This month’s Electronic Sound celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, which took place in July 1969. The following is an extract from a 2001 interview with moonwalker Buzz Aldrin by Electronic Sound editor Push, which was published in an earlier edition of the magazine.
“It was black. Very black. There weren’t any stars. Yet the sun was bright. And we could see the Earth way up high. . .”
When I interviewed Buzz Aldrin in 2001 for a feature about space tourism in the men’s lifestyle magazine Mondo, I remember him taking a pause between these clipped sentences. It was as if he was struggling to recall the details of that famous day in 1969. The day he and Neil Armstrong became the first men to walk on the Moon.
“I can’t honestly say we were surprised by much,” continued Buzz. “We’d been in training for a long time and everything was largely how we expected it to be. The main exception was the psychological impact of the view through the window after we landed, knowing exactly what it was that we were looking at. Although we had spent lots of nights looking out at the desert, we’d always known it was a simulation. But actually being there and looking at the lunar surface? That wasn’t something we could have ever been fully prepared for. When I first stepped out, I felt a great deal of pride. I felt I’d had a great deal of fortune to be there.”
It was shortly before 3am in Britain on 21 July 1969 (late evening of 20 July in New York, early evening on the US West Coast) that Neil Armstrong made his famous “giant leap for mankind”. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin followed him down the steps of the Apollo 11 lunar module a few minutes later. The two astronauts spent a little under 24 hours on the moon surface, fixing a plaque before they left. “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 AD – We came in peace for all mankind” it read, together with the signatures of the Apollo 11 crew and the then US President, Richard Nixon.
“We had far too much work to do to be able to wax philosophical about the greater meaning of it, the poetry of it,” said Buzz. “There was an air of excitement, yes, but there was also a quietness, a tenseness which we tried to break with humour. I remember we had been instructed not to leave the hatch of the module wide open when we went out. We’d been told to close it, but not all the way. As I came through the hatch, I remember making a joke about not having a key and saying something like, ‘I’d better make sure I don’t lock it on my way out!’.
“We were also extremely aware of the fact that millions and millions of people were witnessing the event. Some were seeing it on television, some hearing it on the radio. The whole world was focused on what we were doing, yet at the same time Neil and I were totally alone, further away than any man had ever been before, trying to complete our mission and get back home. Usually when someone is far away, they’re detached. People forget about them. Not so here.
“When I got home and had some time to react, well, I’d taken a trip to the Moon and I had the memories of that. Now if you’re going to sit down to write a book about it, you need to hold onto them. But that’s not what’s going to happen. You’ll be asked to give a speech about it, time after time, over and over. You’ll be asked millions of times, ‘What did it feel like?’. Now that has more impact on the rest of your life than anything you’ve observed or experienced. Your status has changed. You are no longer just a pilot. You’ve been in space. You are no longer even just an astronaut. You’ve walked on the Moon. Not only that, you were one of the first two people to do it. Our names have entered into history. They’re on that plaque on the Moon.”