By Buzz Aldrin

The Apollo 11 moonwalk was the first time that humans had set foot on another world. It was the symbolic highlight of the whole Apollo programme, but the credit for it should be shared widely. That first landing would not have been possible without the astronauts who flew the earlier exploratory missions. For example, before we could establish that a landing was possible at all, we had to send two especially hazardous missions, Apollo 8 and Apollo 10, into orbit around the Moon. In fact, it was not until Apollo 13 came close to ending in disaster that we realized just how much danger the astronauts on those earlier missions had been in. Yet, when I talk to anyone about the Apollo programme, one of the first questions they usually ask is, "How many people walked on the Moon?" I have to give them the answer - 12. However, it should not be forgotten that, in all, 24 men left Earth orbit (a feat that has not been repeated since) and went to the Moon.

As well as the other astronauts, we also owe a great debt to the many thousands of people who were involved on the ground. Since leaving NASA, I have tried to continue to play an active part in the future of space exploration, and some of the pioneering engineers who worked on the Apollo programme continue to inspire me in that work.

In one way or another, I have now been involved in the manned exploration of space for more than 40 years - that is to say, for almost the entire duration of the Space Age and a large part of the period covered by this book.

It is generally accepted that the Space Age began when the Soviet Union sent the satellite Sputnik 1 into orbit on 4 October 1957. I have to be honest and say that at the time Sputnik did not make a great impression on me. I have my reasons, though. At the time, the United States was in the thick of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. As a pilot in the United States Air Force, I was stationed in West Germany, where I was training to fly tactical fighters to send nuclear weapons into the Soviet Union. In the event that a nuclear exchange did break out, it was unlikely that I would have a base to return to. That was a sobering reality for a 28-year-old with a young family. When Sputnik went into space and sent back its radio signal, it seemed to me little more than a stunt.

It was different when Yuri Gagarin became the first person to fly in space, in April 1961. By then, my own circumstances had changed. I was halfway through a doctoral thesis on piloting techniques for space rendezvous. In those early years of the Space Age, one thing quickly led to another. Less than a month after Gagarin's return, Alan Shepard made his sub-orbital flight,

"Walking on the Moon was a piece of cake. It was easy. But getting to the Moon was anything but easy."

becoming the first American in space. And just 20 days after that, President Kennedy made his famous speech committing our country to send a man to the Moon - and bring him safely back to Earth - before the end of the decade.

All this time, I was drawing closer to taking an active part in the space programme. By the end of 1962, I had finished my thesis, and in October of the following year I accepted an invitation from the Head of the Astrounaut Office, Deke Slayton, to join the astronaut programme. The tensions between East and West remained high, but it is also undoubtedly true that the Cold War gave a great impetus to the speed of development in spaceflight. As we pursued our own Mercury, Gemini, and then Apollo programmes, we knew that the Soviets were training their own people to fly in space and that they had some extremely capable engineers, men such as their Chief Designer, Sergei Korolev.

As we embarked on the Gemini programme, I was able to put my earlier studies of space rendezvous to use. It was clear that to make a landing on the Moon we would need spacecraft made up of modules that could separate from one another and then link up again, either in orbit around the Earth or around the Moon. I was able to contribute to the development of the techniques that were used to do this. I was also able to help find new ways of training for spacewalks. After Michael Collins's spacewalk on Gemini 10, it was decided that we should experiment with underwater training. This is now a staple part of astronaut preparation, but it was new and untried back then. I had done some scuba diving before joining NASA, so it was an environment in which I was already at home. I was able to put both my rendezvous expertise and my underwater training into practice when I flew on Gemini 12 with Jim Lovell in 1966. During that mission, we performed docking manoeuvres and I made three spacewalks.

After Gemini came Apollo. Of course, an enormous amount has already been said and written about that programme. In retrospect, Apollo now seems remarkable to me not only for its boldness and its ultimate success but also for how much we accomplished in a short time (there were just eight years between the announcement of our intention to go the Moon and the first landing) and for how adaptable we showed ourselves to be. For example, we

A LIFE IN FLIGHT

Flying aircraft and flying spacecraft are very different experiences. In space, the pilot usually has less control and relies more on computers and help from the ground. I began my own flying career in the Air Force and flew in combat in the Korean War (above). In all, I spent 290 hours in space, about five of them outside the Gemini 12 spacecraft (below).

"I remember this fleeting thought from the surface of the Moon: the two of us, Neil and I, are further away than two humans have ever been before, not just in distance but in what we have to do to get back, and yet there are more people paying attention to what we are doing now than have ever paid attention to other people before."

THE NEXT STEPS

When I took this photograph of my own footprint, I had little idea that it would become a symbol of human exploration in space. It is now 35 years since we left the Moon. Although it seems that it will be at least ten years before another astronaut leaves their mark there, it is still encouraging to know there is now a firm plan to go back.

recovered very quickly from the awful fire on Apollo 1. Apollo 8 also comes to mind again. This was the first manned mission into lunar orbit, so it was a big step forwards but it was one that we had to make sooner than we had originally planned because we suspected that the Soviets were gaining ground on us and were about to attempt their own circumnavigation of the Moon.

When we look back over humanity's first 50 years in space, it is important that we not only celebrate what we have done but also properly understand the past, seeing clearly where mistakes have been made, so that we can plot the right course for the future.

Engendering a spirit of adaptability similar to the one we had on Apollo is something that we should be doing as we look ahead. NASA's two main projects over the last three decades have been the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. Both are technically marvellous but they are highly ambitious and incredibly complex. Despite some successes, they have not lived up to all their expectations. One way to make ourselves more adaptable in future is to have several projects running along parallel paths. The main US project for the future is Orion. We need to develop the best possible solution for this programme, because it will ultimately provide us with the technology to return to the Moon, scheduled for the end of the next decade. But in parallel with this, I think that we should have a plan for spacecraft to replace the Space Shuttle in low Earth orbit when it is retired from service, probably within the next five years.

In my view, spaceflight should not be an exclusive preserve of professional astronauts. I would like to see as many people as possible become involved. Ever since the Shuttle programme, there has been a widening of the net for crew selection, something that should continue and be extended. We should support opportunities for so-called "space tourists" or, as I would prefer to call them, star flyers or star travellers. This can be done by making a concerted effort to educate children about space and make it appealing to them. Education is, after all, the key to our future. I hope that this book will help to inspire a future generation of astronauts and, in some way, help to make the next 50 years of human endeavour in space as rich, exciting, revealing, and successful as the first 50.

JANUARY 1940: ROCKET MEN

The American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard (foreground) ond his team of engineers inspect one of their newly created rockets in their workshop at Roswell, New Mexico.

FOR CENTURIES, dreams of travel into space had been the preserve of fantasists, satirists, and the occasional speculative scientist, but the 20th century changed all that. Rockets were for the first time recognized as the only practical means of space travel, while a series of design advances transformed them from outsized fireworks to intercontinental ballistic missiles. The genealogy of the space age is a complex one. Nineteenth-century novelists influenced rocket theorists such as Konstantin Tsiolkovskii in Russia, and later Robert Goddard in America and Hermann Oberth in Germany. Each made his own unique contributions to rocket science, but there were many parallel discoveries, too. In turn, these pioneers influenced another generation - most notably in Russia and Germany, where the rocket would grow from an experimental plaything to a weapon of war. In the aftermath of the Second World War, rival superpowers scrambled to adapt the secrets of German rocketry to their own purposes. But throughout all this, the engineers and scientists behind the rockets retained the dream of spaceflight.

WAN HU'S ROCKET CHAIR

One often-told story of early Chinese rocketry is the legend of Wan Hu, a Ming-Dynasty official who supposedly flew into space using a chair supported on 47 rockets.

HERO'S ENGINE

An early reaction motor was designed in the first century ad by Greek-Egyptian scientist Hero of Alexandria. Heat applied from below boiled water in a spherical vessel, and steam spouting from the nozzles caused the sphere to spin on its axis.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment