Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., the second man to walk on the moon 50 years ago, expressed a love for America last week that we rarely hear spoken these days. In fact, the opposite has become the norm, and that is a sad fact of life in this country today.
Aldrin, in a Florida Today interview, said of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, “To me, it was the dream we had all signed up to chase, what we had imagined, worked and trained for, the apex of national service to a country we unabashedly loved, the height of aviation and exploration.”
Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, 88, and Aldrin, 89, were the three astronauts making the voyage. Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died in 2012. It was Armstrong who said as he stepped off the Eagle, their lunar module, “That’s one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind.”
The three astronauts left the moon July 22. 1969, with what The Associated Press called “a ship laden with scientific treasurers and a fame that will stand for all time…” They steered their spaceship on July 24 to a landing in the Pacific Ocean nine miles from the USS Hornet, the recovery ship.
After a chemical bath in a raft before the eyes of the world, they were hoisted aboard the carrier. They were then placed behind a biological barrier in the event they may have brought home lunar bacteria that could harm life on earth. After 11 hours of examination, no contamination was found.
America welcomed them back in Honolulu, Hawaii, a week after their moon landing. They arrived in a quarantine van, and a band played “Harvest Moon” and “Impossible Dream.” The van was then loaded onto a C141 transport plane for a 3,800-mile flight to Houston and the Manned Spacecraft Center. They faced another 16 days of isolation with 14 others in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory that awaited the spacemen.
The three were released from isolation Sunday, Aug. 11, and relaxed with their families before beginning a hectic round of celebrations of their historic moon landing. At a Tuesday news conference, Armstrong and Aldrin said working on the moon was easier than anticipated and they regretted not having more time to spend on the surface.
The astronauts and their families flew to New York City for a ticker tape parade Wednesday and an appearance at the United Nations. The AP reported the moon men got a preview of what was ahead when they were cheered and mobbed by about 300 space workers as they emerged from quarantine.
Mayor John V. Lindsay of New York City said, “This is one of New York City’s great moments. We have honored many voyagers before — men who sailed around the world, men who flew along across the ocean. But today we honor three men who forged the first link between earth and the stars.
“Today, we honor three men who have affirmed the best we have within us. All that New York has given today — it’s cheers, its praise, its medals, its glory — is dwarfed by what you three men have done.”
Another ticker tape parade in Chicago and a state dinner with President Richard Nixon in Los Angeles ended the weeklong series of personal appearances. However, Houston said thanks Saturday with a parade and when 30,000 space workers filled the Astrodome to sing their praises. Singer Frank Sinatra was master of ceremonies.
Aldrin in his Florida Today interview said the rocket launch was “almost imperceptibly smooth. We sort of looked at each other and thought, ‘We must be on our way … what’s next?’”
Mara Bellaby, who wrote the Florida Today story, said, “What was next was a journey that would accomplish what years earlier had seemed impossible. The crew had been training intensely. Some 400,000 people — NASA employees, contractors around the nation — had worked long hours, staying late, solving one engineering puzzle after another to make it a reality.”
Aldrin called what they saw on the moon magnificent desolation. “I guess I said that because it was magnificent … we had gotten there, and it looked pretty desolate. But it was magnificent desolation.”
Those in this country who have lost their appreciation for what it means to be an American would do well to remember Aldrin’s description of what the historic mission meant to him.
“It all felt like, this is what America is, what we can do, when we are united in purpose,” Aldrin said. “Apollo showed that this nation, this America, can do whatever is required when destiny calls on us to unify, and step up.
“It was an honor to be a part of Apollo. That was how I felt in 1969, how I still feel … This is a blessed nation, truly blessed, and we are all lucky to be part of it. I hope we never forget how lucky we are to be Americans.”