Apollo 11 crew recalls Armstrong's nerve-wracking moon landing

Neil Armstrong gives a thumbs up as he leads the Apollo 11 astronauts.
CBS News

(CBS News) A private service will be held on Friday in Cincinnati for Neil Armstrong. He died Aug. 25 at 82.

Armstrong will always be remembered for taking the first walk on the moon, a feat that almost didn't happen. Armstrong himself saved the Apollo 11 mission with a white-knuckle landing.

The Lunar Lander with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aboard was still miles above the moon's surface when Aldrin said they got the first indication something was wrong. The alarms were going off as the Lander was about to land on the moon for the first time.

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"We had not memorized all the program alarms," Aldrin admitted.

At mission control in Houston, flight director Gene Kranz already was worried about a guidance error and poor communications.

"The tough decision I had to make was, did we have good enough communications to continue the decent or should we wave off," Kranz said.

As the spacecraft came out from the dark side of the moon, Kranz said they became aware of a "peck of trouble." It looked as if the landing was going off course and might have to be aborted.

"'Abort' is not a word you use casually in mission control, and boy everybody picked up at that time. We knew we were in for a battle," Kranz recalled.

Armstrong told Ed Bradley on "60 Minutes" that the autopilot was taking them into a dangerous looking crater "with steep slopes ... covered with very large rocks about the size of automobiles."

"That was not the kind of place i wanted to try to make the first landing," Armstrong said.

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Kranz remembered watching Armstrong maneuvering to find a suitable landing spot.

"Our job is just to keep them aware of how many seconds of fuel remaining they have," he stated.

But, Armstrong's detour was using up fuel.

"I was getting a little concerned," Aldrin said.

Alrdrin heard Krantz saying that the spacecraft only had 60 seconds of fuel with 100 feet to touchdown.

"I didn't want to interrupt Neil's concentration," he recalled.

Seventeen seconds before fuel ran out, Armstrong came on the radio.

"Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed," he stated.

Aldrin remembered the two men looked at each other, and he patted Armstrong on the shoulder. Armstrong recalled that two shook hands.

"This was exciting," Krantz said. "It was risky, but it was typical America. You know this is 'what Americans can dare, Americans can do."

Neil Armstrong, the American who did it, remained modest, always saying he was just part of the team, just part of the nation that made it happen.

  • John Blackstone
    John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.