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Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins – Still my heroes after 40 years!

By Howard Sanders • December 10th, 2010

Who were the greatest explorers ever? It’s a subjective question, and one with many different answers depending on who you ask. So maybe I should pose it differently, make it simpler. How about…  Who were the bravest explorers ever?

To me there is only response to that. There were three of them. It happened in 1969. They travelled a very long way and the world followed with baited breath, united for once. They were heroes when they returned, and they have remained my heroes since I was six years old. All three are still alive and as different in terms of personality as can be imagined.

Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins in their prime

Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins were the crew of Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the moon, and to me the bravest men ever. Crammed into what was effectively a tin can strapped to an explosive device they were the first humans ever to land on another world. They had no idea if their equipment would work, whether their suits would protect them from the over 200 degree F heat on the surface or even if the rocket to send them home would fire. If anything failed they would have been marooned in the remotest hell imaginable with no hope of rescue. In fact, Richard Nixon even prepared a speech about the loss of the crew because secretly most insiders thought it a suicide mission. Armstrong, the consummate leader and pilot, is the one I admire in particular. As the Lunar Module “Eagle” (LM) descended towards the surface of the moon, the onboard computer kept giving error messages so Armstrong had to fly the ship semi-manually over an enormous crater before finding a smooth spot where he could put it down. The thickness of the LM’s skin was such that you could easily put your foot through it, so the vehicle couldn’t take too much rough handling. Yet this man remained perfectly calm, listening to Aldrin counting off the feet before making a perfect landing with only 25 seconds of fuel left in the tank.  Talk about having cojones of steel!

I had this poster of Aldrin on my wall throughout my childhood.

I admire these men because I am compelled to by what they have achieved. Nowadays heroics is confused with celebrity and the world is more concerned with safety than strapping on wings and seeing how high we can fly. Usually, it is Aldrin that we see and hear of most. He’s quite a character and I’ve even heard he’s going to be on “Dancing with the Stars” soon. My favourite video of Buzz is of him punching the lights out of an annoying little weasel called Bart Sibrel as he accused the astronaut of staging the moon landing .

However, the real reason for this post is a rare recent public communication by Neil Armstrong. He did testify to the House Science and Technology Commission in May, 2010 regarding the need for the US to return to the moon, but generally he’s all but invisible. The following is in response to a query on the blog KRULWICH WONDERS as to why the astronauts only walked such a short distance from the LM, less than a hundred yards in fact, on that first mission. Amazingly, Armstrong responded with a detailed answer that is both fascinating and also shows clearly how much of a gentleman this great man is.

He may only be famous for making one footprint, but what a footprint it was!


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