Our countdown started on the day "Minus 10" before the 50th anniversary of the first step on the moon. The first episode numbered with "10" is started here. A space walk to the second is possible here. The sad third is here in orbit. The rather earthy fourth can be found here. The fifth turns her loops here. From a strong rocket tells the sixth here. The legacies of a Soviet "giant" are here in the seventh episode.
On July 18, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins were on their way to the moon. Two of them, Armstrong and Aldrin, would land if everything went according to plan. It was clear to all the initiates that the biggest insecurity was this: would they start again?
In an interview with the BBC, Michael Collins recently said it was the part of the flight he was most worried about: "There was only one engine, one nozzle, one combustion chamber, and all of this had to work perfectly well to carry her back to my orbit. "
Armed for the worst scenario
While July 18th in the "Apollo" capsule was almost uneventful beyond routine testing and pre-scheduled TV broadcasts, preparations were underway in the White House for the "what if" case. President Nixon's speechwriter William Safire handed over a stack of paper to Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman 50 years ago today. The cover page read: "In Event of Moon Disaster". Among them were, inter alia, the phone numbers of the wives and proposals for comforting words – and also a manuscript for a television speech.
That would have to hold Richard Nixon, if for some reason the engine would not work perfectly: "These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope of salvation for them," stood there. Only more than 30 years later, a Los Angeles Times journalist found these papers in the National Archives. In fact, pretty much everything was tested and much duplicated on the equipment. Only one had never been tried by anyone: a launch from the moon.
Today, 50 years ago, there were three men on the road who were well aware that their chances of returning to Earth were not equally distributed. The New York Times reporter William Stevens had recently interviewed all three for lengthy interviews, visited their hometowns, talked to their families.
He described the born in Rome as the son of a military ambassador Collins as "casual". He was aimless and disoriented in his youth. Only the prospect of flying into space gave him the necessary focus. His colleagues in the astronaut corps described him as extremely friendly and "understanding – perhaps too understanding". He also understood that he was the only one who would not put his foot on the moon on this mission.
From mechanic mate to Apollo commander
As casual as Stevens Collins described, he was so shy, restrained and controlled that he experienced Armstrong. Like his two colleagues born in 1930, he grew up as a civil servant son and descendants of German immigrants in Ohio. In mathematics he was so good that he represented diseased teachers.
At the age of seven he began to work alongside the school – first mowing neighborly lawns, but soon as an aircraft mechanic assistant. It was the beginning of a life for aviation. He was a naval pilot, flew 78 combat missions in the Korean War and owed his survival of the skill with which he steered a heavily damaged aircraft back to non-hostile territory to then save by parachute.
After that he started to work for the predecessor authority of Nasa (Naca). His seriousness may also have had to do with a serious personal stroke of fate: he and his wife Janet lost one of their children, Karen, through a brain tumor. Then, in 1962, he applied for the astronaut corps and was – as the first civilian ever – recorded.
By contrast, Aldrin, Stevens wrote in his portrayal of The Times, had been as "obligingly gracious" as Armstrong was withholding. At the West Point Military Academy, he was third-best of the year in 1951, and then became a pilot and also flew in the Korean War.
His nickname "Buzz" came from the fact that his older sister pronounced the word "Brother" as "Buzzer" for a long time, which then all took over and was later shortened to Buzz. It's not the only name anecdote: Aldrin's maternal grandparents were called "Moon."
Soldiers, engineers and soon also moon pioneers
All three were not only soldiers or former soldiers, but also engineers. They had studied at the best universities and academies, Aldrin had a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But unlike the previous Apollo teams, they were not very close personally.
The crew had been assembled only six months earlier. And Collins as pilot of the main ship had an almost completely different training program than Aldrin and Armstrong.
As "friendly-minded strangers," as Collins recently said, the three swung into lunar orbit the next day. Two were ready to land on the moon, all hoping to return to Earth. More about that in the next episode.