who would be the first to set foot on the moon? -- 11/7/18

Today's selection -- from The Eagle Has Landed by Jeffrey K. Smith. Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin were the two Apollo 11 astronauts selected by NASA to land on the Moon. What was not known was who would get the privilege of being the first to exit the landing module and set foot on the Moon's surface. Aldrin lobbied hard to be selected for that role:

"Aldrin courted controversy when others believed that he was an­gling to become the first man to walk on the Moon, ahead of mission commander, Neil Armstrong. Aldrin attempted to explain his ra­tional: 'Throughout the short history of the space program, begin­ning with Ed White's space walk, and continuing on all subsequent flights, the commander of the flight remained in the spacecraft, while his partner did the moving around. I had never given it much thought, and had presumed that I would leave the lunar module and step onto the Moon ahead of Neil.' Aldrin's misconceptions were given additional weight when the Chicago Daily News and New Orleans' Times-Picayune headlined stories in late February of 1969: ALDRIN TO BE THE FIRST MAN ON THE MOON.

"In March of that same year, Aldrin became aware that NASA's higher-ups were clearly in favor of Neil Armstrong taking the his­toric first steps on the lunar surface. A dismayed Aldrin immediate­ly discussed his concerns with the Apollo 11 commander. As might have been expected, Armstrong was reticent to discuss the situa­tion in detail, but told Aldrin, as Commander he reserved the right to be the first one to step on the Moon. When Aldrin attempted to present his case to Michael Collins, the command module pi­lot steered clear of the controversy, refusing to offer an opinion. Aldrin later disavowed accusations of self-promotion: 'In truth, I really didn't want to be the first person on the Moon.'

Left to right: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin 

"NASA's leadership team soon clarified matters, announcing that Armstrong would be the first man to walk on the Moon. The politically correct explanations were twofold -- Armstrong was a ci­vilian pilot and NASA was a non-military government agency; and, Armstrong's position in the lunar module, nearer the hatch, made it easier for him to exit the spacecraft first. In reality, the personali­ties of the two astronauts played a significant role in the final deci­sion -- Neil Armstrong was better liked, and many NASA officials believed Buzz Aldrin had forcefully lobbied for the honor. The final decision was made by Deke Slayton, Director of Flight Crew Operations, Bob Gilruth, Director of the Manned Space Center, George Low, Apollo Program Manager, and Chris Craft, Director of Flight Operations, during a March 1969 meeting in Houston.

"'Look, we just knew damn well that the first guy on the Moon was going to be a Lindbergh ... And, who do we want that to be?' Craft asked, before answering his own question, 'It should be Neil Armstrong. Neil was Neil -- calm, quiet, and absolute confidence. He had no ego.'

"Aldrin's apparent eagerness ultimately backfired, as reflected in Craft's candid assessment: 'On the other hand, Aldrin desper­ately wanted the honor and wasn't quiet in letting it be known. Neil had said nothing.'

"On April 14, 1969, the New York Times ended all speculation, reporting that Neil Armstrong would be the first man to walk on the Moon.

"'Buzz Aldrin was crushed, but seemed to take it stoically,' Craft later opined."

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Jeffrey K. Smith


The Eagle Has Landed: The Story of Apollo 11


New Frontier Publications


Copyright 2012 Jeffrey K. Smith


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