What did Buzz Aldrin say when he first stepped on the moon?

We all know Neil Armstrong’s first words while stepping on the moon. But what about that second guy was on the moon with Neil Armstrong? Who was he? And what did he say?

The other guy was Buzz Aldrin. Yeah, the face-punching Buzz Aldrin is the other guy who walked on the Moon with Neil Armstrong. What did the brash guy say when he stepped on the moon? Did he say something cocky? Or did he say something poetic? Actually, a little bit of both.

Aldrin’s first words after he set foot on the Moon were “Beautiful view”, to which Armstrong asked “Isn’t that something? Magnificent sight out here.” Aldrin answered, “Magnificent desolation.”

Landscape of the moon. Text over image says: 
ARMSTRONG: Isn't that something. Magnificent sight. 
ALDRIN: Magnificent desolation.

Magnificent desolation. Both poetic and cheeky.

(The photo in this graphic is “AS11-40-5881.jpg” from the Apollo mission. The text is from the original transcripts by NASA. I had to alter the text a bit because… see next section)

Did Buzz Aldrin really say “Magnificent desolation”? The official NASA transcripts record “Magnificent definition”.

Image of page 385 from the official NSA transcript "Apollo 11 Spacecraft Commentary". Aldrin's first words while stepping onto the Moon, "Magnificent definition"
The official NASA transcript “Apollo 11 Spacecraft Commentary” is available in a 633-page PDF (AS11_PAO.PDF). You can find Buzz Aldrin’s “Magnificent definition” quote on page 385.

“Magnificent definition” makes no sense. What’s he talking about?

What could Buzz Aldrin have meant when he said, “Magnificent definition”?

Maybe Aldrin was commenting on the fine texture of the lunar rocks surrounding the Lunar Module? Those rocks had nice definition. Or perhaps the fidelity of the lunar landscape? Maybe because we’ve always seen the Moon from photographs, and now he’s physically on the surface, the definition of the Moon is magnificent.

Perhaps. But most likely the transcriber simply heard the words wrong. Let’s try to give it a listen ourselves.

NASA has many different sources of the first Moon landing.
• Two different video recordings (EVA television and and Lowry Digital, the 16mm onboard film from Buzz Aldrin’s window in HD)
• The audio recordings with the two astronauts and Bruce McCandless II in Houston
• High-resolution still photographs taken by the astronauts

I searched through all these various media to find Buzz Aldrin’s exact moments of stepping on the Moon. It was a bit harder than I expected it to be. Nobody has a full index of the exact moments in each of these various media.

Thankfully someone recently combined all this media together into one video. The two video feeds are synced together along with the audio track. When there is a high-res photo, that photo appears at the very moment.

Let’s walk through the main highlights from the Apollo 11 Moon landing video collage

  • 2:12 Neil Armstrong says, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”
  • 2:43 Neil Armstrong speaks his first words on the surface. “As the – the surface is fine and powdery. I can – I can pick it up loosely with my toe.”
  • 17:35 Buzz Aldrin starts to come down the ladder.
  • 21:10 Buzz Aldrin comes down the ladder. But he’s still not on the surface.
  • 21:23 Buzz Aldrin says either “Magnificent definition” or “Magnificent desolation”. He’s still not on the surface.
  • 21:36 Buzz Aldrin takes his first step onto the lunar surface.
  • 21:45 Buzz Aldrin says his first words on the Moon: “Looks like the secondary strut had a little thermal effects on it right here, Neil.”
  • 30:17 Buzz Aldrin says, “Neil is now unveiling the plaque”

Did Buzz Aldrin say “Magnificent desolation” or “Magnificent definition”?

In the audio, it sounds like Buzz Aldrin says “Magnificent desolation” (21:23). I’m in the desolation camp.

What is the meaning of “Magnificent desolation”?

Buzz Aldrin was directly responding to Neil Armstrong’s statement. We really need to take the phrase “magnificent desolation” in context of the conversation. Aldrin wasn’t declaring some sort of prepared poetic statement. He was responding to Armstrong’s gushing statement, “Isn’t that something? Magnificent sight out here.”

Armstrong the nice astronaut, was chosen to be the first person on the Moon, because he would be a good PR person. Then you got the second guy, the cheeky Buzz Aldrin, commenting back against the glorious admiration of Armstrong. Using Armstrong’s admiring word “Magnificent”, Aldrin twisted it into “Magnificent desolation”.

Is it poetic? Yeah, but poetic with the intent of twisting Armstrong’s praising observation into something more realistic.

The whole time before he stepped onto the Moon, Buzz was joking around. While exiting the Lunar Module he said, “Now, I want to back up and partially close the hatch. Making sure not to lock it on my way out.”

Y’know, otherwise, they’d be locked out, and stuck on the Moon.

Aldrin continued, “That’s our home for the next couple of hours, and I want to take good care of it.”

Page 385 of AS11_PAO.PDF, “Apollo 11 Spacecraft Commentary”

Thus, when Buzz Aldrin said “magnificent desolation”, he was cracking a joke.

Buzz Aldrin’s true first words when he stood on the Moon

Technically Buzz Aldrin wasn’t standing on the Moon’s surface when he said “Magnificent desolation”. He was still standing on the Lunar Module’s pad (21:23). Then he stepped off the pad, and onto the lunar soil (21:36). A few moments later (21:45) his first words were poetry for the ages: “Looks like the secondary strut had a little thermal effects on it right here, Neil.

Page 385 of AS11_PAO.PDF, “Apollo 11 Spacecraft Commentary”

To continue the indexing of the video/audio of the Moon landing, this Youtube video collage ends before they set up the American flag on the Moon, and their discussion with President Nixon. View the Part 2 video of the moonwalk:

  • 1:55 setting up American flag
  • 8:35 Speaking with President Nixon
  • 11:22 Phone call with President Nixon is over.

During the call with President Nixon, notice who is the astronaut to respond to Nixon’s grand statement. It was Neil Armstrong. Ever the guy who can give the nice PR response, Armstrong. Aldrin stayed silent until the very end where he confirms that he would like to see everyone back on Earth.

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