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Continuing their flawless flight, the astronauts zoomed past the western rim of the moon at 5,645 m.p.h. They were whipped behind the far side and into lunar orbit by the moon's gravity and a 5-min. 57-sec. burn of the reliable SPS engine that reduced their speed to 3,736 m.p.h. When they emerged from behind the eastern edge, after 34 minutes during which radio communication was blocked, they had dropped into a 70-by 196-mile-high orbit.
That was about as close as Collins, the affable, relaxed Air Force lieutenant colonel, would get. Before the trip, he complained good-humoredly that because he would be piloting Columbia during the moon walk, he would be "about the only person in the world who won't get to see the thing on television." He asked Houston to save a videotape for him. At least, said Collins, "I'm going 99.99% of the way."
Coming around the eastern limb of the moon on their first revolution, the astronauts began sending another TV show to earth. This time they focused the camera on the desolate landscape below. After a long period of silence, a Houston capsule communicator pleaded: "Would you care to comment on some of those craters as we go by?" At last the astronauts came to life.
"Just going over Mount Marilyn," said Armstrong, referring to a triangular-shaped peak named for the wife of Apollo 8 Astronaut James Lovell. "Now we're looking at what we call Boot Hill. On the right is the crater Censorinus P." The spacecraft passed over Sidewinder and Diamondback, two of the sinuous rills that had caused Apollo 10 Astronaut John Young to wonder "if some time long ago fish hadn't been jumping in those creeks." Commented Collins: "It looks like a couple of snakes down there in the lake bed."
At one point, Houston radioed to Apollo 11: "We've got an observation you can make if you have some time up there. There's been some lunar transient events reported in the vicinity of Aristarchus." Astronomers in Bochum, West Germany, had observed a bright glow on the lunar surface—the same sort of eerie luminescence that has intrigued moon watchers for centuries. The report was passed on to Houston and thence to the astronauts. Almost immediately, Armstrong reported back, "Hey, Houston, I'm looking north up to ward Aristarchus now, and there's an area that is considerably more illuminated than the surrounding area. It seems to have a slight amount of fluorescence." Aldrin confirmed his observation. Many scientists believe the glows are caused by lunar eruptions, complete with fire fountains and lava flows.
One thing the astronauts did not observe was Apollo's companion in lunar orbit—the Soviet Union's unmanned Luna 15 moon probe (see p. 17). Arriving in the neighborhood two days before the U.S. spacecraft, Luna went into an orbit as close as ten miles from the moon and eventually landed. The chances that Luna would be visible from Apollo 11—much less collide with it—were estimated by Houston's Christopher Columbus Kraft, director of flight operations, as about "one in a billion."