MELBOURNE, Fla. – As the Eagle descended to the Sea of ​​Tranquility, Buzz Aldrin saw something he had never seen before: the shadow of the lunar module cast in front of them on the moon's cratered surface

"That was new, not something we saw in the simulator, "he recalled on the eve of today's 50th anniversary of the historic Saturn V launch that carried him, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins on a 238,000-mile journey to the moon

" I saw dust creating a haze , not particulates, but a haze that went out, dust the engine was picking up. The light turns on, I said 'contact light,' 'engine stop,' "Aldrin said in a question-and-answer email sent to FLORIDA TODAY [1

9609007] Th eagle had landed. It was 4:17 p.m. Eastern Time, July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong radioed, "Houston, Tranquility Base Here. The Eagle has landed." Mission control was erupted in the celebration, and a controller remarked, "You got a bunch of guys to turn blue, we're breathing again."

Armstrong and Aldrin had become the first humans ever to land on another galactic body.

This interior view of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module (LM) shows astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar pilot module, during the Lunar Landing Mission (Photo: NASA)

"Neil remembers we shook hands, and I recall putting my hand on his shoulder and we smiled,"

The Apollo 11 mission, which borne the hope of a nation and the fascination of the world, launched four days earlier, on July 16, 1969, from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, the NASA facility renamed for the slain president who set America on the goal of landing man on the moon

By some estimates, more than a million people gathered along the Space Coast shoreline to watch the rumbling Saturn V lift into the heavens that July morning. Video from 1969 shows the campers filling the beaches and people packed elbow-to-elbow in the parking lot.

In Aldrin's memoir, "Magnificent Desolation," he wrote, "Elevated 300 feet in the air on a top platform of Kennedy Space

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"A few yards away, loaded with more than 2,000 tons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen propellant, the giant Saturn V rocket also stood, primed for liftoff as the countdown progressed.

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"Hours earlier to my Apollo 11 crewmates, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, and I had enjoyed a predawn steak-and-eggs breakfast – and an astronaut tradition – up with NASA's equipment team helping us get into our pressurized suits, helmets, gloves, and boots. "

The launch, Aldrin recalled in the email Q & A to FLORIDA TODAY, went smoothly

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"We've all seen preparations for a launch go down to seconds, then we have to start over – and so we were relieved when the launch went ahead," he said.

"Launch was almost imperceptibly smooth through the early abort modes, and we did not get anything unexpected, but we were accelerating, but the launch was so smooth compared to Gemini launches that we did not know the moment of leaving the ground. ] "We only knew it from instruments and voice communications, which confirmed lift-off. We saw our rate of climb, altitude changing, but were comfortable in our seats. (19659028] Poll: Americans support NASA but not a return to the moon

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What was next was a journey that would accomplish what years before seemed impossible. The crew had been training intensely. Some 400,000 people – NASA employees, contractors around the nation – had worked long hours, staying late, solving one engineering puzzle after another, making it a reality

"It was a privilege to have been able to take the first manned mission to the lunar surface, an honor to have worked with so many good and dedicated people, and have left our footprints there, "Aldrin said. "Even now, sometimes, I marvel that we went to the moon."

When Armstrong stepped out of the ladder onto the moon's surface, followed by Aldrin (who joked that he was "careful not to lock the door behind me,"), both men, Aldrin said, were struck by the moon's beauty. It was Aldrin who spoke the two words that have become a poetic descriptor of what they saw: Magnificent Desolation

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"I guess I said that because it was magnificent … we had gotten there, and it looked pretty desolate," Aldrin said. "But it was a magnificent desolation."

Once on the surface, Aldrin said they did not think about the enormity of what they were doing. They focused on the job, talking back to Mission Control, on the experiments, making sure they were level and pointing towards the sun. (19659038) The crowning achievement for the Saturn V racket came when it launched the Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin, and Michael Collins, to the Moon in July 1969. In this photograph, the astronaut Aldrin takes his first step on the surface of the moon ” width=”180″ data-mycapture-src=”” data-mycapture-sm-src=””/>

The crowning achievement for the Saturn V rocket came when it launched Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin, and Michael Collins, to the Moon in July 1969. In this photo, astronaut Aldrin takes his first step on the surface of the moon. (Photo: NASA)