Moonshot: The Inside Story of Mankind's Greatest Adventure - Dan Parry (2009)


Kennedy had said America should commit itself to putting a man on the Moon 'before this decade is out'. There was some discussion as to whether his choice of words demanded the landing be made by 1969 or by 1970. Either way, although it was a challenging deadline, the end of the decade was at least easy to predict.

The Russians, however, remained an unknown quantity. By late 1968, suspicions were growing that they were about to send men into lunar orbit. NASA's slow but sure approach to the redevelopment of the command module threatened to come at a cost as once again there arose the spectre of being beaten into second place. In 1957, the Russians had launched the first satellite; they had put the first man into space in 1961; they sent a woman into space in 1963 and pulled off the world's first EVA in 1965. But in January 1966, the death of chief designer Sergei Korolev temporarily grounded their space programme. For more than a year Russia suspended its flights, and some in America began to suggest that the space-race was no more than a self-inflicted struggle against time.1

During this period the Russians were quietly preparing to return to space. They worked in such secrecy that when cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov launched on 23 April 1967 – beginning Russia's first manned orbital flight in two years – the mission came as a surprise even to Komarov's wife, Valentina. His spacecraft, Soyuz 1, quickly developed technical problems, and when it became clear that he might not survive re-entry Valentina was rushed into the control centre. She was allowed to bid her husband farewell, their final moments of anguish ending only when Komarov, unable to bear any more, asked her to go home.2After re-entering the atmosphere, the spacecraft's parachutes failed to open and Soyuz 1 plummeted into the steppes before bursting into flames. Komarov took the unenviable title of becoming the first man to die during a mission. His loss was a devastating setback to Russia's space programme. Coming three months after the Apollo 1 fire, it led to a similar period of delay to that experienced by NASA. Not until the autumn of 1968 was Moscow ready to send men back into space – the same time as Houston. The space-race was very definitely back on.

On 18 September, Zond 5, an unmanned probe, flew around the far side of the Moon, carrying turtles, meal-worms and other species. Harking back to the days of Laika, when the Russians sent a dog into space before sending a man, Zond 5 appeared to be a prelude to something more ambitious. CIA warnings, presented to NASA's senior chiefs, suggested Russia was developing a giant lunar rocket,3 these reports fuelling fears that Moscow was about to launch a manned attempt on the Moon. Even if cosmonauts were simply sent on a pass around the far side, this would still be enough to claim that men had been to Earth's nearest neighbour. For NASA, the years of hard work, the loss of the Apollo 1 crew and all the billions of dollars were overshadowed by the prospect of Moscow beating them to it, again. On 26 October, cosmonaut Georgi Beregovoi blasted into Earth orbit aboard Soyuz 3, intending to dock with the unmanned Soyuz 2 which had been launched the previous day. On the face of it, it was a bold mission with objectives that were more adventurous than those of Apollo 7 – which had launched two weeks earlier, on 11 October. Schirra's crew did little more than orbit the Earth. Soyuz 3, however, completed a successful rendezvous and even attempted a docking.

But while Beregovoi's flight essentially resembled a Gemini mission, by demonstrating the reliability of the Block II command module, Apollo 7 took NASA into a new arena of opportunity. Spending 11 days in space, Schirra proved the vehicle was capable of flying to the Moon and back. In fact the hardware out-performed the crew. The astronauts operated a 'watch' system so that one man was awake at any time, but his movements made it difficult for the other two to sleep. Tired and suffering colds, the crew became tetchy and hard to handle. Despite enjoying luxuries unheard of on Gemini, including hot meals and enough room to move about, the astronauts bickered with Mission Control so often that none of them was permitted to fly in space again.

Equipped with a safe spacecraft and a capable rocket, NASA was ready to combine the two in a mission that promised to take the space-race close to the finishing line. As a result of McDivitt's flight being delayed by the problems affecting the lunar module, the flight schedule was rewritten and the next crew pulled forward. In August Frank Borman, a broad-shouldered air force fighter pilot capable of making tough decisions quicker than anybody else, was given command of a daring mission to the Moon.4 The two remaining seats went to Bill Anders and Jim Lovell (who had replaced Collins). Borman's backup crew was also pulled forward, so that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Lovell's replacement Fred Haise found themselves supporting Apollo 8 instead of 9. This meant they now had an unexpected shot at flying Apollo 11. Aldrin became the backup command module pilot, with Haise training to fly the lunar module.5

Although the Houston neurologist who diagnosed Michael's problem had been unable to confirm its cause, Collins suspected that his life as a fighter pilot had finally caught up with him. While stationed in France he had ejected from an F-86, and he wondered whether this may have triggered the weakness in his neck. The neurologist suggested a straightforward operation to remove the offending section of bone. But the air force, still technically Michael's employers, insisted that if he hoped to fly again he would need something more substantial. Michael realised he had no choice but to agree to an operation that would remove the bone spur and then fuse two vertebrae together with a piece of bone from his hip.

Checking into an air force hospital on 21 July, Michael felt himself to have been 'dropped like a hot potato' from Borman's crew.6 After surgery he endured many weeks of frustrating uncertainty as he waited to find out whether the operation had been a success. By the autumn of 1968 he was back at work. But he was still grounded, and although offered a post at headquarters he got the impression it was a job being offered to an ex-astronaut, and turned it down.7 If he was to get back into space, Collins knew he needed to stay in Houston. While working with Lovell on preparations for Apollo 8, Michael tried to get back to a physical condition that would allow him to fly. For this mission it was too late; 'those bastards Borman and Slayton' had given his seat away and they weren't about to change their minds.8 'I don't think Mike has completely forgiven me yet,' Borman said recently, 'because I think he thought he could have come back. But the mission was more important than anybody.'9

While Borman, Lovell and Anders continued with their training, some within NASA struggled to accept that the target they had worked so hard to reach was finally within their grasp. Since 1961, NASA had been looking at the Moon through a shop window, wondering about the cash, the technology and the depth of willpower required to touch what seemed like forbidden treasure. Now that it was actually within their reach, a sense of nervous caution set in. On Sunday 10 November, less than six weeks before the launch of Apollo 8, George Mueller, Chris Kraft, Deke Slayton, George Low and other NASA managers met representatives of more than a dozen contractors to decide whether to commit to putting men into lunar orbit. Amid lingering apprehension, the managers adopted a veneer of confidence in giving the mission the go-ahead.10 The decision came not a moment too soon. On the same day, the Russians launched another unmanned probe on a mission to the Moon, raising fresh fears of cosmonauts making the trip before Christmas. NASA could beat them to it, if only they could hold their nerve.

A rocket no-one had flown before was to be sent into deep space, on a course dependent on pinpoint mathematical calculations while carrying a spacecraft tested only once in flight. It was a mission so risky there was no point pretending to the press it was anything less. Three days before the launch, the Apollo programme's head of safety, Jerry Lederer, said that Apollo 8 had 5,600,000 parts and even if all functioned with 99.9 per cent reliability 'we could expect 5,600 defects'.11 Borman wasted no time in dismissing such worries. Believing 'the mission was more important than our lives, than our families', he declared that he had 'no hesitancy about the hardware'.12 For him the flight was no less than a potential Cold War victory. It was his to be won; 'that's what we were there for,' he said.13 Privately, one of Frank's teenage sons told his mother, 'You know, Dad's lucky, he gets to choose the way he's going to die. You and I aren't going to have that privilege.'14

At lift-off, on the morning of 21 December 1968, Collins was confined to Mission Control. As the launch CapCom he was prepared to call an immediate abort should anything go seriously wrong. 'With 5,600 things about to break,' he wrote, 'we would have plenty to talk about.'15 The tension eased once the crew reached space, but a hushed sense of apprehension returned to Mission Control when Collins gave them permission to blast out of Earth orbit. In doing so they became the first people to slip beyond the cradle of the Earth and venture out into the open void. Throughout the history of manned space-flight only 24 people have ever gone further than Earth orbit, all of them Apollo astronauts – led by Borman, Lovell and Anders.

For the first time, human beings would be travelling through the potentially harmful radiation belts that stretched out around the Earth. The Van Allen belts posed no great risk to people passing through them quickly, nevertheless all Apollo astronauts wore dosimeters which displayed a measure of the radiation they encountered.16 Updates were regularly given to Mission Control where they were monitored by the flight surgeon. A day into the mission senior doctors were asked to attend a private meeting, together with Michael Collins and a handful of flight controllers.17 Borman had suddenly become ill. Dragging himself into the lower equipment bay, Frank had thrown up and then suffered diarrhoea, leaving particles of vomit and faeces floating about the cabin. They had to be chased down by Anders and Lovell using paper towels, as if swotting a swarm of insects. 'Basically it was a mess in the spacecraft,' Anders later remembered.18 With the world watching such a prominent mission, Borman was reluctant to share publicly details of his illness. He had agreed to provide a short summary on tape, knowing this could be transmitted to the ground using a discrete telemetry channel.

Uncertain of the extent of the problem, flight managers were left wondering whether they would have to announce that the mission was in trouble before the crew were even halfway to the Moon. In a private meeting in Mission Control, the doctors and managers contacted the spacecraft. Borman, by now much recovered, blamed a sleeping pill he had taken a few hours into the flight, but rather than radiation or a reaction to pills it was later established that NASA had encountered its first case of space sickness. The Mercury and Gemini cabins had been so cramped that an astronaut was unable to move about properly. But in the relatively spacious command module there was plenty of room to float around in weightlessness. In doing so, the fluids in the inner ear sloshed about and for some people this induced an illness that lasted a day or so until their body acclimatised to the conditions of space-flight. Neither Lovell nor Anders was ill, and once it was realised that Borman was on the mend the decision was made to allow the mission to continue.

As the backup commander, Armstrong was in the Mission Operations Control Room, watching events. It was here that, on the day after Borman's illness, Deke found him and asked him to step into an office.19In his usual direct manner Slayton offered Neil command of Apollo 11. He couldn't confirm the mission's objective since Apollo 8 had yet to be completed, and the critical tests to be carried out by 9 and 10 would have to be successful before a landing could be attempted. Not only was Slayton uncertain about Armstrong's mission, even the choice of crew remained open. By rights Aldrin and Haise could expect to be selected, but Deke had concerns about Buzz, and he wasn't alone. Buzz himself wrote that comments he made during the preparations for Apollo 8 riled Borman so much that, in front of Armstrong, 'Frank shot back that he didn't need any suggestions from me that would screw up his flight'.20 Deke told Neil that Buzz 'wasn't necessarily so easy to work with', adding that he could make Jim Lovell available if that's what Neil wanted.21 Currently flying as the Apollo 8 command module pilot (or CMP), Lovell would be well placed to perform the same role on Apollo 11.22

But Deke had another suggestion. X-rays had shown that Michael Collins, also a CMP, had made a complete recovery. He was back on flying status and itching to get back into rotation, and Slayton felt he deserved to be given a flight at the earliest opportunity – if Armstrong agreed. Asking for time to consider his choices, Neil slept on it before going back to Deke the following day.23 He knew that seniority in an Apollo crew ran from the commander to the command module pilot, and then to the lunar module pilot. On paper Buzz ought to fly as the CMP, but while Armstrong wanted Collins to serve on the crew he didn't want to relegate him to third position. Since Collins was a command module specialist it made sense to keep him in this role. Nor did Neil feel he could offer the third seat to Lovell since his Gemini and Apollo flights qualified him for his own command. Aldrin had trained as a lunar module pilot prior to the Apollo 8-Apollo 9 swap and could reasonably be asked to do the job again. Besides, Neil had been working with Buzz for months on Apollo 8 and felt that 'everything seem[ed] to be going all right'.24 Armstrong rated Aldrin's flying skills, noting that 'Buzz and I had both flown in Korea', and he appreciated the fact that Buzz's intellect, creative thinking and willingness to make suggestions made him a 'fine person to work with'.25 Neil had always stepped aside from the politics endemic in the Astronaut Office and was not about to start delving into personality conflicts now. In looking at Buzz he saw a man of ability; 'I'm not sure I recognised at that point in time what might be considered eccentricities,' Neil later said.26 As far as he was concerned, Collins would be the CMP and Aldrin the lunar module pilot, and in accepting his decisions Deke bumped Fred Haise into a place on the backup crew.

While Armstrong was weighing up his options, Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit. In passing behind the Moon the crew found themselves at a point further from home than had ever been experienced before by man.

Ever since John Houbolt had persuaded NASA to adopt the strategy of lunar orbit rendezvous it had been decided that a flight to the Moon would involve two spacecraft. It was assumed from an early point in the planning that should certain emergencies develop in the command module, the crew could use the lunar module as a lifeboat. Without a heat-shield the LM could never survive re-entry into the atmosphere. But equipped with a powerful engine, an independent set of thrusters and its own supplies of oxygen and electricity, it could provide a shelter in the event of a serious problem. The theory was later proved in practice when an explosion drained life from the command module during Apollo 13. The spacecraft was left with only enough power to carry the crew through the atmosphere, so for the four-day journey back to Earth the astronauts took refuge in their LM. The crew of Apollo 8 didn't have a lunar module, and were taking a gamble with every minute they remained in space.

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The fragile lunar module was only of use if it survived the rigours of being hurled into space while squashed inside its adapter. Apollo 11's LM had been extracted from its container a little over four hours into the mission, but by the morning of the third day of the flight no-one had yet been inside to see what condition it was in. Opening the way into the lunar module was not an easy process, since an elaborate probe and drogue docking assembly lay in the middle of the tunnel connecting the LM with the command module. The crew completed a round of household tasks (including a waste-water dump and a P52 exercise) before preparing for the afternoon's TV broadcast – during which Aldrin would finally get a chance to assess the lander. Before the mission began, he had fought for an inspection of the LM to be included in the flight-plan at the earliest opportunity. If there was a problem, he wanted to know about it before they entered lunar orbit. At 55 hours into the flight, Neil examined the probe and drogue before Collins dismantled it, clearing the way into the LM. It was 3.32pm in Houston on Friday 18 July. The crew had been awake for seven hours and so far the third day had been relatively quiet. They were now 175,000 miles away from the Earth and travelling at less than 2,200mph.

Once the probe and drogue were removed, Buzz floated into the dimly lit tunnel and gingerly opened the LM's hatch. As it pushed gently inward, he could see that sunshine was filtering through the thin, silver-coloured window-shades, the light bouncing off a stray washer that was floating near the ceiling. Shooting TV pictures as he went, Buzz took a while to get his bearings inside a spacecraft he only knew from an Earth-bound perspective. The hot, cramped cabin was very different from the roomy command module, and was dusty enough to make Buzz cough. The white ceiling fittings, bathed in sunlight, reflected light on to the scores of switches and gauges set in the grey instrument panels. While the command module, like any home, was littered with personal possessions and equipment, the LM contained neatly packed white bags that gave it a sterile atmosphere. It was as if the cockpit were waiting in storage until whenever it might be needed. Although many of the gauges were already displaying meaningful information, the spacecraft looked less than ready for the monumental journey it would be making in a couple of days' time. Allowing the world its first glimpse of the vehicle that was going to go all the way to the Moon, Buzz panned round the cabin until he was looking back into the tunnel. 'Hey, that's a great shot right there,' said CapCom Charlie Duke, 'guess that's Neil and Mike. Better be, anyway.'

Travelling through the dark void of space, the gold exterior surfaces of the lunar module reflected sunrays so brightly that when peering through Columbia's sextant it was sometimes difficult to look for stars.27Now, gazing through the LM's windows, for the first time Buzz was able to see the command module's polished surface, gleaming brightly in the sunshine. 'I can see the hatch and all the EVA handrails,' he said, 'first time we've seen the silvery outside of the command module.' Aldrin then pointed the camera back inside the LM, where dust and particles of paint floating above the instrument consoles also looked silver as they shimmered in the sunlight. Since the cockpit was not fitted with chairs, Buzz attached cables to clips on his waist to secure himself in position.

Aldrin: 'The restraints in here do a pretty good job of pulling my pants down.'

Duke: 'Roger. We haven't quite got that before the fifty million TV audience, yet.' A few minutes later, looking at Armstrong in the tunnel, Charlie added, 'Neil, at this attitude you look like you're about 12 feet long.'

Armstrong: 'It seems like I always find myself upside-down in whatever I'm doing around here.'

As he took the TV audience on a tour of the cabin, Buzz believed that the LM was in a good condition. He and Neil wouldn't know for certain until a short time before they were ready to begin the landing. As well as looking at the controls, Buzz also checked some of the equipment that would be needed on the Moon. 'We're giving you a picture now of the floor of the cabin,' he told Mission Control. 'I think you can see one of the two portable life-support system backpacks here in the centre, and on each side we have the two helmet visors.'

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Buzz had first discovered he was to walk on the Moon on Monday 6 January 1969, 10 days after the safe return of Apollo 8.28 He and Michael were called into Deke's office, where Neil was already waiting. 'You're it,' Slayton told them. He added it was 'conceivable' that Apollo 11 may be the first mission to attempt a landing, as was to be reflected in their training.29 However, it was also possible that Apollo 9, McDivitt's delayed test-flight of the LM, could be further postponed, which would force NASA to give the landing to Apollo 10 in order to meet the deadline. This would involve an all-out dash for the surface, without first completing a dress rehearsal. Such a bold step would echo the ambitious decision to send Borman to the Moon earlier than planned.

In later years it would be suggested that NASA had carefully hand-picked the crew of Apollo 11, deliberately choosing a civilian commander in order to disassociate itself with the war in Vietnam. But Deke always insisted the men were picked only on the basis that it was their turn to fly next. 'There isn't any big magic selection that goes on for each mission,' he once explained.30 In fact Deke had long hoped that the first man to walk on the Moon would be one of the Mercury Seven. Before the Apollo 1 fire, this had been agreed with headquarters and with Bob Gilruth, the director of the Manned Spacecraft Center. The obvious choice had been Gus Grissom, but after the loss of his close friend Slayton went back to the system of rotation.31

For Deke, the selection process was about the mission as much as about the astronauts. In putting a crew together he looked for three compatible men whose skills complemented one another and who were eligible to fly based on the length of time they had been waiting for a flight. In sending men into space, Slayton took mental stability for granted; gung-ho mavericks, awkward personalities and oddballs likely to reach for the hatch had already been weeded out during the selection process. Believing that all astronauts should be capable of flying any flight, Deke didn't fret about who was best psychologically equipped for any particular role.32 Once he had put a crew together, the names were sent to Gilruth for approval before being passed to headquarters where they were usually rubber-stamped by George Mueller, the head of manned space-flight. The power Deke held over people's careers was extensive. Chris Kraft, for one, thought it was excessive. Kraft wrote that Deke 'seldom had to justify his actions to Gilruth or anyone else'.33

Despite Deke's words of caution about Apollo 11's objective, as Buzz took in the news he was filled with excitement. For the sake of form he knew he had to mask his reaction behind a 'façade of business as usual'.34 Nevertheless he couldn't wait to tell Joan. The Aldrins' washing machine had broken down, and Buzz later remembered that on the way back from the laundrette, 'driving home in a car jammed full of wet laundry, I told my wife I was going to land on the Moon'. He described Joan as becoming 'half hysterical, partly out of pride, but mostly out of fear'.35 Three days later an official announcement named the crew of Apollo 11, and subsequent headlines dubbed them the 'Moon Team'.36 Slayton later told the press that they would be the first crew to concentrate on a landing, and confirmed that the backup crew was to be commanded by Jim Lovell, with Bill Anders training as the CMP and Fred Haise serving as the lunar module pilot.

For Michael Collins, it was the opportunity he feared would never come, and he relished the chance to fly with Neil and Buzz. He had much respect for both men, whom he regarded as 'smart as hell ... competent and experienced'.37 Michael had first met Neil in 1962, when each was attempting to become an astronaut, and at the time he considered Armstrong to have the strongest background of the six civilians hoping to be taken on. The fact that Neil was selected, whereas he himself was not, came as no great surprise to Collins when he took into account their relative levels of test-flight experience. 'I like him,' Michael said later, 'but I don't know what to make of him, or how to get to know him better.'38 He considered that while Neil was patient with 'processes', sometimes he could be impatient with people when they didn't meet his standards.39

When Collins returned to Houston in 1963, he met Aldrin who in later years he considered to be more approachable than the reticent Neil. Indeed, Michael admitted it was actually he who tried to keep Buzz at arm's length. 'I have the feeling that he would probe me for weaknesses, and that makes me uncomfortable,' he wrote.40 For his part, Aldrin admired Neil and Michael but didn't feel especially close to either of them. He later recalled that in 1963 there 'wasn't anything that particularly drew me to Mike'.41 He first met Neil at Ed White's house (possibly in 1964) and later remembered that at the time Neil was roller-skating around the front yard. He discovered him to be 'reserved, deep and thoughtful' and subsequently found that occasionally he could also be stubborn.42

Within the Astronaut Office, all three men were regarded as competent and well suited to the mission. Whether their peers universally considered them to be the best three to do the job is unlikely, given the competitive nature of most astronauts, but Deke had made his decision and no-one was going to change his mind.

For all three men, landing on the Moon was one thing; doing it first was something else. There was no doubt that the later, more adventurous flights would attract considerably less press attention than the tentative first attempt, which would be carried out under international scrutiny.43 Buzz privately discussed with Joan the idea of flying on a different mission, but he knew there was no chance of raising the matter with anyone else. To do so would amount to 'sacrilege', risking the removal of all three men from the mission and seriously prejudicing Aldrin's chances of ever flying again. He felt that 'I was part of the crew and I couldn't let anyone down by my individual concerns'.44 Yet subsequent events suggest this was not the whole story.

Kennedy had called for a man to land on the Moon and then come home again. There had been no mention of anybody shimmying down a ladder, let alone skipping about on the surface scooping up boxes of dust. But it had come to be assumed that at least one man would venture out on to the lunar plain. Initially it was thought that only one member of the crew would leave the spacecraft, following the precedent set during the Gemini programme. However, a number of experiments were being assembled for the first lunar EVA. There would be little time to set them up and it was realised that two men would be needed to complete the work. On this basis, both Neil and Buzz would step on to the surface.

What the press wanted to know, just a day after the crew's names were officially released, was which of them would go first.45 Following the example set by Ed White, the EVA was traditionally performed by the second crewman while the commander flew the spacecraft. Buzz had shown that this strategy was successful and that key objectives could be achieved by the junior man operating on his own. If he were to receive assistance from Neil while on the Moon, then so much the better. Early paperwork showed that Buzz was indeed slated to become the first man to step on to the surface, and the press were advised accordingly. Reporters were told by George Mueller that Aldrin would be first.46

By March, Buzz began to hear on the Houston grapevine that maybe Neil would go first. Aldrin has suggested that his initial reaction to this news was one of puzzlement. But when it appeared that Neil was being considered ahead of Buzz because he was a civilian, Aldrin grew angry. He felt that 'the implication was that the military service was ... some sort of warmonger'; besides, he knew that 'Neil had learned to fly in the service, just as I had'.47 As far as Buzz was concerned there were no differences between them and therefore he had as much right to go first as anyone. As Chris Kraft remembered it, 'Buzz Aldrin desperately wanted that honour and wasn't quiet in letting it be known'.48 Buzz has said that he wanted to take some of the burden off Neil, who would have to cope with leading the EVA in addition to accomplishing the landing. Aldrin recently explained that 'My objective was to try and even out the training workload and follow the precedent that had been set in all space walks up to that time.'49

His frustration about who was to be first was fanned by his father's expectations. The family was already in turmoil. The previous May, Buzz's mother had taken an overdose of sleeping pills. She had done this once before, and it had been considered an accident. This time, she had been found by Gene Aldrin and rushed to hospital. The second time may also have been an accident, but Buzz had his doubts. His maternal grandfather had taken his own life and Buzz was aware his mother no longer had a strong will to live. 'When my mother took her life about a year before my Apollo flight,' he said, 'certainly it was a very sad situation, but there wasn't at that point anything I could really do about it except move on and understand that those things happen.'50 At the family's request the death certificate referred to cardiac arrest, and for years Buzz and his sisters said little about their deeper suspicions.51

In early 1969, Gene Aldrin threw himself into the row over who would be first to walk on the Moon. In a phone-call to his father, Buzz persuaded him not to intervene via high-level friends.52 Slayton wasn't sure the message had got through. 'From the moment Buzz joined NASA,' Deke wrote, 'his old man was trying to pull strings to get him assigned to a flight.' Now, once again he discovered that Aldrin senior had 'got into the act'.53 Buzz himself declared that amid all the distracting gossip and speculation he simply wanted to know who it was going to be.

The problem began to gnaw at him. Buzz mulled it over for a few days but decided that the issue was 'potentially too explosive for even the subtlest manoeuvring'. Then he went directly to Neil.54 Armstrong fudged the issue for a minute or two before coolly telling Buzz he didn't want to rule himself out. Deke had warned Neil about Buzz, and now Armstrong found himself caught up in the kind of political wrangling he had traditionally shied away from. Deke himself told Buzz that it would probably be Neil first since he was the more senior of the two. Armstrong was the commander of the mission and had been in NASA for longer.55 In search of support, Buzz raised the issue with other astronauts, including Michael Collins, who recalled that 'I quickly turned him off. I had enough problems without getting into the middle of that one.'56

Subtle diplomacy was tricky. The alternative was to be direct, but this way of doing things had led to problems with Houston's managers during Buzz's campaign for a Gemini flight, and more recently with Neil. Nevertheless Aldrin decided that being direct was worth the risk, and this time he would go to George Low, the most senior Apollo manager in Houston.