July 23, 2019

Buzz Aldrin’s thoughts on the Apollo 11 Mission and the 50th anniversary

What was it like going to the moon for the first time? We know the technical details of the rockets and the mission, and we can listen to the mostly-technical communications between the astronauts and mission control in Houston, but what about their thoughts during this greatest accomplishment in human history?

Buzz Aldrin's office shared Buzz’s recent thoughts with the Coalition to Save Manned Space Exploration on the Apollo 11 mission and the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Enjoy!

Can you offer a few insights into the launch of that Saturn 5 as you headed for the moon?
Buzz said:  “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!  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?’ 
How about thoughts on being on the moon, once you got there? 
Buzz said:  “As for being on the moon, well, getting down was interesting. 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!  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.” 
How about once the engine was off, what happened next?
Buzz said:  “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.”  
How about when you climbed down? 
Buzz said:  “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 magnificent desolation.  I think Neil remarked on the beauty too.”
Did you pause to think about the enormity of it all, all the people watching you? 
Buzz said:  “As for … those watching, we really did not think much about that.  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 center.  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 centered and experiment level.  On the moon, a leveling device does not give level right away!”
How about on return and splashdown, any special thoughts?
Buzz said:  “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 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 realized 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.”
How did you feel about the mission once back, reflecting on it, and what is next?
Buzz said: “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, get back to the moon, and get on to a permanent presence on Mars.”
As you look to the 50th anniversary, at what happened in 1969 and now, what thoughts?
Buzz said:  “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, 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 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.  It all felt like, that is what America is, what we can do, when we are united in purpose.  Apollo showed that this nation, this America, can do whatever is required, when destiny calls on us to unify, and step up.  It was an honor to be a part of Apollo.
That was how I felt in 1969, how I still feel … This is a blessed nation, truly blessed, and we are all lucky to be part of it.  I hope we never forget how lucky we are to be Americans.” 

Now it it time for America to return to the moon--this time for good. President Trump has directed NASA to return by 2024, and will partner with commercial space to make it happen.  Together, as Americans, let's make the dreams of Buzz Aldrin and everyone come true for today's generation and for our future.

July 20, 2019

Apollo 11 - The Landing - 50th Anniversary

The culmination of all the events set in motion by President John F. Kennedy's stirring speech to send American astronauts to the moon "in this decade," started with the breathtaking launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969. Riding atop the mightiest rocket ever built, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins soared to the heavens in a flawless and spectacular launch, with millions of spectators lining the Florida space coast.

Arriving into lunar orbit on July 20, they prepared for the momentous landing, and on July 20, Neil and Buzz climbed into the lunar lander and began their descent to the moon. Neil saw the autopilot was leading the lander to a dangerous area with craters and boulders, and he took over the controls and flew it to a safe and flat area.

For all time, Armstrong's words will be remembered and revered. "The Eagle has landed." "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

Words still cannot convey the full magnitude of the achievement, nor the efforts of 400,000 NASA and contractor employees who got the astronauts, as well as the eyes and imaginations of every American and everyone on earth.

During Neil Armstrong's last testimony to Congress, where I was present, he narrated the decent and landing on the moon. He describes his thoughts at the time. Watch this remarkable first-person account:

The landing on the moon shall always be remembered as the greatest feat of mankind. Now it is time to recommit our great nation to return to the moon by 2024, an usher in a new renaissance of space exploration and industry.

President Trump's commandment to NASA to achieve this within five year deserves full support by Congress--you can help by urging your members of Congress to support this, the next "great leap" in human history.

July 17, 2019

The Moon from Apollo 11 Lunar Transit

The second day of Apollo 11 was a true journey into outer space.

Having left behind the earth, gotten a ‘night’s’ sleep, and with the moon more than a day in the future, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were occupied with checklists and a great many adjustments and procedure, many of which were manually performed, as well as a mid-course correction burn of the engine. They exercised and ate meals, and periodically rolled the spacecraft to distribute heat from the sun.

Their communications reveal few expressions of the beauty of space, and were mostly business-like in performing a multitude of vital tasks. This is ‘the right stuff.’ Laser-focused.

Samplings of communications between the crew and Houston show the relaxed attitude of the crew as they worked:

024:45:35 Collins: It’s really a fantastic sight through that sextant. A minute ago, during that Auto maneuver, the reticle swept across the Mediterranean. You could see all of North Africa, absolutely clear; all of Portugal, Spain, southern France; all of Italy, absolutely clear. Just a beautiful sight.

024:45:54 McCandless: Roger. We all envy you the view up there.
027:27:47 Lovell: How does it feel to be airborne again, Buzz?
027:27:51 Aldrin: Well, I’ll tell you, I’ve been having a ball floating around inside here, back and forth, up to one place and back to another. It’s like being outside, except more comfortable.
027:28:04 Lovell: It’s a lot bigger than our last vehicle.
027:28:11 Aldrin: Yes. It sure is nice in here.
027:28:13 Lovell: I said it’s a lot bigger than the last vehicle that Buzz and I were in.
Jim Lovell is referring to his and Buzz’s flight in Gemini 12.
027:28:17 Collins: Oh, yeah. It’s been nice. I’ve been very busy so far. I’m looking forward to taking the afternoon off. I’ve been cooking, and sweeping, and almost sewing, and you know, the usual little housekeeping things.
027:28:30 Lovell: It was very convenient the way they put the food preparation system right next to the nav station.
027:28:43 Armstrong: Everything’s right next to everything in this vehicle.
027:28:48 Aldrin: Not where the waste management’s concerned.

Each of the three had done an orbital mission in the Gemini program, but there might have been something entirely different in leaving the somewhat familiar orbit of earth; to leave behind our world. Outside the windows it was either the black of space, the sun, or a diminishing earth and a growing moon. Here’s Buzz Aldrin describing one view:

034:18:28 Aldrin: We see out our side windows the Sun going by and, of course, out one of our windows right now we’ve got the Earth. Right behind my window, of course, we have the Sun, because the Sun is illuminating the star charts that we see. This line represents the ecliptic plane and these lines, vertical lines, represent our reference system that the spacecraft is using at this time. As we approach the Moon, the Moon will gradually grow larger and larger in size and eventually it will be in eclipse. It will be eclipsing the Sun as we go behind it, as we approach the Lunar Orbit Insertion maneuver.
In this video you can see views in the command module and watch the crew exercising.

While day two was relatively relaxed, the tasks in preparation for the landing would increase on day three.

More tomorrow.

Photo credit: NASA. Communications transcripts credit: Apollo Flight Journal

July 16, 2019

Apollo 11 - Launch Day as the World Watches with Awe and Excitement

Imagine this: It is July 16, 1969, and hundreds of thousands of people camped out near the Kennedy Space Center overnight waiting for the launch of Apollo 11. Millions more around the world are glued to their TVs and radios, awaiting the magical moment. It's a bright sunny morning and Apollo 11 is gleaming on the launch pad as technicians check the million-plus systems that all must work perfectly.

The astronauts wave to the cameras as they depart for the pad, and ascend 365 feet to the top of the Saturn V rocket. The hatch is closed and the world awaits...

All systems are GO! The time is 9:32 AM. The world holds its breath!

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0! Smoke and fire billow from the mighty engines and slowly the rocket rises, then faster and faster. Humanity cheers on the launch of Apollo 11 on its historic mission to land Americans on the moon.

Apollo 11 is now in orbit. Two hours and 44 minutes later, the engines fired to take the spacecraft out of earth orbit and towards the moon, still a quarter of a million miles distant.

The adventure begins.

July 12, 2019

Apollo 11 -- The 50th Anniversary -- and the Return to the Moon in 2024

50 years ago, the combined work of 400,000 American space workers was cheered on by billions of people around the world as the mighty Saturn V rocket launched towards the moon.

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins--these names will be remembered a thousand years from now. They sat atop the Saturn on July 16th as it shook the earth to break free of earth's gravity. They carried the hopes and dreams of humanity. They were making history.

The journey was short by most standards. 500 years ago, a sea voyage might take many months; 150 years ago, a stagecoach across the country would take weeks or months; in 1969, a jetliner covered 600 miles in an hour. Yet in just three days, they traveled a quarter of a million miles and reached lunar orbit.

Michael Collins remained aboard the Command Module, responsible for getting the others home. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the moon, forever being the first people on the surface of another world. They raised the flag of the United States in tribute to all Americans who helped their journey with hard work and with encouragement--and in honor of the liberty we enjoy that made it possible for the mission in the first place.

Their feats got the headlines, but the 400,000 NASA and contractor employees got them there and back--they are as much the heroes of Apollo 11 as the astronauts. 

Returning from the moon, they received a hero’s welcome. The world united in peace watching the launch, landing and return of our astronauts.

Today, as we salute and honor the Apollo 11 astronauts and the space workers who got them to the moon and safely home, we can look forward to the next giant leap, as NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024.

Achieving this ambitions 5-year goal after decades of bureaucratic thinking and a lack of serious goals will not be easy, but we must remember the words of President John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 commanded us to literally aim for the moon: "We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon...We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win."

It is our human nature to explore, to discover and expand our knowledge--even at the ultimate risks.
Let us on this anniversary, recommit ourselves to President Kennedy's challenge to again do the things that are hard and challenging, and to be determined to win, as were the three Apollo 11 astronauts and everyone who got them there.

Let's go for the Moon in 2024 and then on to Mars in the 2030s!

Coalition President Art Harman is available for interviews and speaking engagements for this historic anniversary.