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Buzz Aldrin vividly recalls the Apollo 11 moon landing

Created date

July 22nd, 2009

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon in July 1969 (Photo courtesy of Buzz Aldrin) With this week marking the anniversary of the first moon landing, I thought it only appropriate that I post part of an interview I did with astronaut Buzz Aldrin for a 2007 issue of the Tribune. During our conversation, Aldrin talked at length about his current endeavors to put a man on Mars and possibly even make the Red Planet a tourist destination. But he also took a few moments to recount his experiences ' during the ' Apollo 11 ' mission ' of July 1969, and here's what he had to say. Going back to the Apollo program, which took you to the moon, how did it feel to be a part of such an important mission? Were you nervous while you were suiting up to launch? Well, I've suited up for airplane flights preparing to go into combat. I went into space with Jim Lovell in a two-man spacecraft in the Gemini program, so it wasn't totally new. We had many tests where we would suit up and get into the spacecraft, but we didn't launch during any of these. These were all serious endeavors, and when you finally come to the day when you're actually going to launch, it's kind of a relief because your training is behind you. The opportunity to execute is before you as a challenge, and you want it to happen. Of course, there are risky things that can happen during a launch, and in the future we hope to be able to eject the crew from the spacecraft any time on the launch pad or during the actual launch itself. That's not possible with the space shuttle. You can't shut the rockets down. Once you lift off, you're going for a ride regardless of the consequences, which we found out during the Challenger accident. What was it like to walk on the moon? Being able to do what humans have dreamed about for centuries and no one has been able to do before was awe inspiring. We were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to be the first two people [he and Neil Armstrong] to land on the moon. Describe your first step onto the moon's surface. It was so exciting in a way that you couldn't allow it to overcome you. You would just kind of go along with it as if it was normal, and you knew it wasn't, but you tried to remain as calm and cool as you could. It all felt very soft because the boots that we were wearing were quite soft inside. The first quarter or half inch of the [moon's] surface was like talcum powder, but then it became more compact. As far as moving around goes, it's easier to walk on the moon than it is to do spacewalking. In zero gravity, you have to anchor yourself to do useful things without drifting off. But the gravity on the moon, being one-sixth that of Earth's, provides enough traction and orientation that it makes moving around like slow motion. How about the flag that you and Neil Armstrong were putting up in that legendary photograph? There's no atmosphere on the moon, so getting that flag ready for the picture was a bit of a challenge. We had to shape it to look as if it was blowing in the breeze, which was a two-man job. The pole it was on came in two pieces for storage. Looking back, I think that we ended up with the best looking flag on the moon [laughs]. Considering that there is no atmosphere on the moon, do you think the flag still stands exactly as it did the day you put it there? You'd think it was still in the exact position, but the exhaust from the engines blew it over during our launch but we didn't tell anyone till we got back [laughs]. How long did it take you to get back to Earth? Well, the trip was about 20 hours from landing to liftoff. We were only outside two and a half hours. We had a chance to eat and sleep try to sleep anyway and then get ready to lift off. Going from the Earth to the moon ' took about three and a half days, but the highest velocity we reached was coming back to Earth. We were going about 25,000 mph.