- Buzz Aldrin was one of two astronauts to walk on the moon for the first time on July 20, 1969.
- On the eve of the Apollo 11 mission’s 50th anniversary, Aldrin spoke to Omega, which supplied the watch he wore on the lunar mission.
- Aldrin recounted the moments that he thinks defined the historic NASA mission during an exclusive interview.
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It’s been half a century since Buzz Aldrin rocketed to the moon and walked upon its dusty, pockmarked surface, but his memory of that historic event is still as fresh as ever.
On July 16, 1969, Aldrin was just 39 years old when he boarded a small capsule atop a 363-foot-tall (111-meter-tall) Saturn V rocket and launched toward the moon. About four days later, on July 20, Aldrin and his commander, Neil Armstrong, climbed into a lunar lander. The two left fellow astronaut Mike Collins behind in the capsule, descended toward the lunar surface, and stepped outside.
In remembrance of NASA’s historic feat on the eve of its 50th anniversary, watch brand Omega — which made the Speedmaster timepieces astronauts wore on the moon — spoke to Aldrin about his experiences.
Below are excerpts from Omega’s exclusive interview with the moon walker and the moments he said defined Apollo 11.
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“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.”
“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.”
After a days-long journey to the moon, Aldrin and Armstrong descended to the lunar surface in the “Eagle” lunar module.
“I guess we were not the only ones on the edge of our seat … from what I hear, folks at Mission Control were, too.”
“As we approached the moon, we leveled 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.”
“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.”
“We could have crashed and burned, and fuel went to 15 seconds or so, but no catastrophe … We were glad to be down.”
“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.”
“I then got in position to come down. I 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 magnificent desolation, and I think Neil remarked on the beauty too.”
“As for thinking about all those watching, we really did not think much about that. We were focused on mission control, and they were the people we had to think about most.”
“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.”
After a few hours of walking on the moon, and less than a day there in total, Aldrin and Armstrong launched off the lunar surface, met up with the capsule, and journeyed home to Earth.
“Coming down, we had to wait until we hit the water, and you are not quite sure what altitude you were at. The altimeter was not a good indication.”
“On splashdown, we had to throw a switch to release the parachutes, only it was a bit bumpy.”
“We tipped over before we could release the parachutes, then the balloons tipped us right side up again. It was good to be back.”
“Funny story, 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 realized that if we stood by the window, at full height, they would only see our lower half, so we decided better to kneel by the window.”
“It was a privilege to have been able to undertake the 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. 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 and get on to Mars.”