periment on the Moon Was a Failure’

  • Apr 1, 2016
  • TIME
  • By: Buzz Aldrin

Dr. Buzz Aldrin served as lunar module pilot for Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission.

‘My failures have led to my successes,’

the astronaut writes in his new memoir

If you want to do something significant, something noble, something that perhaps has never been done before, you must be willing to fail. And don’t be surprised or devastated when you do. It is not the end of the world, and untold numbers of people have experienced major failures and have come back from them, not only as more successful, but also as better, stronger people.

I failed miserably during one of my first experiments on the Moon. With Neil Armstrong already on the lunar surface, I made my way out of the Eagle’s hatch and began carefully descending the ladder, stepping slowly until I became more accustomed to how the heavy life-support backpack was going to affect my sense of balance in an environment with only one-sixth the gravitational pull of Earth’s. When I reached the last rung on the ladder, I jumped down to the Eagle’s footpad, solidly planted on the surface.

According to our flight plan’s checklist, I was supposed to jump back up again to the bottom rung, as an experiment from which I could learn how much energy I needed to expend after Neil and I returned from exploring the Moon’s surface. Because it had never been done before, we wanted to make sure that we could comfortably negotiate that first step after our extravehicular activity.

Neil had easily made the jump from the lunar module’s pad back to the first step, a leap I had watched him make as I peered out the window before going down the ladder myself. It didn’t look too hard.

But when I tried to jump back to the first rung, I underestimated the gravitational pull of the Moon, didn’t jump high enough, and missed the step by about an inch. My shins skidded against the step and scraped the bottom of the rung, smearing Moon dust on my space suit just below my knees. The dust was apparently a residual effect, left over from the bottom of Neil’s boots on the ladder.

So my first experiment on the Moon was a failure. “How embarrassing!” I thought.

My botched jump shook my confidence a bit. Maybe moving around on the Moon would be more difficult than I’d anticipated. I stood on the LM’s footpad for a few moments to regain my composure, and that’s when I decided to test the urine-collection device.

“I’ll put a little more oomph in it,” I thought to myself before jumping up again, and this time I easily ascended to the bottom rung. I was back to where I started a few seconds earlier but now with greatly improved self-confidence and a much lighter bladder. I dropped back down to the footpad and stepped out to where only one human being had ever gone before me, and that only a short time earlier—I stepped onto the surface of the Moon.

Over the years of my life, I’ve been quite open about the failures I’ve endured. I find that many people can relate more to my mistakes than they can to my successes. In truth, they both go hand in hand; my failures have led to my successes, and some of my greatest achievements have set me up for my worst falls. But I’ve learned and I’ve grown from both kinds of experiences.

Some people don’t like to admit that they have failed or that they have not yet achieved their goals or lived up to their own expectations. But failure is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that you are alive and growing.

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