Jeffrey Kluger is the general editor of Time magazine and co-author of "Apollo 13":
On July 16, 1969, "the greatest adventure" in the history of man, as Walter Cronkite of CBS News described it, began when three men sat down for a breakfast of meat and eggs.
Then they set off to face the challenge posed by President John F. Kennedy seven years earlier when he said: "We chose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
Neil Armstrong was the commander of the Apollo 11 mission; Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin was the pilot of the lunar module, and Michael Collins was the pilot of the command module.
Kluger asked Collins, now 88, "How did their very different personalities complement each other?
"We never face each other," he replied. "I got along very well with Neil and Buzz, I go back almost daily to John F. Kennedy, I felt that we were fulfilling, if we are successful, his mandate, and I was delighted to be part of everything."
When the Saturn V rocket took off that morning, Cronkite announced his fellow commentator, astronaut Wally Shirra, "Oh, look, it looks good, Wally!"
And it remained "in good condition" during the 239,000-mile journey in orbit around the moon, until the time the men separated: Collins remained in lunar orbit in the command module, Armstrong and Aldrin headed to the surface lunar in the lunar module, known as the eagle.
But when it was time to land, they had to improvise a bit.
Armstrong, who died seven years ago, a rare interview with Ed Bradley of "60 minutes" in 2005. He recalled: "Our autopilot was taking us to an area that was not good for landing.
"It was a very large crater, the size of a football stadium with steep slopes in the crater covered with very large rocks the size of automobiles, that was not the kind of place I wanted to try to make the first landing."
The television audience around the world was watching an animated simulation of the approach and landing, following the original flight plan that showed when the lunar module was. supposed to land. But as the critical moment came, he still had not touched land.
Bradley asked Armstrong: "So, what did you do?"
"Well, we took over manually and flew further west for about half a mile, where the lunar surface was much smoother and we found a nice place," he said.
"You do not have much fuel to do that," Bradley said.
"No, we run out of fuel," Armstrong replied.
The world held its breath, until Armstrong's voice was heard: "Houston, the base of tranquility here, the Eagle has landed."
The Mission Control responded: "Roger Tranquility, we copied you on the ground, we have a lot of about to turn blue, we are breathing again, thank you very much."
To which Cronkite added, "Oh, boy!"
Armstrong recalled: "And finally we landed without anyone knowing exactly how much fuel, some estimates have it in 20 seconds. [worth]. "
Then, the moment that everyone expected: the first walk of humanity on the moon. But who would take that first historic step? The spacewalk protocol in previous flights required the junior officer to leave first, while the commander remained on board.
The commander in this case was Armstrong; Aldrin was the smallest man on the moon.
With 89 years of age and few appearances in public, Aldrin also spoke with "60 Minutes" in 2005. He said: "The problem was that among the people who were writing the procedures, they knew that it was a kind of & # 39; hot potato & # 39 ;. & # 39;
"I went into Neil's office and said, "Neil, you're not making a decision about it. And obviously I feel that I have to represent a position, and I feel that you have to do it. But we need a decision on this, to be able to move forward & # 39; He said: "I understand the historical significance of what is happening, and I will not discard it."
"Then, he wanted it," Bradley said.
"He clearly did, yes."
Bradley asked Armstrong: "Was it important that you were the first to get out of the vehicle?"
"Not for me!" answered. "From my point of view, we both arrived at the same time."
Armstrong said that in the end, it all boiled down to where the two men were sitting in the Eagle: "Certainly, the direction in which the hatch was opened was an important part of that determination," he said.
Armstrong's first words on the surface, now immortal, were at that moment a bit confusing. "That is a small step for man, a great leap for humanity. "
Bradley asked Armstrong: "Did he drop the & # 39; a (small step for man) or was lost in the transmission?"
"Well, you've listened to me for a while here and you've heard me release many syllables," he said. "Therefore, I certainly can not say that I did not drop one there, or I could have done it wrong!"
Then, it was Aldrin's turn to go down the stairs. Kluger asked him in an interview for Time magazine two years ago about his first words: "Magnificent desolation."
"You could not call it beautiful," Aldrin said. "It was a pile of dust in a bad state that had not changed in thousands, 100,000 years … You could not find any place on Earth that was so sterile, lifeless."
Armstrong and Aldrin set out to raise an American flag. It turned out to be easier said than done.
Armstrong said, "[The flagpole] I would go around so far, and then it seemed like I was just hitting the rock. Therefore, we were hitting on it. And finally we have it to be upright. "
As for Michael Collins, he stayed in orbit, checking with NASA. As I circled the opposite side of the moon, I would be completely out of touch. Even when he was flying over his Apollo crewmates, he could not see what the rest of the world was seeing.
Kluger asked Collins: "Do you regret at all that you did not close those final 60 miles and left the starting traces of Collins on the moon?"
"Did not answer. "I would be a liar or a fool if I said I had the best seat in Apollo 11. But I felt it was an important part of that, when I was behind the moon, I later discovered that they described me as, oh, alone, alone, alone. happy there, I had my own little domain, and actually, when I came down and touched the moon, uh, that was not on my list. "
While walking on the surface, Armstrong said: "It has a completely austere beauty, it's like a lot of the desert in the United States, it's different, but it's very beautiful here."
When Armstrong and Aldrin carried out their scientific experiments, they seemed to be having fun. Shirra said: "They're having a lot more excitement than we anticipated, they're playing around!"
After two hours and 31 minutes walking on the moon, it was time to go home. Aldrin jumped the ladder, and then, the first man on the moon became the second to leave. The lunar module took off.
Collins said he was delighted to meet them: "I was about to kiss Buzz Aldrin on the forehead, and I decided maybe not, no, I think history books would not like that!" It was a wonderful moment in time. "
It took just under three days to return to Earth and fall into the Pacific.
"I think it was best to see those three beautiful parachutes open and know that we were going to jump, but successfully. A successful splat! "Said Collins.
The astronauts went directly into three weeks of quarantine. But still his mission was not over. As Aldrin recalled, "The kind of public affairs said:" Well, we have some things to do, there's a trip around the world, and you do not have to go if you do not want to. "My God. (Laughs) How can someone say that?
Around the world, 650 million people had observed every step of their journey. Now the world wanted to see, in person, the first men to walk on the moon.
Collins said: "I was stupefied, I thought when we went to a place they would say:" Well, congratulations, you Americans finally did it. "And instead, unanimously, the reaction was: & # 39; We did it, we humans finally left this planet, we did it. "
For more information:
- Apollo 11 (nasa.gov)
- Apollo 11 (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)
- "Apollo 13" by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger (Mariner), in hardcover, paperback and e-book formats, available through Amazon
Story produced by Alan Golds.