Space Odyssey 1969. Interview with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin

Original author: Olivier Sanguy, Pierre-François Mouriaux
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Yesterday marks the 45th anniversary of the first ever human landing on the lunar surface. To this occasion, I am publishing a translation of the interview of the first two people who landed on the surface of the Moon, published in honor of the 35th anniversary of the historical odyssey, in the French magazine Espace (Cosmos), in the not so distant 2004. In it, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin share their memories of the lunar program, as well as their vision of the future (and not rarely prophetic) of world cosmonautics. Photos are presented the same as published in the magazine, but found in digital form.

Neil Armstrong. Apollo 11 commander


For almost all people on Earth, Neil Armstrong is primarily “the first person on the moon.” What does one of the most famous inhabitants of this planet think of this definition?

Neil Armstrong is completely calm and even wise that he is known “only” as “the first person on the moon,” and he hopes that historians will respect the inviolability of his private life.

However, out of his natural modesty, the legendary astronaut opposes the tendency toward a reduction in the Apollo program to his status as "first man on the moon," emphasizing that he was a member of a team of 400,000 people who have been working on the Apollo program for a decade. Armstrong wisely realizes that he and his team played the “most visible”, but not the most important role in this program.

Therefore, the main message of this interview is reliable that humanity will remember the first steps of Neil Armstrong as a result of the tremendous work of all men and women working on the Apollo program.

According to one of the legends of NASA, when Kennedy visited the future development sites for the Lunar program, he asked one of the workers who mopped the floor:

“What is your job?”
“I am sending people to the moon.”

True or fiction, the legend well symbolizes what the Apollo program was: the most amazing team work of the space age of the 20th century!

Espace Magazine: No one considers X 15 pilots astronauts. However, given your experience with X15 and Gemini and Apollo spaceships, what do you think was the difference between these types of vehicles?

Neil Armstrong participated in the program X 15, controlling aircraft with rocket engines, which at an altitude of 100 km developed a speed of 6 max (1max approximately corresponds to the speed of sound)

Neil Armstrong:Starting with work on the Mercury program, American astronauts have tried to make spacecraft control systems as similar as possible to the cockpit. Thus, the spacecraft’s cabin looked more familiar to them. However, there is a significant difference. Aircraft usually fly straight ahead, with the cockpit pointing in the direction of movement. Space ships have no such restrictions. While in space, the cockpit can be directed both perpendicularly and in a direction opposite to the direction of flight. In science fiction films, you can often see a spaceship leaning like an airplane to change course. Real spaceships would have no reason for such "maneuvers."

Espace Magazine: On the Moon, the lunar module take-off engine was supposed to help you return to Moon orbit. Were procedures foreseen in case take-off was not possible?

Neil Armstrong: We hoped for a successful outcome and did not plan any procedures for this case. However, for the crew who found themselves in a similar situation, it was possible to provide communication with relatives and then painlessly reduce the pressure in the cockpit, which provokes loss of consciousness. (Readers probably understood that this was about euthanasia, an explanation of the translator).
But again, no procedures were planned for this case.

Espace Magazine: You are a person with your own history and complex inner world. Were you ready to be “simplified” as the “first person on the moon,” and how do you feel about this?

One of the rare Neil Armstrong shots taken on the surface of the moon. 16mm lunar module chamber.

Neil Armstrong: Most people to whom society pays special attention are known only for their main merits. Basically, society ignores other aspects of the lives of these people or their merits. Attempts to change this natural characterization of man do not seem fruitful. I hope and expect that, ultimately, historians will understand this more or less correctly.

Espace Magazine: On board Gemini 8, you are faced with a critical situation where the capsule began an uncontrolled rotation. You risked your life while flying on LLRV and landed the Lunar module with a computer malfunction. This clearly demonstrates the image of a hero who is constantly facing danger. At the same time, you constantly repeat that the real heroes are those 400,000 people who worked on the Apollo program. Can you say more about this?

The module for working out the vertical landing on the Moon, LLRV, on which Arsmtrong flew. In the video below, Armstrong’s bailout moment

Neil Armstrong :Spaceships are very complex devices consisting of several thousand elements. Even if they meet all safety standards, in real flight you will encounter a significant number of equipment failures and failures. Crews of spaceships spend most of their time preparing for flights, practicing techniques for overcoming emergency situations. Although more than one hundred different failures and breakdowns could occur during normal space flights, this was only a small fraction of the statistically foreseeable failures. In my opinion, such improvements that increased the reliability of space systems were associated with the serious and thorough work of those people who designed, tested and tested these ships. And of course those people who prepared the ships for flying.

Neil Armstrong before the flight, he is assisted by 4 people from the 400,000 team working on the Apollo program. As Armstrong said above, “We will never be able to fully thank these talented people.”

Espace Magazine: You witnessed the sunset of manned space in the United States after the Apollo program, and in particular recently commented on NASA’s plans to return to the moon: “Our economy can certainly allow us such investments, but society must believe that such investments are worth it.” Space is an important part of our daily lives, but society seems to have lost interest in space research as a source of innovation and the will to progress. Can you share the idea of ​​how to re-initiate public interest in space?

Neil Armstrong :People are always interested in new and interesting ideas. From a realistic point of view, this interest does not last long. Any program to increase the presence of man in space - such as, for example, creating an advanced base on the moon and exploring Mars - will arouse deep interest in most of humanity.
The first exploration of the moon was a consequence of the competition of the two systems in the Cold War. I hope that we will not go to such extremes to initiate a new cosmic era of humanity.

Buzz Aldrin Lunar Module Pilot


"Great devastation." Spoken by Buzz Olndrin for the first time stepping on the lunar surface, will go down in history as the most poetic and at the same time factual description of our natural satellite.

Forever remaining a crew member of Apollo 11, and one of the first people to enter the moon with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin looks to the future. Recalling the programs of Gemini and Apollo, we also shared a vision of a grandiose future, in which there is a place for space stations, the study of asteroids and the stay of man on Mars. All this looks more than natural in the eyes of a man whose mother's name was Marion Moon (Moon in English).

Espace Magazine: This interview takes place against the backdrop of the Jules Verne Adventure Festival. As you know, he wrote "From Earth to the Moon." How does this book inspire you?

Buzz Aldrin:Science fiction writers like Jules Verne and the rest after him inspired us greatly, as they stimulated our curiosity. When I decided to write a science fiction work “Meeting with Tiber”, I analyzed what has already been done. And I think that pioneers of the genre like Jules Verne, Herbert Wells, the creation of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon or Tintin tried to anticipate the most realistic future. Modern science fiction authors, in turn, are trying to be more sensational than their counterparts. Therefore, we are observing a tendency towards large-scale conflicts and disasters on the pages of their works. This is all we want to avoid. We want the cosmos to be calm and peaceful. Therefore, in my science fiction work, I tried to be as close as possible to the reality of the future, at the same time,

Espace Magazine: Could you tell us the main storyline of your book?

Buzz Aldrin:"Meeting with Tiber" tells of a fictional civilization that flew to Earth from the nearest star system thousands of years ago, as their world was dying. Some of their technologies discovered by humans have brought us closer to understanding the mechanisms of interstellar travel. I appealed to the possibility of traveling at near relativistic speeds (the speed of light). Therefore, when in the 96th year, John Burns and I worked on the book, we analyzed all the possible ways and came to the decision to “use” the energy of the vacuum. Last week, in the journal Aeronautics Week, a three-page article on vacuum energy and the possibility of its use in the future was published. It was nice to see that the choice we made for the plot of the book was so carefully substantiated in a scientific publication.

Espace Magazine: Speaking of preparing for the future, you participated as an astronaut in the Gemini program, a very important step on the path to the Apollo program. What do you remember from your participation in the program?

Buzz Aldrin:My efforts to improve my military career have focused on vocational training. I was already familiar with the technique of intercepting between two fighters, and I shot down two MiG 15s in Korea. Therefore, in 1959, choosing the topic of my doctoral dissertation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I was able to concentrate my efforts on the technique of approaching and docking spaceships. When I was selected for space flights, I knew that it would be very important for the Gemini program and hoped that I could fly during the first missions. However, I could not achieve this. In order to select a team for space flight, I was part of the Gemini 10 backup crew. The tragic death of the Gemini 9 crew in a plane crash led me and Jim Lovell to be appointed the backup crew of the new Gemini 9 team, and then the main crew of Gemini 12. Thus, a coincidence allowed me to be a member of this mission. We expected a lot from going into outer space with AMU (Astronauts' Individual Maneuvering System,in the photo below ).

I was very disappointed when NASA canceled this experiment. This was one of two moments when I regretted that I could not do anything. The next disappointment I experienced when NASA was planning a space shuttle with an orbiter and two booster blocks, each of which had separate cabins for two pilots to return them to the landing strip. This program was canceled as too complicated and expensive. I was never able to present logical arguments in favor of the fact that it was possible to do without a crew to land accelerating blocks.

Espace Magazine: You mentioned your experience as a fighter pilot. What is the difference between aerial combat and spaceflight?

Buzz Aldrin:There is a lot of uncertainty in aerial combat. In battle, you are alone and no one can help you in a significant way. For space flights, there are a huge number of simulators, simulations and repetitions of events that actually do not develop so rapidly. During the launch of a rocket or return to Earth, the crew for the most part only observes, not controls the situation. The big difference lies in the huge support of astronauts by ground crews at the MCC, against the background of the complete loneliness of a combat pilot in a battle over enemy territory. But at the same time, during the expedition to Mars, the delay of the signal will be much more significant, which will require a high level of autonomy of the entire crew. Therefore, I support the idea that the first expeditions should concentrate on Phobos and Deimos, the satellites of Mars. This is mainly important for reducing the time of exchanging information with automated systems on the surface of Mars: before you "march", you want to be sure that everything that helps you return to Earth will be ready! For example, the fact that the fuel produced on Mars by robotic systems is produced in sufficient quantities. For the safety of the crew, it will be more reliable to “dig in” on the satellites of Mars, and from there to control the entire process.

Espace Magazine: Since we were talking about satellites, I recall that many people suggest using the Earth's Moon as the first stage on the way to Mars.

Buzz Aldrin:It is necessary to master the interplanetary flight procedures while staying close to our planet. Collect spaceships in orbit, protect crews from cosmic radiation and study both the sociological and psychological consequences of man’s separation from Earth. All this can be developed, for example, at the Lagrange point L 1, between the Earth and the Moon (where the gravity of the Earth and the Moon balance each other). L 1 is not always a good starting point for a flight to Mars, however, an orbital station in this place could serve Martian ships, for example, providing them with fuel extracted on the Moon. From there, the ship would go into an orbit of expectation around the Earth, which would give green light for sending to Mars (we are talking about the Earth MCC).

Espace Magazine: We are witnessing an increasing trend towards the use of modular concepts in space exploration. In this vein, instead of creating large-sized ships, space agencies will launch small modules that are in orbit. Can this be considered a harbinger of the future of world space?

Buzz Aldrin:In 1985, the National Commission for the Analysis of the Prospects of Cosmonautics concluded that we needed a space station in orbit of the Earth, a station in orbit of the moon, and finally a station in orbit of Mars. However, our experience in the construction of the ISS station suggests that we should minimize the proportion of elements collected in orbit. Collecting preferably large ready-made items rather than small ones. During the Apollo missions, we put the entire lunar complex into orbit at a time, so we did not have to gradually collect everything in orbit for several connections. Moreover, the Earth’s orbit is far from optimal for the starting point. Although it does not seem justifiable to increase the carrying capacity of modern carriers to Saturn level 5, the assembly of modules launched separately to point L 1 or to the Earth’s orbit, and then to the Moon and Mars - only complicates the whole process. Regarding reusable shuttles, there was disapproval that the cargo and crew were launched simultaneously, which reduced the flexibility of using the space system. After analyzing the criticisms, I came to the conclusion that the claims for the most part are not about what is being launched, but about what is returning to Earth. As already mentioned, the crew and cargo launched simultaneously reduce the flexibility of the system, but if the crew does not return after launch (as in the Space Shuttle system), but is part of the payload, then this solution is more than logical. Those who propose separately launching the crew in a manned module and technical modules for returning to Earth actually support the idea of ​​using small launch vehicles for this purpose. This approach leads to a large number of module dockings in orbit. I do not think, that NASA will use several major transportation systems to launch orbital modules. We must focus on one missile system, which can be quickly remade for a specific task. To do this, you can use the existing VAB (Building of the Vertical Assembly of launch vehicles), launch positions 39A and 39B used respectively to launch carriers under the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, as well as build a starting position 39C in addition to lunar or Martian missions . This is more logical than using EELV (launching modular disposable rocket systems, Delta 4 and Atlas 5 launch vehicles). Our Starcraft Boosters group believes that the future CEV manned spacecraft (now Orion) should be launched from an extra-heavy launch vehicle to reach Lagrange point L 1 .

On the Moon, July 21, 1969 Named Edwin E. Aldrin at birth, Buzz Aldrin changed his name in the 80s. Thus, he officially fixed the nickname that appeared because of his sister's incorrect pronunciation of the word brother (“buzzer” instead of “brother”)

Espace Magazine: The CEV you mentioned should deliver people to the moon, which reminds us of Apollo ships. Returning to the topic of lunar flights, how significant was the difference between what you experienced in flight and how all this was presented to society?

Buzz Aldrin:We participated in the program only as crew members. Not in the management, nor in the adoption of the most important decisions, we did not take part. We have been trained to test and manage space systems to achieve our goals. Of course, this led to the fact that we were the most visible figures in the space program, almost a mouthpiece for explaining why we all do this and what is the point of this undertaking. That was the main difference. In fact, I only had to analyze how I could get from one point to another. But the decision of why we all do this was already the prerogative of other people. However, as crew members, we were perceived as almost the main experts in this why. We only thought that we should do this, since this was our duty.

Espace Magazine: After you managed to land on the moon, what other challenge could you throw yourself or what else could you dream of?

Buzz Aldrin:Thanks to Apollo 11, you not only fly to the moon, but also become one of the first people who walked on it. Upon returning to Earth, you become very special in relationships with other people. Together with my two comrades, I managed to answer a serious challenge by successfully completing a mission on which 400,000 people worked. And you live with this unusual experience. This is a new challenge that I encountered as a consequence of this expedition. I knew that until the end of my life I would have to answer the question "what did you feel then?" After all, there are recordings for video and sound, but not for human emotions! I remember those moments, but with age, your memory only worsens. Therefore, most often I recall when I last described my impressions. This is how our memory works, because every time you describe an event you have experienced, you try to convey it the way you experienced it. And next time you will try to do the same thing ... but it will come out a little differently!

Espace Magazine: Based on your experience, what would you recommend to the first people who fly to Mars?

Buzz Aldrin: I think it will be difficult to keep people interested in such a long flight, and the signal transmission time will not be so prompt due to the large distance of the red planet. These people will remain on Mars for a year or a half. If we want the base not to be empty for 5-6 months - such a lack of people will have a very negative effect on the base - perhaps the crew will have to wait for a second "window" to return to Earth, in which case their expedition will last from 4 to 5 years. Of course, this has little to do with the 8 days of the Apollo expedition.

Espace Magazine: Will the first humans on Mars face similar tasks to yours when they return to Earth?

Buzz Aldrin:I think that by this time many astronauts should have flown to the moon. To the same extent, we should have already flown to asteroids crossing the orbit of our planet in order to optimize the scientific and applied basis for protecting our planet. By this I mean what could collide with our planet, the composition of asteroids, how to change its trajectory or begin to extract the necessary resources. If people will progressively explore outer space, then who will become the symbol of the next era? It is difficult to say how we could achieve something comparable with the flight of Yuri Gagarin and the influence that he had on Russia and the rest of the world. When Alan Shepard made his flight, it was our first experience, but he was already surpassed by the much more impressive flight of Gagarin. Although later there were other flights, but only an expedition to the moon attracted the special attention of journalists. And the moon landing, I tell you, was the easiest part of this program! And who received the main laurels for this? Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Computer! (laughs) And Neil, since he had to plant the module manually.

Espace Magazine: From your words, the Apollon 11’s landing was not as difficult as it seems ...

Buzz Aldrin:When we analyze what happened with Apollo 11 in a new way, we come to a point between 60-30 seconds before there is an opportunity to cancel the landing, when the guys from Houston can not help us. They just watched. Of course, I am aware of the value of computer capabilities and the limited human response time in stressful situations. Time and technology are constantly changing. The on-board computer of Apollo 11 was absolutely sufficient for a smooth landing of the Lunar module on a flat lunar surface, but the crew could make changes at any time. The Apollo 12-17 crews had a much more advanced autopilot than we had. The commanders of these expeditions do not like it when I say so, as this gives the impression that their flight was easier than ours! So when we took control of the lunar module on ourselves, we fully realized what a challenge for our computer seems to be a soft landing on the moon. Similar difficulties were foreseen during the tests, but in order to get a new landing program and computers for Apollo 11, it would take an additional month.

Espace Magazine: We have your photo, in the lunar module on the surface of the moon and you consider her favorite. Why?

Buzz Aldrin: Because I'm young on her, pretty and well-combed! (laughs)

Espace Magazine: And which photograph of the space age do you find closest to you?

Buzz Aldrin:It is difficult to separate those pictures that do not relate to what I experienced. Neal deserves the most sincere compliments for the photographs he took on the moon. I do not think that subsequent expeditions could take more symbolic shots than those that we did with Neil. After I noticed the traces that left our steps on the moon, I decided to take a picture. So I had to do the following (Buzz Aldrin gets up from a chair and makes a small jump, landing on one leg) to get a clear mark ( photo below ).

One beautiful book has just been released, with excellent reproductions of photographs. Unfortunately, the book was written in England, and I did not have time to help the author. Some comments on what I did on the moon are not accurate. In particular, it says that the most symbolic photo of the track was taken by chance! But I did it completely consciously! If I photographed only a random track, it would be barely noticeable.

PS Espace Magazine did not have an electronic version, below is a link to a similar interview taken by journalists of the same publication from Neil Armstrong in 2009.

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