The July 16, 1969, “The greatest adventure” in human history – the Apollo 11 flight– began when three men sat down for a breakfast of steak and eggs, and set out to take up the challenge launched by President John F. Kennedy seven years earlier.
The Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, the pilot of the lunar module Buzz Aldrin and the Command Module Pilot Mike Collins they were assigned to the first moon landing mission in January 1969, six months before launch.
All three were skilled space flight veterans, first-rate pilots, and experts on the myriad of Apollo systems, and they all had very different personalities.
Armstrong was the test pilot consumed by the experience he piloted the legendary X-15 rocket plane to the edge of space and coolly overcame emergencies in flight.
Aldrin, such as Armstrong a Korean War fighter pilot, and holds a PhD in Orbital Mechanics from MIT, as well as helping to perfect the rendezvous techniques needed by the Apollo crews.
Collins, one of the most articulate astronauts, was an equally skilled pilot who thoughtfully accepted his role as man who would remain in the lunar orbit while his most famous crewmates descended to the surface.
Given the crush of training, the pressure to carry out a daring mission under the glare of international publicity, and the stratospheric fame that came after their return to Earth, it is perhaps unsurprising that Collins described the trio as “lovable strangers“In its well regarded memoir “Carrying the Fire”.
“’Lovely strangers’ came out once, but I didn’t want it to be a criticism. It was simply a description of our training cycle. We were put together as a crew six months before disembarkation. … We had six short and very busy months. “
Collins told CBS News.
“We felt the weight of the world on our shoulders. Everyone was looking for. We were worried we were going to ruin something. We were very busy. We had a lot of work to do and little time to do it.
We were further divided into command module and LEM (lunar lander) and this made us lovable strangers. A good term. Not a bad way to describe it. “
The three “heroes” of Apollo 11
Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11
On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong rose to the surface of the moon and entered the pages of history with 11 words that immediately became synonymous with America’s victory in the Cold War space race and more in general, of the first steps of humanity away from the home planet.
“This is a small step for (one) man, a giant step for humanity”
Back to Earth with moon travel companion Buzz Aldrin and command module pilot Mike Collins, Armstrong was hailed as an international hero, receiving decorations from 17 countries along with dozens of medals, awards and other accolades.
It would forever be instantly recognizable as the “First man” to walk on the moon, a daunting level of fame he wore with an easy smile and quiet grace.
Armstrong left NASA shortly after Apollo 11 and devoted his life to teaching and private pursuits in engineering and aviation, to be admired that he made no attempt to take advantage of his fame, regularly rejecting requests for interviews and rarely appearing in public events with media coverage.
An exception came in 2005 when appeared in “60 Minutes“ in concert with the release of “First Man”, a biography authorized by historian James Hansen where, speaking with correspondent Ed Bradley, Armstrong said he didn’t deserve the stardom that came with that first step on the moon.
On that occasion said the Apollo 11 triumph was shared by 400,000 NASA employees and contractors and that in any case he and Aldrin landed on the moon at the same time. It just didn’t matter, he said, which one left the first boot print in the lunar soil.
After leaving NASA, Armstrong he taught aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati from 1971 to 1979 and then it was president of Computing Technologies for Aviation Inc., in Charlottesville, Virginia between 1982 and 1992.
In 1986, Armstrong was vice chairman of the presidential commission that investigated the 1986 Challenger disaster and its decorations include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Explorers Club Medal, the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and theHarmon International Aviation Trophy.
Armstrong died at the age of 82 on August 25, 2012, following complications from heart surgery.
Buzz Aldrin, pilot of the lunar module
A veteran Korean War fighter pilot with a PhD in orbital mechanics, Buzz Aldrin, now 89, followed in the footsteps of Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong to become the second man to walk on the moon, a cloak that rested heavily on the shoulders of a brilliant super scorer who had hoped to be the first.
Aldrin has finally embraced his role and the stardom that came with it, becoming one of the most tireless advocates of human space exploration, a familiar presence at conferences and space-related events around the world.
“Of all the kids who went to the moon, is probably the one who has remained most devoted to space exploration and how to take us further into space, how to take us to Mars. This is his passion, he wants us to go to Mars and become a multi-planetary species. “
he said Andrew Chaikin, author of “A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts”.
Forever recognized as the “second man on the moon” Apollo 11, Aldrin struggled with his place in history, enduring bouts of depression and alcoholism before moving on to become the main space ambassador of the astronaut corps and self-described “global statesman for space”.
Aldrin resigned from NASA in 1971 and attempted to continue his career in the Air Force, serving eight months as commander of the Air Force School of Aerospace at Edwards Air Force Base, California but, in March 1972, he retired from active duty. .
He revealed his battle against depression and alcohol abuse in his 1973 book “Return to Earth“, A year after he and his first wife, Jean Ann Archer, got divorced.
He married two more times and divorced his third wife in 2012, after which he legally changed his name to “Buzz” and devoted his time. to public speaking, to the defense of space and to the study of scenarios for future missions to Mars.
Michael Collins, Apollo 11 command module pilot
The often overlooked member of the Apollo 11 crew, Mike Collins, now 88, remained in orbit aboard the Columbia Command Module as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended on the first moon landing on July 20, 1969.
“Did I have the best seat on Apollo 11? No, but I was absolutely thrilled to have the job I had, ”he told CBS News in a recent interview. “It was the culmination of John F. Kennedy’s tenure. And I was proud to be part of it ”.
Veteran of a two-man Gemini space flight in 1966, Collins said flying to the moon did not bring about any profound changes in his life – “I did not find God on the moon,” he wrote in his memoir “Bringing Fire”. – but the mission has changed its perspective.
Collins has walked into space twice, becoming the third American to venture out of a spacecraft into Earth orbit.
Originally scheduled to fly aboard the Apollo 8 mission, Collins was taken out of flight due to surgery to remove a bone growth near his spine. He was reassigned to Apollo 11, taking off on July 16, 1969, with Armstrong and Aldrin. As a command module pilot, he was responsible for meeting the lunar lander after his crewmates took off from the lunar surface.
During their 21-hour stay on the surface, Collins was as lonely as possible for any explorer, especially when the orbit of the Apollo 11 command module swept the ship around the far side of the moon.
“If you do a count, the score would be 3 billion plus two on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side,” he wrote of the experience. “I feel it powerfully – not as fear or loneliness – but as awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, trust, almost exultation. I like the feeling. “
But that doesn’t mean he has any desire to return to the moon.
“I’ve been there, I’ve done it”
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