With the kind permission of Isabelle Fougère (text) and Stephan Gladieu (photos). For the fortieth anniversary of the first steps on the moon, the reporters of Figaro Magazine Isabelle Fougère and Stephan Gladieux met 6 walkers on the moon as well as the earth hero of the Apollo 13 mission. Exceptional and exclusive testimonies.
THEY WALKED ON THE MOON
"A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind. "It is July 21, 1969, it is 3:56 am in France. Neil Armstrong sets foot on the moon. Hundreds of millions of viewers are holding their breath as the Apollo 11 mission explodes. For the next three years, the missions followed one another, all successful, with the exception of Apollo 13 in April 1970, which was aborted because of the explosion of an oxygen tank. The technique is improving: astronauts drive electric jeeps, sleep and eat on the Moon. Thanks to the harvests of these interplanetary visitors, scientists have a better understanding of the formation of the solar system. Yet between Kennedy's founding speech in 1961 and the Nixon years, beginning in 1968, the United States changed. Lunar travel is less popular with Americans and Congress is criticized for being expensive. The last three Apollo missions were cancelled and the lunar page abruptly closed. Until 1972, twelve men succeeded each other on the lunar ground to write the most exceptional pages of the space conquest. From their travels, the explorers of the Moon have brought back exceptional impressions and existential questions. Nine of them are still alive. Isabelle FOUGÈRE met the heroes of this epic. Their dream: to live long enough to see man return to the Moon....
NEIL ARMSTRONG : THE HERO IN SPITE OF HIMSELF
APOLLO II 16 / 24 July 1969 . Time spent on the moon. 2:31 a. m. Current age: deceased
As a child, Neil Armstrong had a dream: he hovered above the ground. Thirty years later, it made hundreds of millions of Earthlings dream when they set foot on the Moon. The myth was probably too much to bear, which caused the former pilot to bow out on his return and slip away. However, there is still the first one, the one that everyone remembers forty years later. Over time, a hollow portrait of the most famous astronaut is created. Gene Kranz, the flight director, is probably the one who followed him most closely: "During the preparation of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong seemed more observant than protagonist, but when you looked at his eyes, you knew that he was the commander and that all the pieces were assembled in his head. He never raised his voice. He was preserving his energy. "Neil Armstrong's only testimony is from his logbook and the recording of his conversations with Houston. They were included in Gene Farmer and Dora Jane Hamblin's First on the Moon (i), published in French under the title J'ai marche sur la Lune (2). He recalls Apollo 11: "We were still thousands of kilometres away, but close enough for the Moon to fill the whole window anyway. It eclipsed the Sun, whose halo could be seen all around it, like a gigantic saucer of light extending over several lunar diameters. It was splendid, but the Moon was even more splendid. We were in its shadow... I was then really conscious, visually conscious, that the Moon was a sphere and not a disc. It was as if she was showing us her curves, her resemblance to our Earth, as a sign of welcome. I was sure she would be a very welcoming host. It had been waiting for its first visitors for so long. "When Neil Armstrong returned, he was overwhelmed with tributes. He addressed Congress, toured the world, visited American troops in Vietnam. For a year, he served in NASA but eventually resigned to teach as quietly as possible at the University of Cincinnati. Waste of time: the amphitheatres were full of reporters. Neil Armstrong then retired to become a businessman. The secret in which the pioneer walled up only reinforced his legend. Since then, the craziest rumours have been circulating about him. On the Internet, fake objects that belonged to him, fake autographs and even a fake lock of his hair sold at astronomical prices.
BUZZ ALDRIN : THE POULIDOR OF SPACE
APOLL0 11 (16 / 24 July 1969). Time spent on the moon: 2 hours and 15 minutes. Current age: 89 years old. Lives in Beverly Hills, California.
ALAN BEAN : THE PAINTER OF SPACE
moon dust. I put a touch on each canvas. "Alan Bean has memories of Apollo 12 in front of his works: "We had a frightening landing, our computers didn't calculate accurately enough. I remember running madly in weightlessness, without feeling tired, as if I was dancing on tiptoes. "Without looking behind their reflective visors, Alan Bean's astronauts are returning the image that the painter could have seen. "The explorers of the past seemed strange to the natives. On the moon, there was no one there. But in our suits, we looked like creatures from another planet to our friends and family. We are like the conquistadors of the 16th century on the paintings of the time. Like them, we arrived on board ships and used the best technology of our time. But the conquistadors came to take land, gold and jewels. We went to the moon for knowledge. Dust and stones, that's all we brought back. "Upon his return, Alan Bean participated in the Apollo Soyuz project, which brought together Americans and Soviets. But painting had always tempted him. In 1981, he stopped everything for her: I was a beginner again, but I had been to the moon, so I was well able to become an artist! I wanted to go beyond reality, to express myself through colour. Today, I paint my vision of the Moon. I don't feel like an astronaut who has started painting, but like an artist who once was an astronaut. »
EDGAR MITCHELL : A REVELATION IN THE COSMOS
"Up there, walking, I had the feeling I was a scout. We had so many tasks to accomplish: impossible to enjoy the landscape! I often think about it and try to find these fleeting sensations. Houston was getting us drunk with words while we were moving like on a trampoline! "Slowly, Edgar Mitchell walks along Palm Beach. Who would guess that retired Florida man trampled the lunar dust? With his eye fixed on the horizon, the former astronaut remembers Apollo 14 as a spiritual experience. Leaving the Earth has changed his life, even more than walking on the Moon. After two walks of more than four hours each, Edgar Mitchell and his commander Alan Shepard joined the module. "We hadn't eaten for twelve hours and haven't slept for twenty-two! Through the window, I saw the Moon, the stars and the Earth marching by. What I felt then changed my life. Everything I knew, loved, hated or thought eternal was there, a fragile little sphere suspended in the cosmos. I felt physically like part of a whole. I was sure that we are not alone in the Universe. "On the way back, Edgar Mitchell knew right away what he was going to devote his life to. In 1972, he left NASA. While pursuing engineering consulting missions, he embarked on research on human consciousness. "I have read all the texts: religion, anthropology, archaeology, psychology. I wanted to understand what had happened to me. In Sanskrit literature, I discovered the concept of Samâdhi, the emotional experience of unity. "In 1973, he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences. "We have been conducting multidisciplinary research on the power of consciousness for more than thirty-five years, at the frontier between applied sciences and philosophy: intuition, the physical and psychic effects of meditation... I had to fight to make sure the institute didn't become a chapel and I didn't become a guru! People drew parallels between the 12 men who walked on the Moon and the 12 apostles "Author of a film and a book (The View from Space, a Message for Peace, and The Way of the Explorer), the former astronaut now dreams of a humanity conscious of the fragility of the cosmos: "We must learn to generalize this feeling of unity that I experienced when I returned from the Moon. This is what will help us to lead a sustainable life.
JOHN YOUNG : THE ETERNAL ASTRONAUT
A little stiff, dressed in an impeccable white underwear, John Young crosses the Houston training hangar with an extraterrestrial step. Both strange and normal. To the respect we show him for his past as a conqueror of space, he responds with a shrug, as if so many flights beyond the atmosphere were routine. From his humour, he no longer lets anything show through. The one who sang at the top of his lunar head in orbit and played the supermen in the sprint between the lunar craters, champion of the laughing madman and the good word, no longer gives up on a scientific and military rigour. "Walking on the moon? That was my job, I'm an astronaut! My memory? We had little time and a lot of work. "John Young's lunar stay is best described by his Apollo 16 companion, Charlie Duke." When he stepped on the moon, we were twenty minutes late. All he could think about was catching up with them. But when he discovered the beauty of the landscape, he became exuberant. As we walked, John swore because the conduit that allowed him to drink was not working properly and the orange juice bubbles blurred his vision. Houston even called him to order for his swearing! "John Young never left NASA. For forty years, he has only very rarely missed the weekly astronaut briefing. He holds on because he has an objective in mind, almost obsessive: "Every time I look at the Moon, I wonder why we don't go back. We have to industrialize the Moon. This will revolutionize the way we live on Earth. We will produce electricity there. "A simple "why" is enough to annoy him: "It will get worse and worse with global warming, volcanoes, meteorites and overpopulation. And we sit here waiting for things to get better. We have to find our creativity again. The rocks of the Moon contain oxygen, you can extract it and stay there. But space is no longer in fashion, and it is very likely that this time the Chinese will be the first to the Moon... »
CHARLIE DUKE : THE ATHLETE OF WEIGHTLESSNESS
"She appeared by surprise. We were in orbit in his shadow. Everything was black: Suddenly, the Sun rose. With the snap of a finger, the Moon was there, bright, huge. She was revealing her hidden side to us. I had in mind the music of 2001: the Space Odyssey. "That's how Charlie Duke discovered the Moon. During the trip, he had let himself be won over by the euphoria of the mission for which he had been preparing for years. With his companion John Young, they listened to country music, enjoying their meals in weightlessness: "We looked like PacMen, eating soup balls! "The two astronauts also experienced anxiety: "Five minutes before landing; we thought we would have an abortion. In Houston, they were looking for a solution. It took six hours, but they succeeded. I finally heard "Lunar Contact"... The greatest moment of my life. "In three days, Charlie Duke explored a huge crater, almost lost himself between the cliffs, made speed peaks in a lunar jeep and exhausted himself collecting dust and rocks. He also frightened himself: "In weightlessness, you feel very strong. I jumped higher and higher.... Until the moment I tipped over and found myself on my back, like a turtle. I could have damaged my suit and stayed there. The whole world saw me and I got reprimands from Houston. "On the third day, Charlie Duke and John Young tried to pull a few more hours, but the base said no. You had to leave. From his Texas home overlooking an emerald lake where he fishes, Charlie Duke often contemplates the Moon. "It was difficult to leave.
On our way to Earth, we made a spacewalk. I remained motionless, floating among the Sun, the Moon, the Earth. "When Charlie Duke came back, he did everything he could to get back up there. He continued training until he realized that there would be no more Apollo flights. Although associated with the shuttle adventure, the heart was no longer there. He started his business successfully, but his three days on the moon continued to pursue it. Always impeccable in an aviator's jacket that suits him like a young man, he has become a philosopher. "For me, Apollo had been an adventure, a pilot's challenge, not a spiritual experience. It took me a while to understand. I had been successful, but I felt a terrible emptiness. My wife gradually brought me to God. I started to feel at peace. »
GENE KRANZ : THE GUARDIAN ANGEL OF HOUSTON