Moon-walker on seeing eclipses from space

The Apollo 11 moonwalker observed Totality from space with colleagues Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins

Exactly 48 years ago three men saw a Total Solar Eclipse alone, almost 200,000 miles out in cis-lunar space. How do we know? Because Dr. Buzz Aldrin––the second man to walk on the Moon––told us. Aldrin has seen not one, but two total solar eclipses from space, one each on both of his missions to space.

At the weekend’s Apollo 11 Gala, celebrating 48 years since the historic Moon landing to raise funds for Aldrin’s ShareSpace Foundation, he talked exclusively to WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com about the Apollo 11 crew’s enormous good fortune on their way to the Moon.

“We had a dark image of the Moon with the Sun behind it, and we saw the corona, so we were in the shadow of the Moon,” said Aldrin, 87, to WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com.

This wasn’t a total solar eclipse that could be seen on Earth, so you won’t find any record of it. This was a Moon shadow that the Apollo 11 crew intercepted by accident on July 19, 1969, as it was on the trans-lunar part of the trip between the Earth and the Moon. The event has been under-reported by the media despite this image of a total solar eclipse being in NASA’s online Apollo 11 archive:

Caption: AS11-42-6179 (19 July 1969) Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11 Total Solar Eclipse
Caption: AS11-42-6179 (19 July 1969)

NASA’s caption reads: ‘This photograph of the solar corona was taken from the Apollo 11 spacecraft during trans-lunar coast and prior to lunar orbit insertion. The moon is the dark disc between the spacecraft and the sun.’

“It was a bonus, we didn’t expect it, and we struggled to get a picture of it,” said Aldrin to WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com. “But we saw it – we were in the shadow of the Moon, and I don’t think the people who made the documentary In The Shadow Of The Moon knew about that part. I think they meant that the Moon was bigger than all of us or something, but I don’t think they understood what happened to us. We used the alignment of the Sun and Moon, and our journey to the Moon was literally in its shadow.”

Repeating Apollo 11’s journey into the Moon’s umbra – its darkest shadow – is surely something for future Moon-bound space tourism flights to aim for, but it wasn’t the first time Dr. Aldrin had seen a total solar eclipse from space.

Watching an eclipse from Gemini 12

While on the Gemini 12 mission, on November 11, 1966 when in the spacecraft’s twelfth orbit, he and colleague Jim Lowell witnessed an Earth-visible total solar eclipse happening, and took these three images:

Totality as seen from Gemini 12. Buzz Aldrin Total Solar Eclipse
Totality as seen from Gemini 12. Credit: NASA

 

A total solar eclipse as seen from the Gemini 12 spacecraft. Buzz Aldrin
A total solar eclipse as seen from the Gemini 12 spacecraft. NASA image: S66-63415

 

Totality as seen from Gemini 12. Buzz Aldrin Total Solar Eclipse
Totality as seen from Gemini 12. Credit: NASA

While Aldrin went on to be lunar module pilot on the historic Apollo 11 mission, Jim Lowell was a member of Apollo 8 – the first mission to orbit the Moon – and also on the ill-fated Apollo 13.

The Apollo 11 Gala was staged to promote orbital manoeuvring expert Aldrin’s ‘Get Your Ass To Mars’ campaign to promote the use of uniquely short-duration ‘cycler’ spacecraft to get people to Mars by 2039. It also featured Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos talking about how to colonize the solar system using his Blue Origin company’s re-usable rockets.

Photo credit: Cat Vinton

 

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