The Beauty and the Wonder: What It's Like to Land on the Moon, According to a NASA Astronaut


You always hoped that you’d get a flight to the moon, but you never had any guarantee. There were 19 selected. One was medically discharged; one was killed in an automobile accident; [but] in that group of 19, almost half went to the moon. But two of the guys waited 19 years before they got their first flight.

You never knew when you’d be selected, they just gave you a job, said, “OK, you be support crew for Apollo 10”. You just did your job and, hopefully, the crew would say you did well. Neil Armstrong asked me to work on his flight (the first attempt to land on the moon) and it went really well. Very tense in the descent, but we pulled it off in mission control, so that gave me a good name. A month later, the Apollo 13 crew was announced: John Young, myself and Jack Swigert were on back-up. It was my chance.

Photo by OMEGA.

Then they had an explosion on the way to the moon, and the back-up crew played a big role in that recovery. They lost all power and oxygen in the command module. So we had a lunar module, a sort of lifeboat, and their orbit was such that if they whipped around the moon they weren’t going to get back to earth. Not a free return. So John and I had to figure out how to use the engine in the lunar module to change that trajectory. We spent 35 hours in mission control, non-stop work. Finally, we were satisfied that if they didn’t make a mistake and we didn’t make a mistake, we’d got enough “stuff” — oxygen, cooling, water, power and consumables.

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[When I landed on the moon, it didn’t feel like I’d reached a goal.] But it was, “I’mon the moon!” It was just the exhilaration and the fascination and the beauty and the adventure and the wonder, and we were bubbling with enthusiasm and excitement. We almost had to abort before landing, and that would have been a bitter pill. No question.

Did it change me as a person? Not spiritually, not emotionally, not psychologically. You’re so busy and so focused, because you don’t want to make a mistake. Not only could it hurt you, but it could damage the mission results. My focus was just on my procedures, and I didn’t stand there and wonder about the heavens. [But] I did see the beauty of it. To look out there at Stone Mountain [and think] “I’ve trained for this for two years and now I’m seeing it”. It was a sense of wonder and awe, and that never left us.


FromEsquire UK

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Charlie Teasdale
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