Apollo astronauts relive experiences at ceremony

Jul 18, 2009 By JAMES HANNAH , Associated Press Writer
Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin, left, and Neil Armstrong, right, participate in a panel discussion during the National Aviation Hall of Fame Spirit of Flight Award at National Museum of the USAF, Friday, July 17, 2009 in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Kohl)

(AP) -- It was a reunion of reunions. Twelve Apollo astronauts reminisced, traded stories and poked fun at each other Friday night as the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing and moonwalk approached.

The , including first moonmen and Buzz Aldrin, attended the ceremony in which the National Aviation Hall of Fame presented the Apollo crews with the "Spirit of Flight" award for their courage and dedication.

The crowd of hundreds at the National Museum of the United States Air Force erupted in cheers when a video chronicling the space program replayed Armstrong's famous first words after stepping on the moon July 20, 1969: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

"It was spectacular," Armstrong recalled of gazing at the moon's surface as he took those first steps. "Any time you go to a place where everything you see is different than anything you've ever seen before in your life, it's unique and it's memorable. And that certainly was."

However, Armstrong said he and Aldrin had little time to savor the experience.

"We didn't rest hardly five seconds when we got a message from Mission Control, saying get on with the next item," Armstrong said.

Armstrong said he had been a backup on Apollo 8 and that when he wasn't needed was asked if he wanted to be on the third mission down the line - what turned out to be the fateful . He said it was difficult to predict the exact mission of succeeding flights.

"We knew we had a chance at landing, but it was by no means certain," he said.

As they sat together on the stage, the astronauts joked and bantered with each other.

Astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, also flew in the flight preceding Armstrong's. He joked that his job was paint a white line to the moon that Apollo 11 could follow.

"Everyone knew Neil could land on the moon, but we didn't have a lot of confidence Neil could find it," Cernan quipped.

"I've been listening to that for 40 years, and this is not the time to change my position," Armstrong shot back, drawing laughs from the crowd.

But the first lunar landing was a serious matter for the astronauts and those in mission control. When the designated landing zone proved to be too rocky, Armstrong had to burn fuel from a diminishing supply to find a suitable place to touch down.

"I can't say it was panic, but it was a lot of attention to detail in mission control," said Charles Duke, who was at mission control at the time. "The fuel level is going down, down, down, and things are getting real tense." When there were only 30 seconds of fuel left, "it got dead silent."

Aldrin still has the felt-tipped pen he used as a makeshift switch needed to fire up the engines that lifted him and Armstrong off the moon and started their safe return to Earth.

"The pen and the circuit breaker (switch) are in my possession because we do get a few memorabilia to kind of symbolize things that happened," Aldrin told reporters earlier Friday.

Aldrin, 79, spoke at a bookstore in the Dayton suburb of Beavercreek, where he autographed copies of his new book: "Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon." He and 11 other Apollo astronauts were to be honored Friday night at the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton.

As stunningly successful as the first trip to the moon was in July 1969, a few things didn't quite go as planned, Aldrin said.

For example, there were some puzzling computer overloads, but they proved to be minor and had no effect on the landing, he said.

Following the moonwalk and the astronauts' return to the lunar module on the moon's surface, Aldrin discovered that the switch to the circuit breaker that sent electricity to the engine that would lift them off had broken off.

"If you couldn't push it in, then maybe we had a problem," Aldrin recalled.

Aldrin pulled the pen from his shoulder pocket, inserted it into the small hole where the switch should have been, and the circuit breaker held. The engines fired, and the two astronauts were on their way back.

Aldrin told the bookstore crowd that the moon is a desolate place, but magnificent in the sense that it came to symbolize what humanity is capable of achieving.

"The climax maybe of my life was landing on the with Neil," Aldrin said. "And landing is more important than walking around outside, despite what everybody wants to think. Landing opens the door to do everything else that had never been done before."

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Heavy metal frost? A new look at a Venusian mystery

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA honors Apollo moon walker Buzz Aldrin

Mar 17, 2006

NASA will honor former astronaut Buzz Aldrin for his involvement in the U.S. space program with the presentation of the Ambassador of Exploration Award.

Wide Awake on the Sea of Tranquillity

Jul 20, 2006

Neil Armstrong was supposed to be asleep. The moonwalking was done. The moon rocks were stowed away. His ship was ready for departure. In just a few hours, the Eagle's ascent module would blast off the Moon, ...

Wide Awake in the Sea of Tranquillity

Jul 15, 2009

Neil Armstrong was supposed to be asleep. The moonwalking was done. The moon rocks were stowed away. His ship was ready for departure. In just a few hours, the Eagle's ascent module would blast off the Moon, ...

Recommended for you

China to send orbiter to moon and back

40 minutes ago

China will launch its latest lunar orbiter in the coming days, state media said Wednesday, in its first attempt to send a spacecraft around the moon and back to Earth.

NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

10 hours ago

After 116 days of being subjected to extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and its sensitive instruments, ...

Cosmic rays threaten future deep-space astronaut missions

15 hours ago

Crewed missions to Mars remain an essential goal for NASA, but scientists are only now beginning to understand and characterize the radiation hazards that could make such ventures risky, concludes a new paper ...

MAVEN studies passing comet and its effects

17 hours ago

NASA's newest orbiter at Mars, MAVEN, took precautions to avoid harm from a dust-spewing comet that flew near Mars today and is studying the flyby's effects on the Red Planet's atmosphere.

How to safely enjoy the October 23 partial solar eclipse

17 hours ago

2014 – a year rich in eclipses. The Moon dutifully slid into Earth's shadow in April and October gifting us with two total lunars. Now it's the Sun's turn. This Thursday October 23 skywatchers across much ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
not rated yet Jul 18, 2009
THANKS!

I will be forever grateful for your courage to accomplish the impossible and bring back samples from the Moon.

We learned a great deal about the Moon from those samples, and even more about the Sun from the material embedded in the surfaces of lunar soils.

Again, thanks!

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA PI for Apollo Samples
http://www.omatumr.com
omatumr
not rated yet Jul 18, 2009
THE STORY OF LUNAR ROCKS AND LUNAR SOILS

LUNAR ROCKS: Analysis of lunar rocks showed convincing evidence of geologic activity that caused the loss of volatile material from the Moon and the destruction of any lunar record of the birth of the Solar System.

LUNAR SOILS: Analysis of the material implanted in the surfaces of lunar soils revealed a systematic enrichment of lightweight isotopes and convincing evidence that the Sun itself acts as a plasma diffuser that selectively moves lightweight elements and lightweight isotopes of each element into a thin surface veneer that is 91% H, 9% He, and the lightweight isotopes of Xe are systematically enriched by 3.5% per mass unit - from Xe-124 to Xe-136.

The information recorded in lunar soils story was totally unexpected, and not deciphered until 1983!

In 1996 the Galileo probe confirmed this bizarre story of mass separation of elements and isotopes in the Sun.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA PI for Apollo Samples
http://www.omatumr.com