Aldrin among those on ship
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
When Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of Aloha the only major U.S.-flagged cruise liner in the world sailed into Pier 11 at Honolulu Harbor for the first time yesterday morning, for one passenger the experience brought back memories of another historic voyage that ended in Hawai'i waters.
The landing yesterday was considerably smoother than the return to Earth on July 24, 1969, Aldrin said. For one thing, the spacecraft flipped upside-down after it hit the water.
"It was a fairly hard landing and I didn't get the circuit breaker switched in so that Mike (Collins) could go to power to jettison the chutes," said Aldrin as he dug into a plateload of bacon and scrambled eggs at the Hukilau Cafe on the Pride of Aloha's Deck 11.
"And the wind caught them. We did tip over. And we had to use the inflatable air bags to get right side up again."
History has tended to pass over Hawai'i's role in the Apollo 11 mission. Most accounts end at splashdown and go straight to Houston, where the returning heroes were greeted by an awestruck nation and world.
Overlooked are the 25,000 cheering folks who greeted the returning astronauts at Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base and along the route from Pearl Harbor to Hickam on July 26 to catch a peek at these new adventurers who had joined the ranks of Magellan and Columbus.
Pieces of the past
Yesterday, Aldrin, 74, offered a rare inside glimpse at Hawai'i's piece of the Apollo puzzle, as well as other intriguing insights such as exactly what he and Armstrong did before leaving the surface of the moon when they realized the switch that armed the engine to the lunar lander, Eagle, had been broken off.
While he spoke, Aldrin's wife, Lois, made several attempts to hijack his breakfast, which she said was too high in calories and clogged with fats. He fended off her efforts until he answered a cell phone call from his son, Michael, who lives in Hawai'i. It was then that his wife completed the grab.
Bacon and eggs were whisked away and replaced with a diminutive bran muffin.
Aldrin vividly recalled the astronauts' first sighting of earthly soil after the moon trip: Ford Island, where the three peered at the throng through the window of their airtight, 35-foot quarantine trailer, specially designed to protect the planet unnecessarily, as it turned out from the remote possibility of space germs.
"We took a quick shower and had a physical exam," he said. "Nobody was really debriefing us very much, because that didn't really start until we got back to Houston.
"People don't realize that we had to be cleared through customs when we came back" like ordinary Earth-bound tourists.
The customs form, which the three astronauts filled out and signed mainly as a way to kill time while in quarantine, indicated that Flight No. 11 began at Cape Kennedy, stopped en route at the moon, and reached its destination in Honolulu with a cargo of "moon rock and moon dust samples manifests attached."
"I also filled out a travel voucher," said Aldrin, who ended his Hawai'i vacation yesterday afternoon and left with his wife for an Alaskan fishing trip.
He recounted training for the Apollo mission by scaling the slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawai'i. The idea was that Hawai'i's lava peaks would be similar to the terrain of the moon.
"They weren't, really," he said. "The mountain terrain was too rugged. The surface of the moon was quite a bit smoother."
Future and more
Three years and five moon landings after Apollo 11, human exploration of other worlds stopped. In all, 12 people had visited the moon. No human has touched another heavenly body since Eugene Cernan left the last footprint on lunar soil in December 1972.
Aldrin, who runs a space endeavor company called Starcraft Enterprises, advocates a return to extraterrestrial exploration. Within the next two decades, he believes, everyday folks could be traveling to the moon, or Mars, or beyond.
"The purpose is to have the best, most progressive space program that we can have," he said. "And it has to be nonpolitical, bipartisan, sustainable and affordable."
There are other goals. For 10 years Aldrin says he has tried to get all the living lunar astronauts together for a White House recognition ceremony. He's working to have the 24 Apollo explorers who orbited or landed on the moon, 18 of whom are still living, to be given special "lunar ambassador" status by the president and. Congress.
While they're at it, it might be nice to hand the lunar ambassadors a little piece of the moon, he said.
"The people who've been to the moon have never been given a piece of it," he said. "Heads of state around the world have been given pieces of the moon. But never anyone who went there."
Aldrin does possesses a few personal items he carried to the moon, such as the small snapshots of his three children, Mike, Jan and Andrew, who were ages 13, 11 and 10 at the time.
What's the most treasured memento he brought back from the surface of the moon?
"Me!" he said with a laugh. "I didn't want to stay there."
Yet, for a few brief and horrifying moments, staying there appeared to be a distinct possibility after Aldrin discovered the lunar lander's broken engine arming switch. History books say the problem was solved by activating the switch with a Fisher Space Pen, designed to write in a weightless environment.
"That's what Mr. Fisher wants to think," Aldrin said. "Because some people think there was only that kind of pen on board. But there were other kinds. Look, this was an electrical connection. And the Fisher pen was metal. And we were engineers. So you can imagine what kind we used."
No, insisted Aldrin, the pen that saved the day, fed electricity to the engine, and reunited him and Armstrong with Collins in the orbiting command module Columbia, was an ordinary plastic ballpoint.
And where's that historic writing implement these days?
"I've got it," said Aldrin with a grin of pride, and then he took another sip of coffee.
Reach Will Hoover at 525-8038 or email@example.com.
Correction: Some 25,000 people greeted the returning Apollo 11 astronauts at Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base and along the route from Pearl Harbor to Hickam on July 26, 1969. A previous version of this story did not specify all the locations where people greeted the astronauts.