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On the moon, even the taciturn Armstrong could not contain his excitement. He could not, of course, have known about the gentle admonition made by his wife Janet as she watched the mission on TV: "Be descriptive now, Neil." Yet suddenly he began to bubble over with detailed descriptions and snap pictures with all the enthusiasm of the archetypal tourist. Houston had to remind him four times to quit clicking and get on with a task of higher priority: gathering a small "contingency" sample of lunar soil that would guarantee the return of at least some moon material if the mission had to be suddenly aborted.
"Just as soon as we finish these pictures," said Armstrong. Scooping up the soil, he reported: "It's a very soft surface. But here and there, where I probe with the contingency sample collector, I run into very hard surface." Even his geologic descriptions bordered on the rhapsodic "It has a stark beauty all its own. It's like much of the high desert of the United States. It's different, but it's very pretty out here."
Aldrin, obviously itching to join Armstrong, asked: "Is it O.K. for me to come out?" As soon as he touched the surface, he jumped back up to the first rung of the ladder three times to show how easy it was. Then, delighted with his new-found agility despite the 183 Ibs. of clothing and gear that he carried, he became the first man to run on the lunar surface.
Armstrong moved the still-operating camera to its panorama position on a tripod aimed at the lunar module. During the next two hours, the astronauts went busily about their appointed tasks, moving in and out of the camera's view. They planted a 3-ft. by 5-ft. American flag, stiffened with thin wire so that it would appear to be flying in the vacuum of the moon. Effortlessly they set up three scientific devices: 1) a solar wind experiment, consisting of a 4-ft.-long aluminum-foil strip designed to capture particles streaming in from the sun; 2) a seismometer to. register moonquakes and meteor impacts and report them back to earth; and 3) a reflector for measuring precise earth-moon distances by bouncing laser beams from earth directly back to the source.
The seismometer went to work immediately. It recorded and transmitted to earth evidence of the tremors caused when Aldrin hammered tubes into the lunar surface to collect core samples. It also registered the thud when the astronauts dropped their backpacks from Eagle's hatch. But the first test of the laser reflector failed when a beam shot from California's Lick Observatory missed the reflector by about 50 miles.
Fifty-three minutes after Armstrong first set foot on the moon, Houston urged him and Aldrin to move within camera range. "The President of the United States would like to say a few words to you," Mission Control advised. The President has been eager all along to associate himself with the mission. Now, as both astronauts stood stiffly at attention near the flag, Nixon told them: "This certainly has to be the most historic phone call ever made. . . . All the people on this earth are truly one in their pride of what you have done, and one in their prayers that you will return safely."