OMEGA Moonwatch Heroes IIIAn audience with the Apollo astronauts...
Omega is proud to present a fascinating insight into the world of space exploration as seen through the eyes of Tom Stafford, Buzz Aldrin, Charles Duke, Harrison Schmitt, and Eugene Cernan. Discover the men behind the mission, the intensity of their training, the immense risk factor, their strength of character, ordinary men creating their own destiny and shaping the future for all mankind.
Colonel Buzz Aldrin was the Lunar Module pilot on Apollo 11, the first lunar landing. He was, along with Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, the first person to land on the Moon, and shortly afterward, became the second person to set foot on the Moon. Colonel Aldrin holds a doctorate in astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He set a record for extra-vehicular spacewalking activity and proved that astronauts could work outside the spacecraft.
On the magnitude of the achievement
There was a long period of time when it was a dread to consider that people would be asking me for the rest of my life to talk about the past! There are still parts of it that are difficult to communicate with real honesty, and those are the feelings and emotions. And it’s not as if we don’t have feelings and emotions; we were just suppressing those in favor of the job, and concentrating on what was coming next.
Remembering the day of the launch
We suited up, marched out, got in the van and waved to people. And then we went up the elevator. My crewmates went in (to the capsule) and I stood out there for maybe five, ten minutes – it seemed like quite a while – all by myself, looking out and seeing the sun come up and the waves come in, and the frost come off the rocket. And I consciously said to myself, «I want to remember this moment.»
In his 27 years as an officer in the United States Air Force, Lieutenant General Thomas Stafford was a member of the crew on four historic NASA missions in space. In May of 1969 he was the commander of Apollo X which orbited the moon. General Stafford logged his fourth space flight commanding the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, a joint space flight culminating in the historic first meeting in space between American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts.
On being part of Apollo 10, which made Apollo 11 possible
It felt good. It was a new mission and it was a new exploration that had never been done before! When I flew as Commander of Apollo 10, with Gene Cernan and John Young, it was the first time anyone had flown out to the Moon with a lunar module. Our lunar module was too heavy to land or we might have had the potential of landing…
On seeing the Moon in close up for the first time
We had been briefed that we would not see the Moon until we got there, because the Moon was in eclipse from the Earth. And when we left the Earth and were on our way out there, the Earth kept getting smaller and smaller. And we kept looking, thinking «Where is the Moon?» So we called back, «Guys, we’ll take your word it’s out there but we haven’t seen it yet!» Finally, when we were 40 to 50 thousand miles out we could see just a little eclipse of it, for a while. And then later the Sun went down and it was just a black place in the sky. All the stars were around us. And then the Earth went down, Earth disappeared! So there we were in blackness. And suddenly – we’re upside down going backwards – and suddenly about one minute before the time to turn on the engine, the Moon just appeared right underneath us. It was an unforgettable experience.
In 1969, Charles Duke was a member of the astronaut support crew for Apollo 10 and he served as CAPCOM for Apollo 11, the first mission to land on the Moon. General Duke served as Apollo 16’s Lunar Module pilot in 1972. On that mission, he and John Young landed at the Descartes Highlands and conducted three EVAs, making Duke the tenth person to walk on the Moon. He logged an impressive 265 hours in space including 21 hours and 28 minutes of extra vehicular activity.
On being selected to be one of the Apollo astronauts
It was a very, very special honor for me and a great privilege – and a great surprise actually! The competition was very keen. And that I was selected to be an Apollo astronaut was very special in my life, a great honor. But even more was the opportunity to be selected and actually land on the Moon as one of the 12 – it was truly remarkable.
On the moment before lift-off
You’re sitting on a Saturn V rocket, the biggest rocket ever launched. And your focus is on the procedures. And you’re ready to go. You’ve trained. You don’t want a delay, you don’t want an abort. So your focus is: «Keep going! Keep counting! Let’s go! I’m ready.»
On the lunar landscape
Awesome beauty. Buzz Aldrin described it as magnificent desolation. I thought the Moon was the most beautiful desert I’d ever seen. Grey in color, very sharp contrast between the lunar-grey horizon and the blackness of space. Very bright! And you could look up into space and it felt like you could touch the velvetiness of space.
On Earth as it appears from the Moon
I describe the Earth as the jewel that was just suspended in the blackness of space. And it’s breathtaking!
Captain Eugene «Gene» Cernan spent 20 years as a Naval aviator, including 13 years with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He left his mark on history with three historic missions in space as the pilot of Gemini IX, the Lunar Module pilot of Apollo X, and the commander of Apollo XVII. He flew to the moon not once, but twice, and also holds the distinction of being the second American to walk in space and the last man to have left his footprints on the lunar surface.
On NASA’s current priorities
NASA’s looking both at going back to the Moon and basically redeveloping some of the same hardware and going to Mars. Now, where our present leadership in the United States, and in the rest of the world, is anticipating going I’m just not sure. You know, really the space program takes such a small, small piece of our budget. People don’t realize that, particularly with the billions and trillions of dollars that’ll be thrown around today. In the United States it takes just one penny out of every one of our Federal tax dollars – at least, that’s the way it was! It may be less than that in the future. So it really depends upon where our leadership, where the administration decides we should go, and when we should go.
On the responsibility of commanding Apollo 17
I asked for that responsibility. I had a chance to perhaps fly earlier than that on a flight to the Moon as lunar module pilot, as I did in Apollo 10. So I turned down an earlier chance to walk on the Moon because I wanted to command a flight. It was probably the biggest risk I ever took in the space program. There were no guarantees that it would happen – maybe or maybe not. But it’s what I wanted and it’s how things worked out. Why did I want that? Why did I take that risk? I like to be in control of my own destiny. I wanted a challenge. I just wanted to be responsible for the success – or if it were to be, the failure – of a mission to the Moon. And being the final mission to the Moon was even more of a responsibility, more of a burden on my shoulders, because of all missions, being the last mission – I couldn’t allow it to be anything but a success. A failure? You know, failure was not an option on Apollo 13. Let me tell you, it was not an option on Apollo 17 either!
Dr. Harrison Schmitt has a particularly diverse professional background, having served as a geologist, pilot, astronaut, businessman, writer and United States Senator. He served a Mission Scientist in support of the Apollo 11 mission. After training as back-up Lunar Module pilot for Apollo 15, Dr. Schmitt flew in space as Lunar Module pilot for Apollo 17 – the last Apollo mission to the Moon. He was the only scientist and the last of twelve men to step onto the Moon.
On the lunar topography
Even though I was working at a field job, admittedly in a very unusual site on the Moon, I recognized that I was in this deep mountain valley, deeper than the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in the United States. The mountains on either side were over 2,000 meters high. The valley was quite narrow: only seven kilometers wide at its narrowest point. And it was just a magnificent place to be. Brilliantly illuminated by a Sun as bright as any desert Sun that I could imagine and grew up with. The hardest thing to get used to is the blackness of the sky. On Earth, of course, if you have a brilliant Sun, you have a blue sky. On the Moon, it’s black.
On how his life changed after the Apollo missions
It mainly changed because people were interested in having me talk about my adventures! And it didn’t change, I don’t think, any basic personality traits, belief systems, or anything like that; but suddenly people were interested in hearing about that adventure and participating in it vicariously in that way. And that has continued today. I could probably – if I could afford it, talk to groups several hours a day every day of the week, because there are people out there that are still interested in hearing about the adventure.