Excerpts from Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, edited by Edgar M. Cortright, NASA SP-350, Washington, DC, 1975

Neil A. Armstrong, Commander
Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., Lunar Module Pilot
Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot
Mission Objective:
Perform manned lunar landing and return mission safely.
July 16, 1969; 09:32:00 a.m., Kennedy Space Center, FL

The Apollo 11 lunar landing mission crew, pictured from left to right, Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. (NASA photo)

The splashdown May 26, 1969, of Apollo 10 cleared the way for the first formal attempt at a manned lunar landing.

The crew for Apollo 11, all of whom had already flown in space during Gemini, had been intensively training as a team for many months. The following mission account makes use of crew members’ own words, from books written by two of them, supplemented by space-to-ground and press-conference transcripts.

ALDRIN: At breakfast early on the morning of the launch. Dr. Thomas Paine, the Administrator of NASA, told us that concern for our own safety must govern all our actions, and if anything looked wrong we were to abort the mission. He then made a most surprising and unprecedented statement: if we were forced to abort, we would be immediately recycled and assigned to the next landing attempt. What he said and how he said it was very reassuring.

We were up early, ate, and began to suit up – a rather laborious and detailed procedure involving many people, which we would repeat once again, alone, before entering the LM [Lunar Module] for our lunar landing.

While Mike and Neil were going through the complicated business of being strapped in and connected to the spacecraft’s life-support system, I waited near the elevator on the floor below. I waited alone for fifteen minutes in a sort of serene limbo. As far as I could see there were people and cars lining the beaches and highways. The surf was just beginning to rise out of an azure-blue ocean. I could see the massiveness of the Saturn V rocket below and the magnificent precision of Apollo above. I savored the wait and marked the minutes in my mind as something I would always want to remember.

COLLINS: I am everlastingly thankful that I have flown before, and that this period of waiting atop a rocket is nothing new. I am just as tense this time, but the tenseness comes mostly from an appreciation of the enormity of our undertaking rather than from the unfamiliarity of the situation. I am far from certain that we will be able to fly the mission as planned. I think we will escape with our skins, or at least I will escape with mine, but I wouldn’t give better than even odds on a successful landing and return. There are just too many things that can go wrong. Here I am, a white male, age thirty-eight, height 5 feet 11 inches, weight 165 pounds, salary $17,000 per annum, resident of a Texas suburb, with black spot on my roses, state of mind unsettled, about to be shot off to the Moon. Yes, to the Moon.

ALDRIN: For the thousands of people watching along the beaches of Florida and the millions who watched on television, our lift-off was ear shattering. For us there was a slight increase in the amount of background noise, not at all unlike the sort one notices taking off in a commercial airliner, and in less than a minute we were traveling ahead of the speed of sound.

ALDRIN: A busy eleven minutes later we were in Earth orbit. The Earth didn’t look much different from the way it had during my first flight, and yet I kept looking at it. From space it has an almost benign quality. Intellectually one could realize there were wars underway, but emotionally it was impossible to understand such things. The thought reoccurred that wars are generally fought for territory or are disputes over borders; from space the arbitrary borders established on Earth cannot be seen. After one and a half orbits a preprogrammed sequence fired the Saturn to send us out of Earth orbit and on our way to the Moon.

The Most Awesome Sphere

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, that two-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 is three-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 the elusive stars have reappeared.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin steps down onto the moon's surface. (NASA photo)

COLLINS: “Apollo 11, Apollo 11, good morning from the Black Team.” Could they be talking to me? It takes me twenty seconds to fumble for the microphone button and answer groggily, I guess I have only been asleep five hours or so; I had a tough time getting to sleep, and now I’m having trouble waking up. Neil, Buzz, and I all putter about fixing breakfast and getting various items ready for transfer into the LM. [Later] I stuff Neil and Buzz into the LM along with an armload of equipment ….

I formally bid them goodbye. “You cats take it easy on the lunar surface….” “O.K., Mike,” Buzz answers cheerily, and I throw the switch which releases them. With my nose against the window and the movie camera churning away, I watch them go. When they are safely clear of me, I inform Neil, and he begins a slow pirouette in place, allowing me a look at his outlandish machine and its four extended legs. “The Eagle has wings,” Neil exults.

It doesn’t look like any eagle I have ever seen. It is the weirdest-looking contraption ever to invade the sky, floating there with its legs awkwardly jutting out above a body which has neither symmetry nor grace. I make sure all four landing gears are down and locked, report that fact, and then lie a little, “I think you’ve got a fine-looking flying machine there. Eagle, despite the fact you’re upside down.”

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

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 15, 20, 30 feet, and many smaller craters down to a diameter of 1 foot and, of course, the surface was very fine-grained. There were a surprising number of rocks of all sizes.

Apollo 11 lunar landing site (NASA photo)

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 both to 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 31/2 feet from the surface, and we were somewhat concerned that we might have difficulty in 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 felt buoyant and full of goose pimples when I stepped down on the surface. I immediately looked down at my feet and became intrigued with the peculiar properties of the lunar dust. If one kicks sand on a beach, it scatters in numerous directions with some grains traveling farther 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.

The Boy in the Candy Store

ARMSTRONG: There were a lot of things to do, and we had a hard time getting them finished. We had very little trouble, much less trouble than expected, on the surface. It was a pleasant operation. Temperatures weren’t high. They were very comfortable. The little EMU [Extravehicular Mobility Unit], the combination of spacesuit and backpack that sustained our life on the surface, operated magnificently. The primary difficulty was just far too little time to do the variety of things we would have liked. We had the problem of the five-year-old boy in a candy store.

ALDRIN: I took off jogging to test my maneuverability. The exercise gave me an odd sensation and looked even more odd when I later saw the films of it. With bulky suits on, we seemed to be moving in slow motion. I noticed immediately that my inertia seemed much greater. Earth-bound, I would have stopped my run in just one step, but I had to use three of four steps to sort of wind down. My Earth weight, with the big backpack and heavy suit, was 360 pounds. On the Moon I weighed only 60 pounds.

At one point I remarked that the surface was “Beautiful, beautiful. Magnificent desolation.” I was struck by the contrast between the starkness of the shadows and the desert-like barrenness of the rest of the surface. It ranged from dusty gray to light tan and was unchanging except for one startling sight: our LM sitting there with its black, silver, and bright yellow-orange thermal coating shining brightly in the otherwise colorless landscape. I had seen Neil in his suit thousands of times before, but on the Moon the unnatural whiteness of it seemed unusually brilliant. We could also look around and see the Earth, which, though much larger than the Moon the Earth was seeing, seemed small – a beckoning oasis shining far away in the sky.

As the sequence of lunar operations evolved, Neil had the camera most of the time, and the majority of pictures taken on the Moon that include an astronaut are of me. It wasn’t until we were back on Earth and in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory looking over the pictures that we realized there were few pictures of Neil. My fault perhaps, but we had never simulated this in our training.

Coaxing the Flag to Stand

ALDRIN: During a pause in experiments, Neil suggested we proceed with the flag. It took both of us to set it up and it was nearly a disaster. Public Relations obviously needs practice just as everything else does. A small telescoping arm was attached to the flagpole to keep the flag extended and perpendicular. As hard as we tried, the telescope wouldn’t fully extend. Thus the flag which should have been flat, had its own unique permanent wave. Then to our dismay 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 most precarious position. I dreaded the possibility of the American flag collapsing into the lunar dust in front of the television camera.

The flag at Tranquility Base was not a symbol of territorial claim, but a way to identify the nation that had carried out the first manned lunar landing. (NASA photo)

COLLINS: (On his fourth orbital pass above) “How’s it going?” “The EVA is progressing beautifully. I believe they’re setting up the flag now.” Just let things keep going that way, and no surprises, please. Neil and Buzz sound good, with no huffing and puffing to indicate they are overexerting themselves. But one surprise at least is in store. Houston comes on the air, not the slightest bit ruffled, and announces that the President of the United States would like to talk to Neil and Buzz. “That would be an honor,” says Neil, with characteristic dignity.

The President’s voice smoothly fills the air waves with the unaccustomed cadence of the speechmaker, trained to convey inspiration, or at least emotion, instead of our usual diet of numbers and reminders. “Neil and Buzz, I am talking to you by telephone from the Oval Office at the White House, and this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made … Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world. As you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth …” My God, I never thought of all this bringing peace and tranquility to anyone. As far as I am concerned, this voyage is fraught with hazards for the three of us- and especially two of us- and that is about as far as I have gotten in my thinking.

Neil, however, pauses long enough to give as well as he receives. “It’s a great honor and privilege for us to be here, representing not only the United States but men of peace of all nations, and with interest and a curiosity and a vision for the future.” … What will it be like if we really carry this off and return to Earth in one piece, with our boxes full of rocks and our heads full of new perspectives for the planet? I have a little time to ponder this as I zing off out of sight of the White House and the Earth.

ALDRIN: We had a pulley system to load on the boxes of rocks. We found the process more time-consuming and dust- scattering than anticipated. After the gear and both of us were inside, our first chore was to pressure the LM cabin and begin stowing the rock boxes, film magazines, and anything else we wouldn’t need until we were connected once again with the Columbia. We removed our boots and the big backpacks, opened the LM hatch, and threw these items onto the lunar surface, along with a bagful of empty food packages and the LM urine bags. The exact moment we tossed every thing out was measured back on Earth – the seismometer we had put out was even more sensitive than we had expected.

There was no time to sightsee. I was concentrating on the computers, and Neil was studying the attitude indicator, but I looked up long enough to see the flag fall over … Three hours and ten minutes later we were connected once again with the Columbia.

Excerpts from a TV program broadcast by the Apollo 11 astronauts on the last evening of the flight the day before splashdown in the Pacific:

COLLINS: “The Saturn V rocket which put us in orbit is an incredibly complicated piece of machinery, every piece of which worked flawlessly … All this is possible only through the blood, sweat, and tears of a number of people. First, the American workmen who put these pieces of machinery together in the factory. Second, the painstaking work done by various test teams during the assembly and retest after assembly. And finally, the people at the Manned Spacecraft Center, both in management, in mission planning, in flight control, and last but not least, in crew training. This operation is somewhat like the periscope of a submarine. All you see is the three of us, but beneath the surface are thousands and thousands of others, and to all of those, I would like to say, ‘Thank you very much.’ ”

ALDRIN: “This has been far more than three men on a mission to the Moon; more, still, than the efforts of a government and industry team; more, even, than the efforts of one nation. We feel that this stands as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown. Today I feel we’re really fully capable of accepting expanded roles in the exploration of space. In retrospect, we have all been particularly pleased with the call signs that we very laboriously chose for our spacecraft, Columbia and Eagle. We’ve been pleased with the emblem of our flight, the eagle carrying an olive branch, bringing the universal symbol of peace from the planet Earth to the Moon.

ARMSTRONG: “The responsibility for this flight lies first with history and with the giants of science who have preceded this effort; next with the American people, who have, through their will, indicated their desire; next with four administrations and their Congresses, for implementing that will; and then, with the agency and industry teams that built our spacecraft, the Saturn, the Columbia, the Eagle, and the little EMU, the spacesuit and backpack that was our small spacecraft out on the lunar surface. We would like to give special thanks to all those Americans who built the spacecraft; who did the construction, design, the tests, and put their hearts and all their abilities into those craft. To those people tonight, we give a special thank you, and to all the other people that are listening and watching tonight, God bless you. Good night from Apollo 11.”

(Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, edited by Edgar M. Cortright, NASA SP-350, Washington, DC, 1975)