Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin
Watching the first lunar landing in “Apollo 11” was eye-opening. The whole week that it required. I personally never saw it live. Nor did anyone I was working with see it live. In the Summer of 1969, there were still remote places in America without TV. Nome, Alaska was one. Like everyone born after 1965, I watched it as “history”, not as an “event” although I was alive far earlier. And then, in bits and fragments.
This was the first time I had seen the whole unfolding; the launch; the three-stage Saturn V that I had first seen and touch in 2017; the three days to the Moon with nightly updates on TV. I guess what struck me most were most of the things that people in the theater had a ‘personal feeling’ for by being really old and knowing it, or had no feeling at all.
I was impressed with that ‘era of democracy’ in America, now long gone. When 100,000’s of Americans waited (perhaps a million!) and slept, and watched on the shores of the Indian River, or the other intercostal waterways along the “Space Coast” and looked at the Saturn V being moved across to Pad 39 Alpha at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral). Here’s a woman in a red skirt, lying on a beach towel, her bouffant hairdo on its own pillow, diamond earings and high heels barely concealed. There’s an African-American couple in the crowd, looking up as the Saturn V lifts off, finally fulfilling at least one dream of the 1960’s leaders who were assassinated.
There had been division over the Vietnam War and trauma over the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, but now a sense of common purpose seems to pervade the beach. We would see JFK’s dream fulfilled, they seem to say. At 9:32 a.m. on July 16, the rocket’s engines ignited amid a plume of smoke and flame.
At the beginning of the movie, I changed seats. I was suffocated and surrounded by old people, some chronologically older than me, some married to old folks. Just old and sated, having seen this whole think “live!” I felt I could not breath.
Smithsonian Collection, “Moon Launch Party” 1969
I moved closer to the screen; to get away. I fell into the place where “youth” inhabited. Some in their 30’s and some younger than that. Maybe engineers at Boeing or SpaceX, maybe young prof.s or students at UW. Who knows? All I know was that sometime during the launch and the lift-off of the Saturn V, a young woman’s voice four rows in front of me, her bare feet propped-up, squealed. The young woman and man next to her also had doffed their shoes and were also enjoying the launch. No doubt like their grandparents did when they were young. On a warm July beach in the Summer of 1969.
I think that Buzz Aldrin would like to know that. That young people can still get excited by an Apollo launch sequence.
The film of the landing seemed deceptively easy. It was not. With very little fuel left, Neil slowed the vehicle to hover and access, a crater to the upper left, boulders to the lower right. They kept descending. With the plain silloutte of the LEM and swept-up dust they tracked the final two seconds of fuel as they landed. WoW! Even though I had seen First Man, this sequence of “steely-eyed rocketman” – knowing the background – blew everything before it away like moon dust on landing. Then the report of BPs. Neil Armstrong’s had reached 145! Buzz’ was “not available” from a typical ~80 at the beginning of the mission.
At the announcement, “The Eagle has landed,” the old folks in the back applauded. The youth did not stir. We all have our way of expressing. “The presidential goal” (JFK’s) had been fulfilled.