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     Interview with Buzz Aldrin, engineer and astronaut, and lunar module pilot
    on Apollo 11, part 2 of 4
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My contribution to the Gemini rendezvous was to arrange so that the normal rendezvous took place in a way so that if something failed, you could take over. And not only that, but we could check on the performance of the primary guidance system. So throughout the intercept, we made calculations, manual calculations based upon measurements that could be made from the cockpit of the motion that was being followed throughout the intercept. And we trained all the crews from the very first rendezvous, and I helped devise the training procedures. So every crew did this, but it wasn't until the very last mission that any of the major components of rendezvous, the radar, the computer, or the inertial platform, failed and caused the crew to have to make use of these calculations until our mission.
And what we had happened was that the computer would track the number of times and would come up with a solution for intercept. Well, the radar had dropped out as we were approaching this one time, and we knew we wanted to initiate the intercept, but it didn't have a solution. But we knew what the normal solution was, and we made some calculations, and we executed the normal solution. But then since the computer didn't know that we had done that, and that it had picked that solution, we had to continue with the backup calculations. But at the same time, the ground tracking was coming up with their solution, and they were all relatively close. So at least we did get to verify that onboard calculations could be done and could execute. We sort of knew that, but it hadn't actually been tested, and I was very fortunate to feel that at least on my flight, I got to execute what we had trained so much for.
Would you, did you pull out a slide rule into paper and go to work? No, the solutions were all, as part of the normal procedures, we had forms and little charts to make the calculations on, and it was readily apparent there. I did carry a slide rule with me in case we needed to carry out some other kind of calculations. We could have, of course, communicated to the ground and asked them to calculate what it was. So it was more or less of a souvenir that I carried on the flight. Okay, cut. You're thinking about it. Who both said basically that docking was as simple as parking a car in a garage, would you agree with that? Yes, except parking a car in a garage. The garage is not moving, and the car can only move in really two dimensions. The third dimension up and down isn't available. That's what tends to complicate things a little bit. But I know exactly what I was talking about, and I can remember just sort of in a fantasy
way, being in my swimming pool and having the diving board extend over, and I'd get on my back and move slowly like this, looking up at the stars at night, but I could see that what I needed to do is to swim underneath the diving board. It was sort of like executing a docking maneuver, and there were a certain amount of similarities in it. That's a great way to practice. Now, when you first, you talked about how you got the study that you did at MIT. When you first got, especially you, when you first got into the astronaut program, there was very much a test pilot culture, and while you were pilot, you were not a test pilot, did you sense the difference when you got in? Was there a division between the guys who were the test pilot, right stuff kind of guys in the pilot culture? There was a distinct difference. The test pilot, white scarf, I know it all, and were the commanders of the spacecraft. There certainly was that aspect, and it was kind of a macho, I'm in charge of things.
These pilots are extremely accurate pilots in executing one phase or another and recording all the data, and normally a pilot doesn't get that precise in any of his flying. I learned this after the space program when I commanded the test pilot school. I'd never been through any of the training before, but they asked someone who had at least flown the space to command the test pilot school. It wasn't a very wise choice, I don't think, for my career perspective, and that's sort of what led me to decide that continuing on in their first career, when that was the best kind of thing that they could offer me, it wasn't really all that promising. But anyway, there was a test pilot mentality, and there was a fighter pilot competition between the Navy and the Air Force, that I think a lot of people may say, well, it's
very healthy competition, but I think in many ways there was a vindictiveness kind of behind it and a little bit of a meanness, a gotcha attitude, and trying to put the other guy down. I don't think it was really too healthy and too professional. It may have gotten a lot of snickers and a lot of applause from various people, but I think it was carried out, of course, in the spirit of fun, but I think it was also, how can you find out somebody's weakness and then kind of push that weakness? Well if you come in as an egghead academic who understands rendezvous and they don't know that, then you create kind of a resentment from the people that they don't want to be told something that someone else knows that they don't know. And I found that that made it kind of difficult to get along with other people when there was that somewhat resentment to be helped from the outside in an area that they didn't
quite understand. I didn't understand a lot of the things that the test pilots maybe knew and understood and were able to perform in ways that maybe I didn't have some of those skills, but I didn't feel that that was a reason for trying to put the other person down. I thought that was really uncalled for. Well you had a PhD, Phi Beta Kappa, you know, and very proud of that stuff. Did you feel like not invented here attitude was going on at points? Not invented here attitude exists today among big corporations, among NASA. What I've been able to do is to carry on this relative motion business and to look for better strategies of going to and from the moon. And I found that if one could have repeating trajectories where you go back and forth that this might have some advantage and whereas for moving from the surface of the earth to
the surface of the moon it may not have a clear advantage over the normal way of getting on to something and then maybe rendezvousing and landing with something else or going in a more direct way. But in going to Mars I found that it's very useful strategy and can be very sustaining because it gives you something that you can use over and over again for 15, 20, 30 years the way we use transportation systems for long periods of time and this can result in tremendous savings. And the cycling orbits that I've developed have had essentially zero assistance from the NASA people and zero assistance from any corporations because it's not invented here idea. It's a strategy that a number of people admire but they're not willing to put their time and effort into helping someone else's idea and I think that's really a shame and it's called not invented here.
The, when, when, give me a footage count, when Slayton, there was a time and it's been written about, I wrote about it in my book and other people have talked about it. I think there was a crew assigned to Apollo 7 or at least the first Apollo mission and maybe there was consideration for a crew for the next mission and about that time, Deeks Slayton brought in about 18 people. Maybe a few more into a room and told us that he didn't know how the rotation of missions and crews were going to happen but as far as he was concerned, anyone that was in that room was capable of being on the first landing mission. It was just going to happen in a normal rotation sequence. And of course those, the normal crew sequence was that you had a prime and a backup crew for a mission that was coming up immediately and then you usually had two more crews assigned
so that when the backup crew for this mission, after the prime crew flew, there were already crews assigned to the next two so the backup could become the primary for the third mission. So as the numbers went, Apollo 7, we, Neil and I were in the backup crew for Apollo 8, then there was Apollo 9 and 10 that had crews already assigned. So from the backup to Apollo 8, we would be in line to fly as a primary crew for Apollo 11 unless there were some other circumstances that came along. And the way that the missions were lined up with a C mission being a command module in Earth orbit, a D mission being a lunar module in Earth orbit, an E mission was somewhat of a repeat of the D mission, it was just another test of the landing craft in Earth orbit. Then F mission would be taking the lander and the command module to the moon and doing
an exercise with the lander but not landing. The G mission would then be the culmination, it would be the final landing on the moon. So those were the basic missions, C, D, E, F and G. So there was a C mission and Apollo 7 was scheduled to fly that one and they flew that. But as they were getting ready to do that, the D mission with its crew was going to fly the lunar module in Earth orbit but the lunar module was not available. So that crew slid to the next flight and the E mission crew which was Borman Anders and Collins at that time were moved into the next mission, a C prime mission. But by that time Collins had dropped out and level from the backup crew with Neil and
myself moved in to fill in Collins's position. So that was going to be a C prime mission. The crew that was going to fly the first lunar module was assigned to Apollo 9 and once it flew after Apollo 8 was successful, Apollo 9 was successful in Earth orbit. It was considered that it wasn't necessary or we didn't really have the time to fly another lunar module test in Earth orbit, we could advance to the F mission which was the test of the lunar module and a sort of a dress rehearsal. So Apollo 10 flew that and then Apollo 11, of course with the success of 9 and 10, we'd already been announced that we would be the first potential lunar landing crew on Apollo 11 and that was before 9 and 10 flew. So it was a program of assignments based upon a very success oriented sequence of events.
Did it matter to you? I mean were you excited about having that first shot and being the first on the moon? Well, there was a period of time where we weren't sure after Apollo 8 flew whether it was going to be confirmed what we suspected and I felt that that was just a period of time that had elapsed. It was many years later that I guess I heard or read somewhere and it was referred to as being in Frank's book that the mission of landing on the moon was offered to Apollo 8 crew when they came back and that they turned it down. I knew nothing about this and when I talked about it to a level later he said yes Frank turned it down but he didn't ask level and enders who would have been on the first lunar landing crew which would have quite a bit upset the sequence and I don't know it obviously would have disappointed us tremendously because we would have been assigned to a later crew.
There are a lot of ways of guessing as to what might have been in somebody's mind whether people actually thought that we'd ever successfully carry out the 7, 8, 9 and 10 missions so that 11 could land I think a lot of people felt well certainly something will go wrong in Apollo 12 will get to be the first landing of course that was an all navy crew and there were people who said well they wanted to be the first anyway. So when you finally knew okay you're up this is going to be it did you feel like you had enough time to prepare there were only like four months were you really sure that you were going to be the first crew. Did you was everything jammed into? Well we were assigned the Apollo 11 mission in mid-January and it wasn't until mid-July that we were going to fly so we had about a full six months but then of course it wasn't until March that the lunar module was tested successfully in Apollo 9 and of course then it advanced our chances to be the first landing crew a good bit.
I think that as we moved along we knew that many things had to be done but if the LEM proved out successful in its tests certainly you could continue to fly it many many times before actually executing the landing but why not move toward it and I don't think we really had any concern that we were being pushed ahead too much. We knew that we wanted to execute that landing and we could do it within the time period that we were given we knew everyone else wanted to see it happen during the year 1969. So I don't I didn't sense that we felt we were rushed at all when it came about a month before the mission maybe it was even less than that because it might have been timed with the detection of the Soviet big rocket that was standing by for launch and it was about two or maybe three weeks before that they tried to launch it and it failed and then
that gave us more breathing room at that point. They could have given us another month then but we were asked were we ready to go and we all kind of agreed yes we were ready to go at the schedule time in July. Now with all the preparation we had to fly in the vehicle and so forth what about I don't talk about geology because that comes in here how were taking me back a bit when the geologist first started looking for seats on board we talked about the astronaut test pilot culture how did they receive the geologist scientist the people who would come on as scientist astronauts the famous hyphenated astronauts what was the reception to them. Well I don't know as I want to comment and I certainly didn't consider myself a science astronaut I wasn't a test pilot but I certainly had combat I demonstrated my abilities by shooting down bigs that I was as good a pilot as the rest of my just didn't have been
formally through their test pilot training. There was an attitude that looked down maybe on the scientists as being passengers or experimenters and not the elite in the pilot category that may still exist today but I'm not quite that quite that familiar with it because many of the pilot people from the military services are assigned as mission specialists but they don't usually cross that line and become commanders or second and command. The geologists would like to have put a scientist on a mission and Jack Schmidt was the logical person who really wasn't any other who was that qualified and he worked very closely training the crews in the dress rehearsal landing in Apollo 10 and brief them on a geology to be looking for and even before the landing and he trained us a good bit.
I felt in our mission that we were describing things but maybe in a superficial way if you really want a geology you don't send a pilot as an observer who's then going to make a draw conclusions I think you have to carefully examine the specimens take a lot of pictures don't rely on the on the spot valuations and judgments they're kind of window dressing they're public relations it's saying the right thing to the right people and you sound like you know what you're talking about. I felt that there was an awful lot of that going on we were doing geology to be able to get across the point that we understood what we were doing we had a good grasp but we were not really on the spot observers and even a very trained geologist I think needs to be cautious about saying giving on the spot observations I think there are many things that you can draw conclusions about but you need that ultimate test and verification
by other people confirming what it is. Well I'll go back to the landing but since we're on that subject when you step down and start looking around you identify one rock and you said oh that looks like biotite and you got some reaction from the geology community tell me about that what did you call it and why. I don't know why that word popped into my mind but I saw something that looked like it had a shiny surface to it and I thought well I'll call it that I also said oh look there's a purple rock and what I wanted to say was something so absurd I mean you would never find a purple rock maybe the more absurd one would be a green one but there are some minerals that are greenish color but not very many are purple but I did see something that had a just a faint suggestion of a little color to it and I said oh there's a purple rock but it was more a feeble attempt at being a little bit humorous the same way when I was backing down the ladder I said well I'll be very careful not to close the door and
make sure I don't lock it on my way out. How did the geology community respond to your description of biotite on the moon what did they say? Oh lucky I could care less and they probably say well once I know about geology because biotite of course is something that's a sedimentary I guess I'm going to get myself in the deeper trouble probably well I don't see that's why you can't send an astronaut to do a geologist job okay let's break for a second we're doing the fun have another sip better than any I don't know what what you could attribute that to Frank was a great aircraft commander spacecraft commander the rest of us got in and trained hard for the mission it wasn't always friendly there was growling amongst us academic differences of opinion
Frank usually won but we worked hard together then and see a lot of each other now Frank and I fly vintage warbirds a lot in air shows and we see Jim periodically I think I think one thing to emphasize a little bit was in this era all of us were dedicating our lives and everything to a mission I think that's hopefully lacking in today's environment but that was an important we knew exactly what we were supposed to do we got along personally and professionally but we were willing to subordinate everything to make me certain I don't know about you few people but I know my greatest concern was that we would do something bad the crew would foul out that was the major concern and these two people are the best in their positions and we've done three head slates the astronaut press conference with the first games we go around the backside of the movement and what if you could reflect
on that first trip around the backside you would cut off from earth what was that like I remember during our simulator training that Frank was in my view in ordinarily concerned about the precise moment that we would leave his radio contact with the earth the computers could compute all this and of course this was the first time anybody had sent a spacecraft out to those distances to interact with this other large body of the moon and we were a little worried that maybe the computer wouldn't quite get it and we would not quite miss it and so one of Frank's I believe key measures of the success of the computer program was whether indeed it could predict the exact moment of radio cut off so that was my big job was to note the the predicted time and compare it to the actual time well sure enough when the countdown came as we were just going around the shoulder of the moon the
radio went dead and Frank looked over and said boy you says that really makes me feel good and I said look Frank those guys are our buddies they're going to pull the plug on the radio at that moment no matter where we are well it was a certainly a magic moment for everyone on earth when you read from the Bible was that as magic for you and a spiritual for you well it was a certainly a solemn time and it was an idea that Frank threw connections that he had generated I personally didn't do it so much as a religious message but as a message to help underscore the significance to mankind of this first away from our home planet flight and the first verses of Genesis though it's in the in the Bible the Old Testament not only appeals to Christians and Jews but is a fundamental element of many religions
and beliefs and though I personally didn't think the earth was created in seven days nonetheless I thought these were sufficiently somber words to give a sort of a punch to the emotional solar plexus of all those people listening Frank being the commander is a little afraid to answer that question oh no actually all of what you said at the time it was very cutting edge technology the computer which was hardwired didn't have software floppy disk or laptops or anything like that at the time but it was a very intricate and a very reliable computer which we kept learning more about it as the program went on the technology this vehicle
was a basically a 1950s 60s technology design and the shuttle of course is several steps beyond that but this was obviously in retrospect more than adequate for the challenge of the day the challenge was very great again as Frank said this was a battle in the cold war the object was not to get to the moon the object was embarrassed the Soviet unions by going to the moon and today that mission and threat doesn't exist and so NASA you could debate the way they're going about it but NASA is trying to carry on an exploration program in an earth orbital space space station program that unfortunately doesn't have the public support to the degree that the cold war did in the American population right or wrong
that was that was the big difference let me put a little of my own slant on my
To the Moon
Raw Footage
Interview with Buzz Aldrin, engineer and astronaut, and lunar module pilot on Apollo 11, part 2 of 4
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WGBH Educational Foundation
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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Program Description
This remarkably crafted program covers the full range of participants in the Apollo project, from the scientists and engineers who promoted bold ideas about the nature of the Moon and how to get there, to the young geologists who chose the landing sites and helped train the crews, to the astronauts who actually went - not once or twice, but six times, each to a more demanding and interesting location on the Moon's surface. "To The Moon" includes unprecedented footage, rare interviews, and presents a magnificent overview of the history of man and the Moon. To the Moon aired as NOVA episode 2610 in 1999.
Raw Footage Description
Buzz Aldrin, engineer and former NASA astronaut, is interviewed about his career, and the test-pilot and astronaut corps cultures. Aldrin also explains various Apollo mission objectives, and discusses preparations for Apollo 11 and his misidentification of a rock as "biotite". The final five minutes is a segment from the interview with Jim Lovell, Frank Borman, and Bill Anders, and includes discussions of the crew's focus during training, the decision to read from Genesis on their Christmas Eve Broadcast, and the Apollo 8 spacecraft technology.
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Raw Footage
American History; Gemini; apollo; moon; Space; astronaut
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Interviewee: Aldrin, Buzz, 1930-
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
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Identifier: 195214 (barcode)
Format: Digital Betacam
Generation: Original
Duration: 0:27:08
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Chicago: “NOVA; To the Moon; Interview with Buzz Aldrin, engineer and astronaut, and lunar module pilot on Apollo 11, part 2 of 4 ,” 1998-00-00, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 19, 2024,
MLA: “NOVA; To the Moon; Interview with Buzz Aldrin, engineer and astronaut, and lunar module pilot on Apollo 11, part 2 of 4 .” 1998-00-00. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 19, 2024. <>.
APA: NOVA; To the Moon; Interview with Buzz Aldrin, engineer and astronaut, and lunar module pilot on Apollo 11, part 2 of 4 . Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from