asked about the run-up to the Apollo mission, he recalls the intensive training, the flight of fighter jets in Korea, Gemini 12. Interestingly, his blood pressure during the Gemini 12 spacewalks in 1966 was very low. Why? He laughs and says the field trips were fun. One has the impression that, against all odds, a little fantasy is disguised.
Preparing for humanity’s first moon landing on July 20, 1969, the three crewmates trained incessantly until launch. How was the top of Saturn V, 36 stories high, bigger than the Statute of Liberty and Big Ben, the largest rocket ever built?
Aldrin is frank. “Well, it was exciting. … As the countdown progressed, we were glad we didn’t have to start over. “He added:” The launch was very smooth … nothing unexpected “and he, Armstrong and Collins” didn’t know exactly when we had left the ground, except for the instruments we were looking at and the voice communications. ”
He notes that, “from the instruments, we could see our rate of climb and altitude change, but we were comfortable in our seats.” What did they think at the time? “We looked at each other and thought we must be on our way … so what’s next?”
The excitement came very soon. In lunar orbit, Collins flew Columbia’s command module while Armstrong and Aldrin headed to the moon in their long-legged lunar module. The LEM’s walls were three times the thickness of aluminum foil, as weight mattered and aerodynamics didn’t without atmosphere.
During the descent, he and Armstrong constantly adjusted, first at high horizontal speed and then managing alarms that indicated computer overload. (Today’s smartphones have million times more power than Apollo’s guidance computers). Aldrin knew they were running out of fuel and heard the 30-second warning. He called the coordinates forward and down as Armstrong avoided the boulders and landed in the Sea of Tranquility in smoke. They were relieved to be down, just like half the world listening from a quarter of a million miles away.
When asked if he thought about home a lot while on the moon, Aldrin says not really, they were busy doing jobs. “While others were thinking about what we were doing, we were very focused on being on the moon.” Later, he notes, whimsically again, the Apollo 11 crew missed “the big event” when hundreds of millions of people watched them walk on the lunar surface and return to Earth days later.
Armstrong said that, after coming down the ladder, this was “a small step for man, a great step for humanity.” Buzz spoke of a “magnificent desolation.” As for his audience speaking those words, “We really didn’t think much of it. … We were focused on mission control; they were the people we had to think about the most. “
Describes conducting experiments, coordinating tasks, relative ease of movement, the time required to secure the American flag and salute the flag with pride. I remember an exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, of spacesuits worn by Apollo and Soviet astronauts. The first suit has moon dust on the knees. The Soviets never sent men to our neighbor in orbit.
Aldrin, who has a Ph.D. in astronautical engineering from MIT, is remarkably candid. The crew studied the maps so much that, in many ways, the close-up views of the surface were more “the moon” to them than the glowing orb the rest of us see in the night sky. Tasks were performed as trained, then back on the lunar module.
A near miss, or a minor miracle, was that a push in / out breaker controlling the LEM’s ascent motor “went off” when the two got back in, requiring a bit of thought. Mission control instructed them to sleep, which they did, while a solution was pondered on Earth. The next morning, there is no solution. Then, quite ingeniously, Aldrin unfolded a felt-tip pen to hit the switch, bringing them off the surface. American ingenuity.
On July 24, reentry was smooth, three parachutes deployed, but their capsule flipped over into the water before they could release the conduits and inflate the balloons that righted Columbia. To avoid possible contamination by potential lunar bacteria, containment equipment was put on and then quarantined for 21 days.
“We are certainly glad to be back home,” Aldrin noted, and “even so many years later, it was a privilege to have been on that first manned mission to the lunar surface, an honor to have worked with so many good and dedicated people, and to have left our footprints there. “In closing, he says that he” marvels “at everything and that” it is time for the next generation to set its eyes on Mars. “
Fresh and confident, Buzz Aldrin inspires.