One of the most decorated ships in U.S. history will welcome back this weekend a space trailblazer who came aboard after taking part in one of the world’s most memorable events.
The USS Hornet on Saturday is celebrating its connection to the 45th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon by hosting a special ceremony for Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.
Now 84 years old, Aldrin was the second of two astronauts to step out of their lunar module and walk on the moon on July 21, 1969.
Modern television viewers have become accustomed to watching astronauts finish their space missions by landing at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California or at the John F. Kennedy Flight Center in Florida.
But in the early days of space travel, a module detached from the spacecraft and parachuted into the ocean. The astronauts would then wait inside while helicopters dispatched from a nearby Navy ship would come and pluck them from the sea.
After returning from the moon, the module containing Aldrin and his two fellow Apollo 11 crew members landed in a remote stretch of the Pacific Ocean, but about 15 miles from the Hornet.
Navy divers worked at stabilizing the bobbing module, while a helicopter crew from the carrier hoisted Aldrin and the two other astronauts — Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins — out of the module and flew them to the Hornet.
The lunar landing of a few days earlier was televised live around the world, transfixing millions of viewers. Mission commander Neil Armstrong was the first to step onto the surface of the moon and made his now famous observation “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
In another broadcast, made the night before the astronauts returned to earth, Aldrin shared his views of the mission:
“This has been far more than three men on a mission to the moon; more, still, than the efforts of a government and industry team; more, even, than the efforts of one nation. We feel that this stands as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown … Personally, in reflecting on the events of the past several days, a verse from Psalms comes to mind. ‘When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him?’”
Aldrin, who besides his astronaut work, served for 21 years in the Air Force. He retired as a colonel in 1972.
Saturday’s event — called “Splashdown 45” — begins at 10 a.m., with Aldrin speaking to the crowd from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Organizers say visitors will have a chance to meet the space pioneer.
A VIP reception is set for that evening, with a commemorative dinner later that night.
For information visit www.uss-hornet.org or call 510-521-8448.
The USS Hornet, permanently berthed in Alameda, is now a designated National Historic Landmark and museum. Besides being the carrier that recovered the astronauts from the first lunar landing, its history goes back several decades.
Launched in 1943, the Hornet was involved in a number of major air battles in WW II. It later patrolled the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War.
John Marshall is an SFBay editor and producer and writer for San Francisco’s KGO Radio. Follow him on Twitter @breakingnewsman.