When the Apollo 11 It landed on July 20, 1969, NASA told astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin that they had to sleep. "I've been preparing for this for years, 400,000 kilometers traveled, I've gone down to the moon with certain difficulties and now you tell me I have to sleep?" This was then the reaction of Armstrong, as Carlos González remembers, one of the few Spanish technicians hired by NASA to participate in the mission.
The United States intended that, when Armstrong set foot on the Moon, all of the American territory was following this historic milestone. To do this, it should do so at a convenient time for all citizens of the country. Both astronauts gave up sleeping and started taking pictures of the lunar landscape. After about six hours of waiting, NASA gave them permission to leave the ship and tread, for the first time in history, the Moon.
González controlled communications from Apollo 11 from the Fresnedillas de la Oliva tracking station (Madrid) next to the Spanish engineer José Manuel Grandela, who was only 23 years old when NASA hired him to participate in the mission. This Tuesday both have remembered the arrival of the man to the Moon in an act celebrated in the Center of Astrobiology on the occasion of the premiere of the film The first man, which tells the story of Neil Armstrong.
"We had a privileged position because we listened to the broadcasts between Houston and Apollo 11 before anyone else," González recalled. These Spaniards were the first to hear the words with which Armstrong confirmed that they had landed on the Moon: "The eagle has landed" (The eagle has landed).
"That day Armstrong wanted to go down to the Moon no matter what happened," Gonzalez said. There were several critical situations in which the mission was at risk. At the time of landing, Armstrong realized that they were flying over surface points four seconds ahead of schedule and that this would force him to land about eight kilometers further than calculated. "Houston proposed to abort the mission but Armstrong took control semiautomático and with Buzz Aldrin giving him data of altitude and speed, landed with fuel for less than thirty seconds," said González.
"When NASA allowed them to leave the ship, Armstrong put on his suit, which on the ground weighed 80 kilos, and his survival pack. Afterwards, he depressurized the lunar module, opened the hatch and, on attempting to exit, tripped twice. Then he asked himself: How is it possible that he has done this 300 times in the simulator and now stumbles? "Says González.
This Spaniard also had access to the vital signs of the astronauts. Armstrong, he remembers, "began to raise the pulsations" when he could not leave the lunar module. But finally he managed to do it. "It's a small step for man, a giant leap for humanity," said the astronaut.
It was 17 minutes until Aldrin stepped on the Moon, according to Grandela. The astronaut, says the engineer, realized something that apparently had been overlooked to the engineers who built the ship: "The hatch had no handlebar on the outside and although there are no currents there was looking for something in case perhaps to put on the door and prevent it from closing. "
The space race
This mission was an important milestone for the US in the space race with the Soviets. José Manuel Grandela states that "NASA had an ambitious program": "I wanted to send 20 missions to the Moon and then create a habitable place there". But in December of 1972 the NASA project was paralyzed. The astronauts of Apollo 17, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, were the last to step on the lunar surface on December 11, 1972.
It has been 45 years since a human landed on the Moon for the last time. "But thanks to the Apollo missions and the samples that they brought from the Moon, today we have an idea of how it was formed and of the origin of the solar system, an information that has been the basis of all subsequent science", assured the director of the Astrobiology Center, Miguel Hesse. In addition, as explained by Grandela, that milestone served to generate a whole "avalanche of inventions in engineering, informatics, materials or fuels from which today all of humanity benefits".
"Now the medium-term objective, from here to at least 20 years, has to be to go to Mars," says Hesse. But, as he points out, it would be convenient to return to the Moon earlier: "A lunar mission is simpler and cheaper and allows testing new technologies and survival systems before engaging in a complex mission such as going to Mars." González affirms that "the ship that travels to the red planet has to be intelligent to repair itself or tell those who go inside how to do it without the assistance of the Earth".