Look Through NASA’s Photos of Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins Arriving in Hawai‘i

The Apollo 11 crew landed 812 miles off our shores and declared moon rocks at Pearl Harbor Customs.

As the world watched the first moon landing 50 years ago, Hawai‘i was preparing for what came next. If all went well, the first moonwalkers in history would pass through Hawai‘i on their way home. As the astronauts made their way back from the moon, thousands of Navy and Air Force men prepared to receive them while residents hoped they would get to be the first to greet them.


We looked through NASA’s archives for photos of Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins’ arrival and reception in the Islands.


Photo: Courtesy of NASA


The Apollo 11 command module Columbia splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 50 years ago on July 24, 1969. It was originally supposed to land about 1,200 miles from Hawai‘i, but because of stormy weather conditions NASA moved the site about 200 miles closer to the Islands. Four reconnaissance planes and eight helicopters from the nearby USS Hornet aircraft carrier were on site to ensure a safe retrieval. Two other aircraft carriers were also nearby in case the module landed off course. Here, you see the astronauts, clad in biological isolation garments, the astronauts getting into a raft with U.S. Navy underwater demolition swimmer Lt. Clancy Hatleberg.


SEE ALSO: Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong Declared Rocks and Dust at U.S. Customs After Walking on the Moon

recovered craft
Photo: Courtesy of NASA


The command module is hoisted onto the deck of the USS Hornet. After arriving in Pearl Harbor, the capsule, without the astronauts, stayed in Hawai‘i for three days to be examined before being sent back to Houston. It is now on display in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.


Photo: Courtesy of NASA


NASA took several precautions for this first ever arrival. No one knew what was on, or might be brought back from the moon. So, the astronauts stayed in a mobile quarantine facility for two weeks—that’s how long experts at the time believed it would take to present any symptoms from potentially hazardous bacteria. Biologists and chemists also examined the moon rock samples for any signs of life.

  cake cutting ceremony

Photo: Courtesy of NASA


NASA held what it called the traditional post-flight cake-cutting ceremony (we can’t find more information on it anywhere) aboard the USS Hornet. The astronauts watched from the small window in their container. No cake for them.


SEE ALSO: O‘ahu in 1937: Hawai‘i’s Barefoot Football Season Opener Draws 15,000

President Nixon and astronauts
Photo: Courtesy of NASA


President Richard Nixon waited aboard the USS Hornet to be among the first to meet the men upon arrival. He prepared a speech before their departure to deliver to their wives in case they didn’t return. Thankfully, he didn’t have to use it.

  customs declaration form

Photo: Courtesy of NASA and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol


Astronauts have to go through customs too. The trio declared moon dust and rocks from the lunar landing. Conditions that might spread disease? TBD. After going through customs, they spent two nights on the USS Hornet and arrived at Pearl Harbor on July 26 in the afternoon.

  welcome in Hawai‘i

Photo: Courtesy of NASA


The astronauts were only in Honolulu for a few hours, but a crowd of thousands (The New York Times estimated 12,000, while Honolulu Star-Bulletin estimated 5,000) rushed to greet them at Pearl Harbor. Among the crowd were hula dancers, Honolulu mayor Frank F. Fasi, Hawai‘i governor John A. Burns, and military admirals and generals from across the Islands. Through the window, Buzz Aldrin spotted his longtime neighbor Buck Buchworth and her son, named after Aldrin, in the crowd. The smaller Buzz held a sign, “To Buzz A.—Aloha!—Buzz B.” “I think that we know all of you much better now,” Buzz Aldrin said to the crowds through a microphone hooked up to a speaker on the harbor. “I’m so happy that you could come out and see us.” The quarantined trailer was unloaded from the USS Hornet, taken to Hickam Air Force Base, loaded onto a cargo plane and flown to Houston.

  Wives wearing leis

Photo: Courtesy of NASA


Pat Collins, Jan Armstrong and Joan Aldrin greet their husbands in Houston around 2 a.m. Texas time on July 27. The lei were gifts for the wives from Hawai‘i. NASA was appalled at the idea of giving fresh lei to the quarantined astronauts themselves for fear local bacteria might get mixed with moon bacteria. “Suppose one explorer developed hay fever!” wrote the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in ’69.

  Armstrong with ‘ukulele

Photo: Courtesy of NASA


Neil Armstrong enjoyed playing his ‘ukulele to pass the time during his weeks in quarantine—his wife, Jan, left it in the trailer as a surprise. The welcome the moonwalkers got in Hawai‘i was the best they’d ever received, Armstrong said, though they couldn’t appreciate the warm weather from their container.