Man on the moon: Buzz Aldrin remembers the "magnificent desolation"

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50 years after the moon landing, Buzz Aldrin remembers how he lived the moment

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin Jr. poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.

In this July 20, 1969 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin Jr. poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. (Neil Armstrong/NASA via AP)

Reuters | Steve Gorman

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Fifty years after his historic trip to the moon, Buzz Aldrin recalled that the first moments of the Apollo 11 launch were so pleasurable that neither he nor his two crewmates, Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins, knew with certainty when they left the ground.

Leer en español: Buzz Aldrin, el segundo hombre en pisar la Luna, recuerda la "magnífica desolación"

He remembered the frantic descent to the dusty surface of the Moon in the Eagle, a four-legged lunar module, while Armstrong took manual control of the landing craft to pilot it to a safe touchdown, with just a few seconds left to stay without fuel.

And as the second human to step on the Moon - Armstrong was the first to descend the ladder - Aldrin recalled feeling steadfast in the gravity of the Moon, which is about one-sixth of the Earth while observing the "magnificent desolation" that surrounded him.

Aldrin says that he and his crewmates were so absorbed in doing their jobs that curiously they disconnected from the transcendental thing that was the occasion, while hundreds of millions of people followed them from Earth, watching everything on live television.

"Sometimes I think the three of us missed 'the big event,'" Aldrin said during a gala on the 50th anniversary of the man's arrival on the Moon at the Ronald Reagan Library in the suburbs of Los Angeles. "While we were on the Moon, the world was getting closer, right here."

Aldrin, who is now 89 years old and one of the four living people who have walked the moon, reported on Saturday the highlight of her experiences with Apollo 11 in an interview with an organizer of the event, which was closed to the media Communication. Reuters got a transcript.

Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins being launched into space on a Saturn 5 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Read also: Here’s a fact: We went to the moon in 1969

On our way

"We did not know the moment when we left the ground, we only knew it because of the instruments and voice communications that confirmed the takeoff," he recalled. "We looked at each other and thought: 'We must be on our way'".

After reaching the lunar orbit, leaving behind Collins as a pilot of the Columbia command module, Armstrong and Aldrin descended to the lunar surface in the Eagle. Armstrong ended up piloting the ship to a safe landing after voiding a computer guidance system that directed them to a field of pebbles.

During those tense moments, Aldrin's voice was heard on the television broadcast screaming navigation data as Eagle moved down and forward on the surface to land.

"We knew we were still burning fuel, we knew what we had, and then we heard "30 seconds." If we ran out of fuel, we knew it would be a hard landing, we saw the shadow projected in front of us, that was new, not something we saw in the simulator," Aldrin said.

"I saw that the dust created a mist, not particles, but a fog that went out, dust that the engine was picking up," he said.

In the last seconds of descent, Aldrin confirmed an indicator light that showed that at least one of the probes that hung from the Eagle had touched the surface, calling out "contact light".

Seconds later Armstrong's famous radio ad for mission control in Houston arrived - "Houston, here Tranquility Base, the Eagle has landed."

The relief of the two astronauts was mutual. "Neil remembers we shook hands, and I remember putting my hand on his shoulder and smiling," Aldrin said.

Hours later, the words of Armstrong upon becoming the first human to set foot on the moon - "That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" - were immortalized. As Aldrin recalls, "It occurred to Neil, it was not on the list."

Aldrin's turn was next.

"I then got in position to come down ... came down the ladder, and jumped off, being careful not to lock the door behind me," he said, counting that "it was easy to maintain balance" as he moved across the lunar surface to set up NASA experiments.

To this day, Aldrin added, he stands firm in his own, if somewhat less famous, a phrase about the Moon: his improvised description of the lunar landscape as a scene of "magnificent desolation."

"I guess I said it because it was great," he said. "We had arrived there, and it seemed quite desolate, but it was a magnificent desolation, I think Neil also remarked the beauty."