Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong
Often, boundary-pushing exploration requires throwing caution to the wind. Other times, it requires painstaking preparation. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, the first humans to step on the moon, fall squarely into the latter camp. When the two became astronauts they were already decorated pilots, having flown dozens of combat missions during the Korean War. They were also scholars, with Armstrong earning a Masters in aerospace engineering, and Aldrin a doctorate in astronautics. And they were veteran military test pilots with their fair share of hair-raising aerial feats—like that time Armstrong skipped off the atmosphere after purposefully cutting off the engines of an X-15 at 207,500 feet. During separate preparatory space missions, Aldrin pioneered some of the longest spacewalks of his time, and Armstrong choreographed the first ever docking between two spacecraft. But the feat that single-handedly qualifies them for this list, the lunar landing, was one of those mission where painstaking preparation was paired with a bit cavalierness. As Armstrong put it: “the unknowns were rampant… there were just a thousand things to worry about.” (During the launch alone, Armstrong’s heart rate is said to have reached 110 beats per minute). Then, on July 21, 1969, the two men stepped out onto the most alien environment known to man. As it turned out, they were prepared.
• Neil Armstrong piloted the Lunar Module to the surface of the moon, renegotiating the landing after missing their target point by miles and leaving them with just 25 seconds of fuel left for takeoff. Before takeoff, Aldrin accidentally damaged the circuit breaker that could have prevented firing the engine. He fixed it with a felt-tip pen.
• After his first steps on the moon, Armstrong states: “That’s one small step for *man, one giant leap for mankind.” (*While this is the quote of record, Armstrong maintained that he said “one small step for a man”)
• Buzz Aldrin’s first words after stepping on the moon were “beautiful view.”
The Last Word
Given how smoothly the moon landing went in 1969, it is often overlooked how much was at stake or how impossibly precise Aldrin and Armstrong needed to be to keep it all going according to plan. Climbers and polar explorers talk about weighing every ounce of gear, adding up every single calorie, and prepping for every eventuality. But Aldrin and Armstrong needed to be prepared and equipped for the most complex and catastrophic of monkey wrenches.
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