Published four decades after the first lunar landing, Voices from the Moon, by Andrew Chaikin with Victoria Kohl, opens with a quote by 76-year-old Dave Scott, commander on Apollo 15: "I cannot count the number of times somebody has said to me, 'What does it feel like to be on the moon?' I'm tired of that, Andy. I don't want to try and figure that out anymore. I've done my best."
Fortunately, Chaikin spared him the trouble. This volume, composed entirely of quotes from the Apollo astronauts alongside artful arrangements of their photographs, may be the best single source for getting a vivid sense of the lunar landings as experienced by the astronauts.
Chaikin, author of the landmark 1994 history A Man on the Moon, went back to the interviews he conducted for that book nearly 20 years earlier to bring out these gems, and the wait was worth it. See the gallery below for photos and excerpts from the book.
Reprinted by permission from Voices from the Moon, published by Viking Studio, 2009.
Ken Mattingly, Apollo 16 Command Module Pilot
I hadn’t been in the air an hour, and I knew I was in deep trouble. Because my mind was being overwhelmed with one extraordinarily impressive view, image, picture—and as soon as you got that and you said, “Look at that!” And then, shit, here came another one that was even more impressive! And I remember we were hardly out of Earth orbit when I said, you know, I’m in trouble. I can’t—I’m gonna—I’ve got days of this ahead of me, I’m gonna forget all this stuff. There’s only so much memory. And if they keep stuffing this memory into my brain, shit, stuff’s going to run out the bottom, and I will miss it! And I’ll never get it back. I remember that vividly, because it was this feeling of despair that, I can’t write fast enough, I can’t talk fast enough. I can’t take pictures that are going to capture this. But, shit, somebody ought to tell the world how absolutely spectacular this stuff is!
(Photo: Mattingly snapped this picture of Earth shortly after Apollo 16 headed for the moon.)
Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 Commander
In my view, the emotional moment was the landing. That was human contact with the moon, the landing. The fact that we were eight feet...or ten feet separated from the surface of the moon rather than two inches at the time I was [standing on it]...didn't seem to me like a significant difference. It was at the time when we landed that we were there, we were in the lunar environment, the lunar gravity. That, in my view was the—that was the emotional high. And the business of getting down the ladder to me was much less significant. You know, I wouldn't have focused on that at all except that the press and everyone was making so much of a big thing about the exit from the vehicle and step on the surface with the boot.
(Photo: Armstrong (right) and Buzz Aldrin walk back to their lunar module after raising the American flag on the Sea of Tranquillity.)
Bill Anders, Apollo 8 Lunar Module Pilot
The biggest philosophy, foundation-shaking impression was seeing the smallness of the Earth….Even the pictures don’t do it justice, because they always have this frame around them. But when you …put your eyeball to the window of the spacecraft, you can see essentially half of the universe….That’s a lot more black and a lot more universe than ever comes through a framed picture….It’s not how small the Earth was, it’s just how big everything else was….You look around and you say, “Shiiiit, there ain’t anything else, anywhere.” I mean, that is all there is, really, except for the sun, which you didn’t look at. You look around, and you don’t see any stars; you just see this dull black, and this [Earth] is the only thing there. Okay?
(Photo: Earth from Apollo 8)
Gene Cernan, Apollo 17 Commander
Just think about going to sleep on the moon inside of an oil can. And that's what we did. An oil can that buckled every time you pressurized it: boom-boom. And you're inside that oil can. You're on the surface of the moon, and it's time to rest or go to sleep, which is the biggest waste of time in the world—who wants to go to the moon to sleep? That's when you have a chance to think about these things. Think about what you just saw and where you are. Yeah, you think about those things. You don't think about them while you're picking up rocks and doing all these other things that you've got to do while you're there. But you think about them when you have a chance to stop.
(Photo: Having left Apollo's last footprints on the moon, Gene Cernan takes a breather inside the lunar module Challenger.)
Ken Mattingly, Apollo 16 Command Module Pilot
[Leaving lunar orbit] is another one of those unbelievably spectacular sights. One of the few sensations of speed you can have in a space ship. You can—during the initial departure, you can actually sense that the moon is getting smaller. I mean, you can see it. It’s like being in an airplane when you’re really moving out, you can start to see motion. And leaving the moon, you can watch that sucker get small, right there in front of your eyes—I’m leaving that sucker!...And you leave with a sense of dismay. And you really don’t want to. Because, I mean—it’s really all over? I can’t do this again tomorrow?
(Photo: The lunar far side, seen from the departing Apollo 16.)
Jim Lovell, Apollo 13 Commander
And of course, people often say, “Did you take a suicide pill?” or something like that. You didn’t [need] those. All you had to do was crank open the little valve to the hatch there…open up the little vent valve….Never would’ve thought about it [on Apollo 13] until all hope was lost. And then our idea was, if all hope was lost, if we went by the Earth—say we missed the Earth, and we were on an orbit about the sun, if we had exceeded the escape velocity….My idea was to hold off, you know, as long as we had options, as long as we could stand it, send back data….We probably would have been farther out than anybody. And then, you know, then we would decide, you know, what to do….Maybe we would have all committed suicide by opening up the vent valve. And that would have been the end of the deal.
(Photo: Lovell inside the lunar module Aquarius.)
Dick Gordon, Apollo 12 Command Module Pilot
[Entering Earth’s atmosphere] is a very dynamic situation—a lot of monitoring, a lot of activity. And it’s over very, very rapidly, too. You separate that service module, and you orient yourself to hit the atmosphere….Christ, it’s over in, what, eight minutes?...You’ve oriented yourself heads-down coming across that South Pacific, and you’re really moving. I mean, you can really tell….[During] translunar injection, you’re oriented in such a way that you’re really not seeing the Earth go by; you can’t see it. But in reentry, you can. Coming back in, with your head down, you can look out that window, the side window, and you’re really smokin’. Goddang, you’re really moving. Those damn islands in the South Pacific are going by like—unreal.
(Photo: Apollo 8 enters the Earth's atmosphere, photographed by an airborne tracking camera.)
Ron Evans, Apollo 17 Command Module Pilot
The contact with the water is a pretty good smash. As a matter of fact, the altimeter was wrong….I was calling off the altitude to Gene and Jack. And we got down to five hundred feet. Four hundred feet. Three hundred feet—Boom!—we hit the water. So I wasn’t prepared. And neither were they.
(Photo: Al Worden, Jim Irwin, and Dave Scott of Apollo 15 enjoy the Pacific air after splashdown.)
Pete Conrad, Apollo 12 Commander
People don’t understand—they really don’t understand, the average Joe on the street…that this isn’t some great ----ing experience that, you know, is mystical, magical, changes your whole life, Jesus Christ, this, that, and the other thing. It’s just a ----ing pile of rocks that happen to be 250,000 miles away! It was a real challenge and a hell of a lot fun to get there. But after it’s all over, you can’t say that that’s where you want to retire because it’s pretty. It’s not. It’s beautiful in its starkness, but you don’t want to sit there forever and look at gray rocks! Or brown rocks, whatever.
(Photo: The cost of getting to fly to the moon: Pete Conrad exploring the Ocean of Storms.)
Dave Scott, Apollo 15 Commander
When Shepard came back from 14,…I said, “Hey Al, what’s it really like?”…And all he had to do was look me in the eye, and I could read it. And he said, “It’s spectacular.” And that’s all I needed to know.
(Photo: Alan Shepard takes his first steps on the moon's Fra Mauro highlands.)