Being The First Man On The Moon

<b>Ed Bradley</b> Talks To Neil Armstrong About Fame, Family And Apollo 11


Armstrong stood out, even among a class of astronauts that had the right stuff. His depth of experience and nerves of steel earned him, at age 38, the command of Apollo 11. The trip to the moon took four days; after achieving lunar orbit, Michael Collins would remain in the command module, while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin climbed into the lunar module, undocked, and began their descent.

But the landing took an unexpected turn: the onboard guidance system was sending Armstrong and Aldrin right towards disaster.

"Our autopilot was taking us into a very large crater, about the size of a big football stadium with steep slopes on the crater, 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 says.

Armstrong overrode the autopilot and looked for a safe place to land, but the detour cost them precious fuel, and they were about to run out.

A worldwide television audience of a nearly a billion people was on the edge of their seats and so was CBS' own Walter Cronkite. 60 Minutes couldn't resist reuniting the former anchorman with the former spaceman. There are things they can laugh about now but, at the time, those final seconds were almost unbearable.

"We were following the flight plan and we suddenly realized that he had made a detour and we didn't know how long that detour was going to be," remembers Cronkite. "Yes, I was very much concerned. I think all of us who were following the flight that closely were scared to death. If he wasn't, we were."

Then came Armstrong's famous words: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The eagle has landed."

"Roger, Tranquility, we copy you on the ground, you got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot," mission control replied.

The landing left Cronkite almost speechless.

"You are a man who I've known for years never to be at a loss for words but you were at a loss for words then. I think all you could come up with was, 'Oh, boy,' " says Bradley.

"It turned out I didn't have anything to say at all except, 'Wow, oh, boy. Oh, boy,' " Cronkite says, laughing. "Perfectly speechless."

The ghostly image of man on the moon was beyond words. Armstrong paused on the bottom rung of the ladder and planted his left boot on the lunar dust.

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said as he set foot on the moon.

"Do you recall how you came up with that 'A small step for man?' What was the inspiration for it?" Bradley asks.

"I thought, 'Well, when I step off, I just gonna be a little step.' … But then I thought about all those 400,000 people that had given me the opportunity to make that step and thought 'It's going to be a big something for all those folks and, indeed, a lot of others that even weren't even involved in the project.' So it was a kind of simple correlation of thoughts," Armstrong says.

Armstrong clearly remembers the lunar surface. "It's a brilliant surface in that sunlight. The horizon seems quite close to you because the curvature is so much more pronounced than here on earth. It's an interesting place to be. I recommend it."