Buzz Aldrin experienced totality twice in space — once on Gemini XII, then on Apollo 11.
Next up: Idaho.
America will experience totality on August 21st as the Moon’s shadow races across 14 mainland states. It will be Buzz Aldrin’s third eclipse, part of a unique collection that includes not just one, but two totalities seen from space.
As something of an eclipse obsessive, I knew Aldrin had photographed a total solar eclipse on his Gemini XII mission in 1966. But when I asked him about it at ShareSpace Foundation’s Apollo 11 Gala last week, he told me all about seeing the solar corona from Apollo 11.
It turns out that, although he only went on two space missions during his illustrious NASA career, Aldrin saw totality from both of them: once from near Earth and once from cis-lunar space.
A Brief Solar Eclipse from Gemini XII
On November 11, 1966, Aldrin and fellow astronaut Jim Lovell had just arrived in orbit in Gemini XII. At the last minute, NASA asked the astronauts to make a slight orbital maneuver to put themselves into a position over the Galapagos Islands, where they caught a brief glimpse of totality. That total solar eclipse was also observed on the ground in Peru and Brazil.
So just 16 hours into their mission, during the spacecraft's 12th orbit around Earth, Aldrin and Lovell saw an eight-second eclipse. Lovell reported seeing it “right on the money at 16:01:44” according to NASA. He photographed totality, as well as a partial phase.
Engineered Totality from Apollo 11
Of course, total solar eclipses happen all the time in space – you just have to be in the right place at the right time. Aldrin was lucky enough to experience a second, much longer totality in 1969, as the historic Apollo 11 spacecraft traveled toward its landing target.
“We traveled in the shadow of the Moon,” Aldrin said. “We had a dark image of the Moon with the Sun behind it, and we saw the corona.”
This was no regular total solar eclipse — it was one that the Apollo 11 crew accidentally created for themselves. On July 19, 1969, prior to lunar orbit insertion, the Moon — appearing larger than the Sun — eclipsed the star for some time. “Our journey to the Moon was literally in its shadow,” Aldrin said.
NASA’s Apollo 11 archive includes 43 exposures of the solar corona, almost all of them dark or extremely faint, but only one clearly shows the halo around one side of the Moon. The sole usable image of totality shows the Moon as a dark disk between the spacecraft and the Sun.
“It was a bonus,” Aldrin said. “We didn't expect it, and we struggled to get a picture of it, but we saw it.”
To see totality twice in two spaceflights is astonishing, but Aldrin has a far easier flight plan in mind for August 21st’s eclipse.
“I'll be in Idaho,” he said.