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By Walter Elliott
MONTCLAIR - Native and favorite son Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin was present in all but live flesh and sound here at the Montclair Township Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing here at the Montclair Public Library July 20.
A cardboard cutout of Aldrin, slightly taller than his 5-ft., 10-in. actual height but otherwise taken as-is by Neil Armstrong on the Sea of Tranquility July 20, 1969, stood off to the MPL theater stage's right Saturday morning.
More Aldrin memorabilia was found throughout the main library's auditorium for the some 60 people to examine before, during and after the 60-min. township celebration.
There was a drawing for a copy of "To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure," a 2018 book written by Aldrin with Marianne Dyson and illustrator Bruce Foster. Copies of another Aldrin-authored book, "Reaching for the Moon," were handed out.
The Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum of New Jersey brought an 8-ft.-tall, 1/48th scale model of the Apollo/Saturn V rocket that propelled Aldrin, Armstrong and Michael Collins to the Moon.
Museum Executive Director Ralph Villecca passed along the following message from Aldrin for the audience, as taken from the retired astronaut's over-the-cell-phone conversation last week with him:
"Buzz asked me to tell each of you on how personally gratified he was and his deep appreciation that you're having this day," said Villecca, of Newfoundland, "not only to commemorate the 50th anniversary but to honor his efforts."
It was not clear where Apollo 11 survivors Aldrin or Collins were, let alone what they were doing, July 20, 2019. (Armstrong, 82, died in Cincinnati, Ohio Aug. 25, 2012.)
On one hand, Lunar Module "Eagle" Pilot Aldrin and Command Module "Columbia" Pilot Collins were men in demand this season. Their recent public stops included being at NASA Cape Kenney Launch Pad 39A July 16 and met President Donald J. Trump in the White House July 19.
Wherever they were Saturday, they were certainly not back at their respective Glen Ridge or Avon, N.C. homes.
50 years to the day earlier, Apollo 11 Commander Armstrong and Aldrin detached their LM Eagle from Collins' CM Columbia for a descent to the Sea of Tranquility. A decade's preparation and, as Aldrin recently said, the work of 400,000 people was building to that history making day.
The Eagle, after a last-moment steering away from a boulder field, landed 4:17 p.m. EDT. Armstrong, before a live global television audience of 600 million people, would become the first human to set foot on the Moon 10:56 p.m. Aldrin followed some 12 minutes later.
"Local Talk" remembered sitting alone in the family basement in Orange, watching and waiting for the landing on a black-and-white TV set. Once Armstrong announced, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed," the viewer ran upstairs shouting "We did it! We're on the Moon!"
The whole family later gathered around the set to watch Armstrong take that "one small step for a man, but one giant leap for mankind."
It was a common experience shared by those who raised their hands who remembered that day - which was half the auditorium audience July 20, 2019. It was pretty much the same among Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville, outgoing Deputy Mayor Bob Russo, Deputy Township Manager Brian P. Scantlebury, Buzz Aldrin Middle School Assistant Principal Major Jennings and others asked by "Local Talk."
"When the son of Montclair was stepping out on the Moon, he joked to (to Armstrong) that they better not lock themselves out," said Montclair journalist Jonathan Alter. "He commented on a 'beautiful view,' and, on the surface, "magnificent desolation." They could see the Moon's horizon, about 1.5 miles away, and its curvature."
Alter noted that Aldrin had long been making a name for himself - and people applying names on him. Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr. was born in Glen Ridge's Mountainside Hospital Jan. 20, 1930 and was raised at 25 Princeton Place in Montclair's Watchung section. His mother's maiden name was Moon.
"One of Aldrin's sisters couldn't pronounce 'brother' but 'buzzer'," said Alter. "It got shortened to 'Buzz.' 'Toy Story' named its astronaut 'Buzz Lightyear' and 'Buzz' has become a prototypical astronaut name.'"
Aldrin picked up the loves of learning in the Edgemont Elementary and the then-Mt. Hebron Middle schools. The captain of the 1946 MHS Mounties undefeated State Championship football team was named "Most Likely to Succeed" by his Class of 1947 peers.
Aldrin went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating third overall in his class. He flew 66 USAF Korean War combat missions 1951-53 before earning a doctorate in astronautics at MIT.
"He was called 'Dr. Rendezvous' for his doctorate thesis was about rendezvous and docking - which proved vital for the Apollo program," said Alter. "He was the first astronaut, selected for the Gemini program, with a Ph.D. and not as a test pilot. NASA admitted his 66 combat missions as flight experience."
Montclair was already proud of Aldrin when he was teamed with Jim Lovell for Gemini 12. Aldrin, who logged a then-record five-hour spacewalk, also used a slide rule to correct the Gemini's computer problem.
"There's more computing power in our cell phones than in Apollo's computer, which gives you an idea on how far we've come in 50 years," added Villecca. "Even with the training and technological advances, there was uncertainty. Yet, the American sprit to advance in technology, when focused on a singular goal, is the culmination of the event we're celebrating today - and Col. Aldrin embodies the American spirit."
Russo added that President John F. Kennedy's 1961 proposal to "landing a man to the Moon and bring him safely back to Earth before this decade's out," was what gave NASA's Project Mercury a boost - and its space program a goal. The future mayor and attorney said he had joined the local "New Frontier" club on JFK's inspiration.
Aldrin and Armstrong, after an hour's EVA, left the Moon to rejoin Collins and splashed down in the North Pacific Ocean July 24. The "Hands Off Heroes" were put in precautionary quarantine until Aug. 10.
"Out of the billions of people on Earth, only 12 have walked on the Moon," said Mayor Robert Jackson before announcing his and the Township Council's proclamation of Apollo 11 and Aldrin's feats. "Of that 12, one came from Montclair, N.J. It still blows my mind."
Buzz Aldrin would not return home until Sept. 9, 1969 - and that was in the midst of a month-long celebratory tour by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 25 cities among 22 countries.
The Essex County Freeholders and Montclair named Sept. 9 "Buzz Aldrin Day," complete with a parade along Bloomfield Avenue and a reception at MPL. It was at that reception that "Local Talk," in an attempt to have Aldrin autograph a "Man in Space" bubble gum card, ended up with a banged knee against a library chair.
The last time Aldrin was in his hometown was Sept. 14, 2016, when he oversaw the renaming of the Mt. Hebron School. The renaming effort was the culmination of an 18- month effort by Katie Rubacky severance and several hundred residents.
The only other Aldrin memorials here, before 2016, was a plaque on 25 Princeton Pl. and a photo portrait of Aldrin, saluting the U.S. flag on the Moon, on the Montclair Diner's wall. (Aldrin worked as a soda jerk, or server, while at MHS.)
"Buzz ate in our school, walked in our halls and sat in our classrooms," said Jennings of the Aldrin Middle magnet school's STEM curriculum. "That's a huge inspiration and a reminder of his accomplishments. There's no boundaries on what we can do."
Activities included a robotics demonstration by STEM students of Montclair's L3 Academy.