Michael Collins and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr.

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9 Michael Collins and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr.

Excerpts from "The Eagle Has Landed," in Apollo Expeditions to the Moon

Published in 1975; available at NASA (Web site)

On July 16, 1969, the spacecraft Apollo 11 took off from Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) in Florida, sending three American astronauts into space. Three days later, two of the astronauts, Neil Armstrong (1930–) and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. (1930–), became the first men to walk on the surface of the moon. Project Apollo—which had been born out of the Mercury Project that successfully sent manned capsules into orbit—proved to be one of the most successful endeavors in the history of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

In 1958, shortly after the Soviet Union sent the satellite Sputnik 1 into orbit, President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; served 1953–61) signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established NASA. The ultimate goal of the new agency was to send a manned spacecraft to the Moon; however, NASA first had to prove it could send a human into space and return the person safely. Project Mercury was begun in 1958. Perhaps its greatest success came on February 20, 1962, when astronaut John Glenn Jr. (1921–) successfully orbited Earth three times in the space capsule Friendship 7. In 1964, bolstered by positive results from Project Mercury, NASA began Project Gemini and Project Apollo. Project Gemini provided astronauts with experience in returning to Earth from space as well as practice in successfully linking space vehicles and "walking" in space. Working in tandem with Gemini, Project Apollo (named for the Greek god of the Sun) focused on the design, development, and testing of spacecraft and related technology that would place a human on the Moon.

Project Apollo was a massive undertaking. Under the auspices of NASA, German-born rocket scientist Werhner von Braun (1912–1977) and his colleagues developed the three-stage Saturn V rocket to launch the spacecraft. (Von Braun and his team had developed the V-2 rocket for Nazi Germany during World War II and had immigrated to the United States in 1945, at the end of the war.) The Saturn operated in stages, a concept that was originated by Russian engineer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935; pronounced KAHN-stan-tyeen tsee-ohl-KAHV-skee) and tested by American physicist Robert H. Goddard (see entry). Russian rocket engineer Sergei Korolev (1907–1966) is credited with developing the staged rocket, which ignites at specified stages in order to propel an object long distances into space (see First Satellite entry). The rocket's first two stages propelled the spacecraft out of Earth's gravity into space and then dropped off. The third stage put the spacecraft into Earth orbit. The rocket then refired to send the spacecraft at a speed of 25,000 miles (40,225 kilometers) per hour toward the Moon, with the third stage dropping off along the way.

The Apollo spacecraft itself consisted of the command module, where the astronauts were stationed; the service module, which contained electrical power and fuel; and the lunar module, which, after entering the Moon's orbit, could separate from the rest of the spacecraft and carry the astronauts to the surface of the Moon. The lunar module, which stood 23 feet (7 meters) high and weighed 15 tons (13.6 metric tons), rested first on spider like legs used for landing and then on a launch platform for departure from the Moon's surface. The lunar module lacked heat shields and operated only in the vacuum of space. After launching itself from the Moon's surface, the lunar module would go into lunar orbit and dock with the command module, which would then readjust its course to head back to Earth. The service module powered the spacecraft on the return trip, falling away to reentry into Earth's atmosphere.

Men who wanted to be astronauts were put through a difficult eighteen-month training regimen, requiring them to participate in strenuous physical exercises, to attend classes, and to practice in-flight exercises. Although there were a number of qualified candidates, three men were chosen to pilot Apollo/Saturn 204: Virgil "Gus" Grissom (1926–1967), Edward White (1930–1967), and Roger Chaffee (1935–1967) trained for a mission to pilot the rocket around Earth. On January 27, 1967, the Apollo/Saturn 204 rocket caught fire on its launchpad and the crew were trapped inside. The hatch handle would not open, and all three men perished. Project Apollo was off to a terrible start and, as a result of the astronauts' deaths, the program was temporarily delayed. Safety precautions resulted from a lengthy investigation. The next five Apollo missions were unmanned flights to test the safety of the new equipment.

The Apollo program rebounded with the successful flights of Apollo 7 through Apollo 10. It was decided that Apollo 11 would attempt a Moon landing. Three astronauts were chosen: Aldrin, Armstrong, and Michael Collins (1930–). Aldrin was the only one of the three who was not a test pilot, but he had earned a doctorate in orbital mechanics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He had been the pilot of Gemini 12, during which time he set a new record for walking in space, proving that astronauts could work outside an orbiting vehicle to make repairs. Armstrong became the first civilian (nonmilitary) astronaut in NASA. He had an impressive history of testing rocket planes, such as the X-15, for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the forerunner of NASA. Armstrong's background made him a perfect fit for Project Apollo. He had been the command pilot for Gemini 8, launched on March 16, 1966, before being named to the Apollo 11 crew. Collins was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and had joined NASA as an astronaut in 1963. In 1966 he was the pilot of Gemini 10, becoming the third American to walk in space. The Apollo 11 crew therefore had a great deal of experience between them, and they seemed the perfect choices to perform a seemingly impossible mission.

On July 16, 1969, Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins boarded Apollo 11 and blasted off from Cape Kennedy (now Cape

Canaveral) in Florida. The Apollo 11 spacecraft consisted of three stages, or separate components—the Saturn 5 booster rocket, attached to the Columbia command module and the Eagle lunar landing module. The Saturn 5 booster rocket propelled the craft into space. All three astronauts rode in the Columbia command module on the trip to and from the Moon. The Eagle lunar landing module would land Armstrong and Aldrin on the Moon.

On July 19, Saturn 5 propelled the craft into lunar orbit and circled the Moon twice. The next day Aldrin and Armstrong transferred to the Eagle. After about five hours of tests, the Eagle and the Columbia separated successfully and the Eagle entered its own orbit. Within two hours Aldrin and Armstrong

began the 300-mile descent toward the Moon. At that point a yellow caution light came on in the Eagle, signaling that the computer system had became overloaded. Under continuous instructions from the mission control center in Houston, Texas, the Eagle made a gradual touchdown.

Seven hours after touchdown, at 10:56 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST), Armstrong climbed down a nine-step ladder and became the first human to set foot on the Moon. Aldrin joined him fifteen minutes later. Aldrin and Armstrong quickly adjusted to the lighter gravity, finding they could walk easily on the lunar surface. They spent nearly twenty-one hours on the Moon.

During their stay Armstrong and Aldrin installed a television camera, conducted scientific experiments, took photographs, and collected rock and soil samples. They left an American flag, a mission patch, and medals commemorating American and Russian space explorers who had died in the line of duty. They also set up a plaque that read: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. We came in peace for all mankind." The astronauts' moon walk was televised live on Earth, and President Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74) made a telephone call to the astronauts from the White House. After returning to the Eagle, they rested for eight hours. Then they launched off the surface of the Moon and, two hours later, docked with the Columbia. After unloading their equipment onto Columbia they abandoned the Eagle. The Columbia set out for Earth on its thirty-first orbit of the Moon. Sixty hours later, at 12:50 p.m. EST on July 24, the spacecraft splashed down in the sea some 950 miles (1,529 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii, only 2.7 miles (4.34 kilometers) from its destination point. The three astronauts were hailed as national heroes.

Things to remember while reading excerpts from "The Eagle Has Landed," in Apollo Expeditions to the Moon:

  • In the excerpted passages, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins recall their memories of the historic landing.
  • The astronauts' journey was being watched on television by most Americans and by people in nations all around the world. No matter where one was from, the idea that human beings could walk on the Moon and return to talk about it was an incredible achievement.
  • The lunar module seated only two people. Collins was an expert at navigation, and he remained behind in the "Tranquility" craft to help communicate with Aldrin and Armstrong and guide the lunar module to a safe landing.

Excerpts from "The Eagle Has Landed," in Apollo Expeditions to the Moon


COLLINS: Day 4 has a decidedly different feel to it. Instead of nine hours' sleep, I get seven—and fitful ones at that. Despite our concentrated effort to conserve our energy on the way to the Moon, the pressure is overtaking us (or me at least), and I feel that all of us are aware that the honeymoon is over and we are about to lay our little pink bodies on the line. Our first shock comes as we stop our spinning motion and swing ourselves around so as to bring the Moon into view. We have not been able to see the Moon for nearly a day now, and the change is electrifying. The Moon I have known all my life, thattwo-dimensional small yellow disk in the sky, has gone away somewhere, to be replaced by the most awesome sphere I have ever seen. To begin with it is huge, completely filling our window. Second, it isthree-dimensional. The belly of it bulges out toward us in such a pronounced fashion that I almost feel I can reach out and touch it. To add to the dramatic effect, we can see the stars again. We are in the shadow of the Moon now, and theelusive stars have reappeared.

As we ease around on the left side of the Moon, I marvel again at theprecision of our path. We have missed hitting the Moon by apaltry 300nautical miles, at a distance of nearly a quarter of a million miles from Earth, and don't forget that the Moon is a moving target and that we are racing through the sky just ahead of its leading edge. When we launched the other day the Moon was nowhere near where it is now; it was some 40 degrees of, or nearly 200,000 miles, behind where it is now, and yet those big computers in the basement in Houston didn't even whimper but belched out super-accurate predictions.

As we pass behind the Moon, we have just over eight minutes to go before the burn. We are super-careful now, checking and rechecking each step several times. When the moment finally arrives,

the big engine instantly springs into action and reassuringly plasters us back in our seats. The acceleration is only a fraction of one G but it feels good nonetheless. For six minutes we sit there peering intent as hawks at our instrument panel, scanning the important dials and gauges, making sure that the proper thing is being done to us. When the engine shuts down, we discuss the matter with our computer and I read out the results: "Minus one, plus one, plus one." The accuracy of the overall system is phenomenal: out of a total of nearly three thousand feet per second, we havevelocity errors in our bodyaxis coordinate system of only a tenth of one foot per second in each of the three directions. That is one accurate burn, and even Neil acknowledges the fact.

ALDRIN: The second burn to place us in closer circular orbit of the Moon, the orbit from which Neil and I would separate from the Columbia and continue on to the Moon, was critically important. It had to be made in exactly the right place and for exactly the correct length of time. If we over burned for as little as two seconds we'd be on an impact course for the other side of the Moon. Through a complicated and detailed system of checks and balances, both in Houston and in lunar orbit, plus star checks and detailed platformalignments, two hours after our first lunar orbit we made our second burn, in an atmosphere of nervous and intense concentration. It, too, worked perfectly….


At six thousand feet above the lunar surface a yellow caution light came on and we encountered one of the few potentially serious problems in the entire flight, a problem which might have caused us toabort, had it not been for a man on the ground who really knew his job….

ALDRIN: Back in Houston, not to mention on board the Eagle, hearts shot up into throats while we waited to learn what would happen. We received two of the caution lights when Steve Bales [c.1942–] the flight controller responsible for the LM [lunar module] computer activity, told us to proceed, through Charlie Duke [1935–] the capsule communicator. We received three or four more warnings but kept on going. When Mike, Neil, and I were presented with Medals of Freedom by President Nixon, Steve also received one. He certainly deserved it, because without him we might not have landed.

ARMSTRONG: In the final phases of the descent after a number of program alarms, we looked at the landing area and found a very largecrater. This is the area we decided we would not go into; we extended the downward range. The exhaust dust was kicked up by the engine and this caused some concern in that itdegraded our ability to determine not only our altitude in the final phases but also ourtranslational velocities over the ground. It's quite important not to stub your toe during the final phases of touchdown.

Eagle: 540 feet, down at 30 (feet per second) … 4 forward … 4 forward … drifting to the right a little … O.K.…

Houston: 30 seconds (fuel remaining).

Eagle: Contact Light! O.K., engine stop … descent engine command override off …

Houston: We copy you down, Eagle.

Eagle: Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

Houston: Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You've got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot….

ARMSTRONG: Once [we] settled on the surface, the dust settled immediately and we had an excellent view of the area surrounding the LM. We saw a crater surface,pockmarked with craters up to 10, 20, 30 feet, and many smaller craters down to a diameter of 1 foot tall and, of course, the surface was very fine-grained. There were a surprising number of rocks of all sizes.

A number of experts had, prior to the flight, predicted that a good bit of difficulty might be encountered by people due to the variety of strange atmospheric and gravitational characteristics. This didn't prove to be the case and after landing we felt very comfortable in the lunar gravity. It was, in fact, in our view preferable to both weightlessness and to the Earth's gravity.

When we actually descended the ladder it was found to be very much like the lunar-gravity simulations we had performed here on Earth. No difficulty was encountered in descending the ladder. The last step was about 3½ feet from the surface, and we were somewhat concerned that we might have difficulty reentering the LM at the end of our activity period. So we practiced that before bringing the camera down.

ALDRIN: We opened the hatch and Neil, with me as his navigator, began backing out of the tiny opening. It seemed like a small eternity before I heard Neil say, "That's one small step for man … one giant leap for mankind." In less than fifteen minutes I was backing awkwardly out of the hatch and onto the surface to join Neil, who, in the tradition of all tourists, had his camera ready to photograph my arrival.

I feltbuoyant and full ofgoose pimples when I stepped down on the surface. I immediately looked down at my feet and becameintrigued with the peculiar properties of the lunar dust. If one kicks sand on a beach, it scatters in numerous directions with some grains traveling father than others. On the Moon the dust travels exactly and precisely as it goes in various directions, and every grain of it lands nearly the same distance away….


[ALDRIN:] During a pause in experiments, Neil suggested that we proceed with the flag. It took both of us to set it up and it wasnearly a disaster. Public relations obviously needs practice just as everything else does. A smalltelescoping arm was attached to the flagpole to keep the flag extended andperpendicular. As hard as we tried, the telescope wouldn't fully extend. Thus the flag which should have been flat, had its ownunique permanent wave. Then to ourdismay the staff of the pole wouldn't go far enough into the lunar surface to support itself in an upright position. After much struggling we finally coaxed it to remain upright, but in a mostprecarious position. I dreaded the possibility of the American flag collapsing into the lunar dust in front of the television camera.

What happened next …

Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins returned safely to Earth and were heralded around the world as heroes. The Apollo program continued, although it never accomplishing anything to rival the first Moon landing. However, NASA's finest hour occurred when Apollo 13, launched in 1970, experienced major difficulties in flight. The oxygen supply was greatly reduced, carbon dioxide was seeping into the command module, and one side of the craft was virtually destroyed. The three astronauts aboard the spacecraft—James A. Lovell (1928–), John L. Swigert Jr. (1931–1982), and Fred W. Haise Jr. (1933–)—were guided home by the ingenious work of NASA scientists on the ground. The last Apollo mission was Apollo 17, which visited the Moon in December 1972.

After Apollo 17 the United States did not undertake any other moon flights. Interest in further moon exploration steadily waned in the early 1970s, so NASA concentrated its efforts on the Large Space Telescope (LST) project. Initiated in 1969, the LST was an observatory (a structure housing a telescope, a device that observes celestial objects) that would continuously orbit Earth. An immediate result of the LST project was a plan for a space shuttle, a reusable vehicle that would launch the LST into orbit. The U.S. space shuttle program officially began in 1972, and over the next three decades five shuttles were built and operated by NASA. In 2004 President George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–; see entry) made a

speech in which he announced a major revitalization of NASA, which included a return to the Moon.

Did you know …

  • As the astronauts flew away from the Moon in the Eagle, Aldrin looked over and saw the American flag fall down. As there is no wind on the Moon, the flag most likely remains on the surface.
  • Armstrong's statement, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," is one of the most famous quotes in American history.
  • Armstrong left the lunar module first, taking the crew's only camera with him. Armstrong kept the camera most of the time, so a majority of the pictures taken on the Moon feature Aldrin. Aldrin is quoted as saying he regrets this fact, but he and Armstrong had never rehearsed who would take pictures when.

Consider the following …

  • Armstrong was the first human being ever to set foot on the Moon. While he and Aldrin were on the surface, they played like children, seeing how far they could jump and collecting the most unusual rocks they could find. If you were the first person on the Moon what would you most likely do?
  • When Apollo 11 broadcast from the Moon, millions of people watched at home on their television sets. Yet, only a year later, when the Apollo 13 mission was broadcast from outer space, no major television network carried the event live. Network executives argued that by this time the American public regarded a flight to the Moon to be "routine." Do you think that after the first Moon landing NASA should have given traveling to the Moon higher public priority? Why or why not? Should NASA still be making regular trips there?
  • If you had a chance to go to the Moon, would you go? If you could do one thing on the Moon—such as hit a baseball, throw a Frisbee, or conduct an experiment—what would you do? Explain your ideas.

For More Information


Armstrong, Neil, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin. The First Lunar Landing: 20th Anniversary. Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1989.

Chaikin, Andrew. A Man on the Moon. New York: Time-Life, 1969.

Collins, Michael and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. "The Eagle Has Landed." In Apollo Expeditions to the Moon. Edited by Edgar M. Cortright. Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1975; http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/SP-350/cover.html (accessed on August 9, 2004).

Kranz, Gene. Failure Is Not an Option: Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.


Folger, Tim, Sarah Richardson, and Carl Zimmer. "Remembering Apollo." Discover (July 1994), p. 38.

Web Sites

"Apollo 11: 30th Anniversary." NASA.http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/ap11ann/introduction.htm (accessed on August 9, 2004).

"Apollo 13." Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA.http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/apollo13info.html (accessed on August 9, 2004).

"Buzz Aldrin." Johnson Space Center, NASA.http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/aldrin-b.html (accessed on August 9, 2004).

Lloyd, Robin. "Apollo 11. Experiment Still Returning Results." CNN. July 21, 1999. http://www.cnn.com/TECH/space/9907/21/apollo.experiment/ (accessed on August 9, 2004).

"Neil Armstrong." Johnson Space Center, NASA.http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/armstrong-na.html (accessed on August 9, 2004).

Phillips, Tony. "What Neil & Buzz Left on the Moon." Science@NASA.http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2004/21jul_llr.htm (accessed on August 9, 2004).

Two-dimensional: Having two dimensions; lacking depth.

Three-dimensional: Giving the illusion of depth or varying distances.

Elusive: Hard to pin down.

Precision: Exactness.

Paltry: Meager or measly.

Nautical mile: Length of distance used for sea and air navigation.

Velocity: Quickness of motion; speed.

Axis: Straight line about which a body or geometric figure rotates.

Coordinate: Set of numbers used in specifying the location of a point on a line, on a surface, or in space.

Alignments: Positions or arrangements.

Abort: Terminate prematurely.

Crater: A bowl-shaped depression around a volcano or on the Moon.

Degraded: Reduced to standards far below the normal level.

Translational: Transformation of coordinates in which the new axes are parallel to the old ones.

Pockmarked: Marked with depressions or pits.

Buoyant: Cheerful.

Goose pimples: Tiny bumps that develop around body hair as a reaction to excitement or fear.

Intrigued: Interested, curious.

Telescoping: Sliding or causing to slide inward or outward in overlapping sections, as the tube sections of a small hand telescope.

Perpendicular: At right angles; in this instance, at a right angle to the horizon.

Unique: One of a kind.

Dismay: Sudden perplexity.

Precarious: Dangerous, unsafe.

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Michael Collins and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr.

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