Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon 50 years ago today. Here's what the astronaut remembers most about NASA's Apollo 11 mission.

Emma McIntyre/Getty ImagesBuzz Aldrin, a NASA astronaut who walked on the moon during Apollo 11, speaks onstage during an event on March 23, 2019.

It’s been half a century since Buzz Aldrin rocketed to the moon and walked upon its dusty, pockmarked surface, but his memory of that historic event is still as fresh as ever.

On July 16, 1969, Aldrin was just 39 years old when he boarded a small capsule atop a 363-foot-tall (111-meter-tall)Saturn V rocket and launched toward the moon. About four days later, on July 20, Aldrin and his commander, Neil Armstrong, climbed into a lunar lander. The two left fellow astronaut Mike Collins behind in the capsule, descended toward the lunar surface, and stepped outside.

In remembrance of NASA’s historic feat on the eve of its 50th anniversary, watch brand Omega – which made the Speedmaster timepieces astronauts wore on the moon – spoke to Aldrin about his experiences.

Below are excerpts from Omega’s exclusive interview with the moon walker and the moments he said defined Apollo 11.

“We had all seen preparations for a launch go down to seconds, then have to start over. And so I think we were relieved when the launch went ahead.”

NASAOn July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-feet tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT.

“It went smoothly, and at last we were on our way.”

NASAhe Apollo 11 mission, the first crewed lunar mission, launches from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida via a Saturn V rocket on July 16, 1969.

“Nothing unexpected happened. We knew we were accelerating, but the launch was so smooth compared to Gemini launches that we did not know the instant of leaving the ground.”

NASAAn American flag foregrounds the Saturn V rocket launch of Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission, on July 16, 1969.

After a days-long journey to the moon, Aldrin and Armstrong descended to the lunar surface in the “Eagle” lunar module.

NASAThe ‘Eagle’ lunar module floats in space in July 1969.

“I guess we were not the only ones on the edge of our seat … from what I hear, folks at Mission Control were, too.”

NASAThe mission control room in Houston during the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.

“As we approached the moon, we leveled off and kept moving down and forward to land.”

Mark Avino/Smithsonian’s National Air and Space MuseumThe control panels and triangular windows inside one of NASA’s Apollo-era lunar modules. Shown here is LM-2 at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

“We knew we were continuing to burn fuel. We knew what we had, then we heard 30 seconds left. If we ran out of fuel, we knew it would be a hard landing.”

NASA/GSFC/Arizona State UniversityA simulation of Neil Armstrong’s view as the Lunar Module, Eagle, approached the aim point on the northeast flank of the moon’s West crater

“I saw dust creating a haze, not particles but a haze that went out, dust the engine was picking up. The light turns on, I said ‘contact light,’ ‘engine stop’ and recorded ‘413’ in, so mission control knew abort guidance shut-down conditions were satisfied.”

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

NASAThis July 20, 1969 photograph of the interior view of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module shows astronaut Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. during the lunar landing mission.

“We could have crashed and burned, and fuel went to 15 seconds or so, but no catastrophe … We were glad to be down.”

“As Neil descended, we heard mission control saying ‘getting an image, but upside down.’ They could see he was on the ladder. I could see the top of his head from where I stood, then he said he was going to step off the LEM.”

NASA/APA live video camera feed showing Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

“I then got in position to come down. I came down the ladder and jumped off, being careful not to lock the door behind me.”

NASABuzz Aldrin steps down the ladder of the ‘Eagle’ lunar lander.

“When I got off and looked around, and it was easy to balance, I said ‘magnificent desolation.'”

NASABuzz Aldrin stands in front of the ‘Eagle’ lunar module during the Apollo 11 moon-landing mission.

“I guess I said that because it was magnificent we had gotten there, and it looked pretty desolate.”

NASABuzz Aldrin looks at the camera and points down at the moon.

“But it was magnificent desolation, and I think Neil remarked on the beauty too.”

NASAA panorama of Tranquility Base on the moon during the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

“As for thinking about all those watching, we really did not think much about that. We were focused on mission control, and they were the people we had to think about most.”

NASAApollo 11 astronauts planted a flag on the moon on July 20, 1969. Buzz Aldrin is standing next to the monument in this photo.

“Neil decided where to put the camera, and I got out the two experiments and carried them. We were focused on the experiments, making sure they were level, pointed toward the sun.”

NASAAstronaut and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin is pictured during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. He had just deployed the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package. In the foreground is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package; beyond it is the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR-3).

After a few hours of walking on the moon, and less than a day there in total, Aldrin and Armstrong launched off the lunar surface, met up with the capsule, and journeyed home to Earth.

NASAThe ‘Eagle’ lunar module of Apollo 11 as it returns from the moon on July 21, 1969.

“Coming down, we had to wait until we hit the water, and you are not quite sure what altitude you were at. The altimeter was not a good indication.”

NASAA 1968 artist’s concept of an Apollo command module returning to Earth after a voyage to the moon. Plasma is created ahead of a spacecraft’s heat shield as it rams through the planet’s atmosphere.

“On splashdown, we had to throw a switch to release the parachutes, only it was a bit bumpy.”

NASAThe Apollo 11 command module splashes down into the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969.

“We tipped over before we could release the parachutes, then the balloons tipped us right side up again. It was good to be back.”

NASAThe Apollo 11 crew await pickup in the Pacific Ocean after an historic lunar landing mission.

“Funny story, when we arrived on the carrier deck, we were placed in a containment trailer, and it had a window. When they played the national anthem, we wanted to stand. But the window was very low, and we realised that if we stood by the window, at full height, they would only see our lower half, so we decided better to kneel by the window.”

NASAPresident Richard M. Nixon was in the central Pacific recovery area to welcome the Apollo 11 astronauts aboard the USS Hornet.

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

NASAA close-up view of an astronaut’s boot print in the lunar soil during the Apollo 11 moon landing of July 20, 1969.

“But now, I think, it is time for the next generation to buckle up and get on to Mars.”

ISRO/ISSDC/Emily Lakdawalla (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)A composite picture of Mars using imagery taken by the Mars Orbiter Mission.

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