thumbnail of NOVA; To the Moon; 
     Interview with Buzz Aldrin, engineer and astronaut, and lunar module pilot
    on Apollo 11, part 1 of 4
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
Yeah, I think it'd be a- Engineering-wise, how important was Gemini to getting us to the moon in the day? Well, I guess a lot of people might think that Gemini was kind of a substitute program because Apollo wasn't quite ready after we'd gotten all we could at a Mercury, but really it was essential in the major objectives that we set out to perform in Gemini. One was to demonstrate that the life support system could support people in an outside environment, outside the spacecraft. So we needed to demonstrate spacewalking with life support systems that were certainly a step above just being connected to the spacecraft system. We needed to demonstrate sort of self-contained systems, and we approached that and also experimented with the potential of maneuvering units and backpacks. It was one of my great disappointments not to be able to fly that Air Force astronaut maneuvering unit,
and I certainly- my big regret is that I wasn't able to convince people that I knew what I was doing well enough to be able to activate that backpack, and I thought it was really kind of sad that NASA canceled that major experiment, and then on the last mission, Gemini 12, Gem level and I were able to demonstrate very successful use of foot restraints and tethers and other things to be able to do difficult tasks, spacewalking. Well, let me interrupt you that because I want to go on with that. I've interviewed Sernin and Dick Gordon and people like that. They had a lot of trouble out there. Well, what did you do differently? What did Buzz Aldrin understand that these Navy guys didn't understand? Well, I think Buzz Aldrin was a scuba diver, and he had experienced working with currents that tend to move you in a direction that you may not want to move, and you have to go with the current,
and you don't try and fight the current. You can get very tired pushing yourself against something, and I became convinced that even though your body has a big mass, if you want to move it, you move it very slowly and very delicately, and if you're in the right position, you just don't let that get disturbed, and you make sure that you have good leverage before you try and exert some kind of moment or twisting. Did you watch Sernin and Gordon out there? Were you watching the film and saying they're just doing it all wrong? Well, no, I think certain things come naturally. You decide that you're going to move in a certain way, and you need leverage, so you just don't allow yourself to get out of position. It's very easy to get frustrated because you can't see what you're doing, and I think in one case, one of the guys got all worked up because he was trying to move a visor. Well, it's very easy when things aren't quite working to get frustrated and
try and, you know, impatient because the time is ticking on and trying to do whatever it is, and you just figure that, well, if I exert a little bit more effort, maybe I can get this thing done, but that's the worst thing you do. You need patience, and you need to move slowly. And, of course, at the same time that I was experiencing the advantages of underwater training in neutral buoyancy, why we were developing the foot restraints, and we convinced ourselves that Velcro and the bottom of shoes was just not going to work because it could be twisted and torn off, and just little hoops your feet could slip out, even if you candid them at an angle, so that, you know, like riding in a horseback, you put your feet this way, and then put your heels in, gives you some kind of leverage. I mean, that's an example of using this small amount of leverage to keep you from slipping out. Let me ask you, how did you feel outside the spacecraft? Knowing that it was going to be a challenge, did you feel you performed well? Did you feel comfortable
out there? How did you feel? I felt that it was a piece of cake outside, just moving very slowly. There was no challenge. As long as I took my time and could see what I was doing, visibility is very important, and the space suit is rather cumbersome, and it tends to obstruct your vision. And if you try and find something with bulky gloves and you can't quite get it, that can be frustrating too. And again, you need to understand that it may be floating around somewhere instead of hanging down, and it just takes a little bit of patience and understanding. Now, you did your PhD thesis on orbital mechanics. Why? Were you anticipating? I went to MIT as a fighter pilot, because I felt I needed more than just great skills as a pilot. I was a good pilot, certainly well above average. I shot down two migs while I was in Korea,
and I was on the gunnery team with Ed White, and I could shoot gunnery as well as he could, and he got into the astronaut program. He was a test pilot, but I figured, well, you know, I needed a little bit more education. My father had gotten his doctors to be at MIT, so that was an option then for an Air Force graduate program, and they offered courses in astronautics and an instrumentation. Well, I didn't want to specialize in the electronics of feedback control systems and instrumentation, so I selected the astronautics, and really the only difference was that we had more interesting navigation in the celestial environment of going between one object in space and the orbital mechanics, the equations of motion that derived the conic trajectories, and then from there, you'd go through mechanics and mathematics, and of course I'd done very well in high school in Montclair, New Jersey that prepared me very
well for West Point, and I stood at the very top of my class, especially in mathematics. So that came rather easy for me to understand it, and all of that appealed to me in a sense that, you know, I felt that the idea of understanding navigation in a celestial environment was significant for things that would be happening in the future. I came to this background at MIT with astronomical guidance there and computers, but I was a fighter pilot, and I understood intercepting other aircraft for different types of fighter pilot maneuvers. So when I put all of this combination together and looked at some options for me to study and specialize in, three things came to mind. One was pilot control of reentry spacecraft. That had a lot of problems with it because the gas flow, the gas dynamics of heat exchange and heat entry
was very complicated, and I didn't really see where a person in control could exert that much difference to bring in a guidance trajectory for a precision landing in the reentry environment. So what did you go for? I saw another option that I could study which would be landing people on the moon. We had decided to do that by that time, or it looked like we would. I couldn't see where the Air Force had a significant mission in landing on the moon, so I felt, well, there's so many uncertainties about that. I won't worry about that, but certainly the idea of joining together spacecraft is going to be something that we need to do and it's like an intercept, and maybe if I try and understand how that is being studied now and put my approach
to it, that that could be of significance to me. When I look back on it and realize that in 1960 and 61, when I looked for subjects to pick on, and that's what I chose, I really couldn't have picked a better area to become somewhat of a sea to the pants expert. And that's what it was. It's having an understanding of the motion of one object relative to another as they go around the earth. And as they go around the earth, in one revolution, the motion has a sinusoidal effect, and it repeats itself. And if you can understand, if you have two planes, and one is out of plane with the other, it's going to go back and forth relative to the other. Where it's going to go around, it's going to go down below one of them, and then up above, and back and repeat itself, or if it's underneath, it's going to catch up and move by like this.
Everything is a combination of all of those three basic motions, and you have to try and separate them and try and understand it. Now, since you didn't come into play, and you have to do some pencil and paper mathematics on Germany 12 with level, there was a miscalculation, you pulled out your slide rule. In order to understand how you can have an impact on the computer solution for rendezvous, you have to break it into its essential parts. And of course I wrote my thesis on how one could have line of sight guidance and make minor corrections in a rather unsophisticated way, a little gun sight that could make some calculations and corrections inherent in understanding the nominal trajectory. And so I could see where you could apply these two corrections. When you observe that it's not, the intercept is not going as you plan. It's deviating away
from a collision. You can put it back on a collision course with a velocity change correction. Then that's all mid course corrections really are. Once you establish an approximate intercept, you then make corrections.
To the Moon
Raw Footage
Interview with Buzz Aldrin, engineer and astronaut, and lunar module pilot on Apollo 11, part 1 of 4
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/15-2804x55k2c).
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 success in using the space suits because of his familiarity with scuba diving and scuba suits. Aldrin also discusses his education at MIT, and how his experience as a fighter pilot and knowledge of aeronautics helped prepare him for space.
Created Date
Asset type
Raw Footage
American History; Gemini; apollo; moon; Space; astronaut
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Interviewee: Aldrin, Buzz, 1930-
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: 195214 (barcode)
Format: Digital Betacam
Generation: Original
Duration: 0:10:59
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “NOVA; To the Moon; Interview with Buzz Aldrin, engineer and astronaut, and lunar module pilot on Apollo 11, part 1 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 1 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 1 of 4 . Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from