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Buzz Aldrin Recalls the First Moments of Apollo 11 Launch

Fifty years after their history-making voyage to the moon, Buzz Aldrin recalls the first moments of the Apollo 11 launch being so smooth

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FILE - Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. VOA

Fifty years after their history-making voyage to the moon, Buzz Aldrin recalls the first moments of the Apollo 11 launch being so smooth that he and his two crewmates, Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins, were unsure precisely when they left the ground.

He remembers the white-knuckle descent to the moon’s dusty surface in the four-legged lunar module Eagle, as Armstrong took manual control of the landing craft to pilot it to a safe touchdown, just seconds from running out of fuel.

And as the second human ever to step on the moon — Armstrong was first down the ladder —  Aldrin recounts feeling sure-footed in the one-sixth gravity of the lunar surface while gazing at the “magnificent desolation” around him.

Aldrin says he and his crewmates were so absorbed in doing their jobs that they were oddly disconnected from how momentous the occasion was as it unfolded for hundreds of millions of people on Earth, watching it all on live television.

Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11, Moments
The Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket is being moved to the pad aboard the Mobile Launch Platform (MLP) at Cape Canaveral May, 1969. VOA

“I sometimes think the three of us missed ‘the big event,'” Aldrin said during a 50th anniversary gala at the Ronald Reagan Library outside Los Angeles. “While we were out there on the moon, the world was growing closer together, right here.”

Aldrin, now 89 and one of just four living people ever to have walked on the moon, recounted highlights of his Apollo 11 experiences in an interview with an organizer of Saturday’s event, which was closed to the media. A transcript was furnished to Reuters.

It was 50 years ago to the day on Tuesday that Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins were launched into space atop a Saturn 5 rocket from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

‘On our way’

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“We did not know the instant of leaving the ground. We only knew it from the instruments and voice communications which confirmed liftoff,” he recalled. “We sort of looked at each other and thought, ‘We must be on our way.'”

After reaching lunar orbit, leaving Collins behind as pilot of the command module Columbia, Armstrong and Aldrin descended to the moon’s surface in the Eagle. Armstrong ended up piloting the craft to a safe landing after overriding a computer guidance system that was heading it to a field of boulders.

During those tense moments, Aldrin’s voice was heard in the TV broadcast calling out navigation data as Eagle moved downward and forward over the surface to touchdown.

“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,” Aldrin recounted.

Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11, Moments
FILE – Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins (L) and Buzz Aldrin (R) stand during a recognition ceremony at the U.S House of Representatives. VOA

“I saw dust creating a haze, not particles, but a haze that went out, dust the engine was picking up,” he said.

In the final seconds of descent, Aldrin confirmed an indicator light showing that at least one of the probes dangling from Eagle’s footpads had touched the surface – calling out “Contact light.”

Seconds later came Armstrong’s famed radio announcement to mission control in Houston – “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

The relief of the two astronauts was mutual. “Neil remembers we shook hands, and I recall putting my hand on his shoulder and we smiled,” Aldrin said.

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Hours later, Armstrong’s words upon becoming the first human to set foot on the moon — ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — were immortalized. As Aldrin recalls, “Neil thought of that. It wasn’t on the checklist.”

Aldrin’s turn came next.

“I then got in position to come down … came down the ladder, and jumped off, being careful not to lock the door behind me,” he said, recounting “it was easy to balance” as he moved about the lunar surface to set up NASA experiments.

To this day, Aldrin added, he stands by his own best known, though somewhat less famous catch phrase from the moon — his impromptu description of the moonscape as a scene of “magnificent desolation.”

“I guess I said that because it was magnificent,” he said. “We had gotten there, and it looked pretty desolate. But it was magnificent desolation. I think Neil remarked the beauty, too.” (VOA)

Next Story

With 50th Anniversary of First Moon Landing, NASA Plans to Send ‘First Woman and Next Man’ on Moon

"Artemis" is named after the twin sister of Apollo who is also the Goddess of the Moon and the hunt

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The five missions between 2022 and 2024 will be operated by private companies, according to NASA's plans. VOA

As the world marked the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, the US space agency said it has doubled down on its next giant leap with the Artemis programme that would take “the first woman and the next man” to the lunar surface.

“Artemis” is named after the twin sister of Apollo who is also the Goddess of the Moon and the hunt. “Artemis will light our way to Mars. The new Artemis identity draws bold inspiration from the Apollo programme and forges its own path, showing how it will pursue lunar exploration like never before and pave the way to Mars,” NASA said in a statement.

The astronauts would explore regions of the Moon never visited before, unlock mysteries of the Universe and test the technology that will extend the bounds of humanity farther into the solar system.

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FILE – Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. VOA

“On the lunar surface we will pursue water, ice and other natural resources that will further enable deep space travel. From the Moon, humanity will take the next giant leap to Mars,” said the agency. Returning astronauts to the Moon in 2024 could cost about $30 billion, or roughly the same price tag as the Apollo 11 spaceflight when factoring in inflation.

The total cost of the Apollo programme that the US launched in 1961 and concluded in 1972 was $25 billion. The climax of that programme came nearly 50 years ago when two astronauts landed on the Moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission, which cost $6 billion at the time, equivalent to $30 billion today.

According to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the main difference between the Apollo programme and the “Artemis” is that the former culminated with brief stays on the Moon while the latter will entail a permanent human presence there.

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Returning astronauts to the Moon in 2024 could cost about $30 billion, or roughly the same price tag as the Apollo 11 spaceflight when factoring in inflation. Pixabay

The plan will involve the recruitment of private companies and international partners, the construction of a lunar space station and manned landings at the Moon’s south pole within five years.

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The programme includes an unmanned mission around the Moon in 2020 and a manned mission that will also orbit the Moon two years later. The next lunar missions will be delivered into space by the Space Launch System, a rocket being developed by NASA and Boeing that will be the largest ever built once it is fully assembled.

That rocket will send into orbit a new spacecraft known as Orion, whose lead contractor is Lockheed Martin. The five missions between 2022 and 2024 will be operated by private companies, according to NASA’s plans. (IANS)