Buzz Aldrin still has the felt-tipped pen he used as a makeshift switch needed to fire up the engines that lifted him and fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong off the moon and started their safe return to Earth nearly 40 years ago.
“The pen and the circuit breaker (switch) are in my possession because we do get a few memorabilia to kind of symbolize things that happened,” Aldrin told reporters Friday.
Aldrin, 79, spoke at a bookstore in the Dayton suburb of Beavercreek, where he autographed copies of his new book: “Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon.” He and 11 other Apollo astronauts were to be honored Friday night at the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton.
As stunningly successful as the first trip to the moon was in July 1969, a few things didn’t quite go as planned, Aldrin said.
For example, there were some puzzling computer overloads, but they proved to be minor and had no effect on the landing, he said.
When the designated landing zone on the moon’s surface proved to be too rocky, the astronauts had to burn additional fuel to find a safe spot to touch down. By the time they did, they had less than 20 seconds of fuel left. Running out of fuel would have forced them to abort the landing or risk a rough one.
“We did run low on fuel,” Aldrin recalled. “It’s surprising what you can do in 30 seconds. You can get an awful lot done if you have to.”
Following the moonwalk and the astronauts’ return to the lunar module on the moon’s surface, Aldrin discovered that the switch to the circuit breaker that sent electricity to the engine that would lift them off had broken off.
“If you couldn’t push it in, then maybe we had a problem,” Aldrin recalled.
Aldrin pulled the pen from his shoulder pocket, inserted it into the small hole where the switch should have been, and the circuit breaker held. The engines fired, and the two astronauts were on their way back.
Aldrin told the bookstore crowd that the moon is a desolate place, but magnificent in the sense that it came to symbolize what humanity is capable of achieving.
“The climax maybe of my life was landing on the moon with Neil,” Aldrin said. “And landing is more important than walking around outside, despite what everybody wants to think. Landing opens the door to do everything else that had never been done before.”
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.