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Jul. 14 2009 - 1:28 pm | 154 views | 2 recommendations | 9 comments

Why Buzz Aldrin doesn’t give a fuck


Infinity and beyond: Buzz Aldrin photo by Aaron Farley from Swindle Magazine's 2nd Annual 'Icons' issue.

In case you haven’t heard, Buzz Aldrin doesn’t give a fuck. He isn’t fixated on the fact that he was the second human to walk on the surface of the moon. Nor is he looking to relive that moment time and again for the American public, no matter how much they ask. In fact, the 79-year-old former Apollo 11 astronaut is far more comfortable discussing how his hour and a half moonwalk on July 20, 1969 impacted his personal life –  and for good reason. Over the past forty years, many of his post-Apollo interviews have focused on his alcoholism and recovery, as well as his struggles with depression. His two failed marriages pop up in conversation too.

So now, in the run up to the fortieth anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, Aldrin is on the media junket (hustling his book Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home From the Moon). And, much to the U.S. government’s chagrin I assume, he’s loose-lipped as ever. In a recent interview with the London Telegraph, reporter Marc Lee quickly discovered Aldrin’s disinterest in reliving his glory days at NASA.

A few minutes into our conversation, Buzz Aldrin makes it clear that we won’t be spending much time reliving the day that began a new chapter in the history of the human race and made him one of the most famous people on – and off – the planet. It’s not that the Second Man on the Moon doesn’t want to talk about his space odyssey; it’s just that he thinks he should be suitably rewarded for doing so. (via Telegraph.co.uk)

There are many reasons why Aldrin may believe he should be compensated for sharing his moonwalk experience with the public. But one business-related point that sticks out is a quote he shared with Swindle magazine’s Ernst Betterman back in 2007:

“You know, when it comes to the Apollo astronauts, the government didn’t look out for us very well. We all had to put our military careers on hold to join NASA . And when NASA was done with us, we’d lost all those years of seniority and accrued retirement income from the military. This is why I’m a big supporter of naming all 24 of the Apollo astronauts as Lunar Ambassadors, and giving them adequate recognition.” (via Swindle)


Magnificent Desolation: The Long Road Home from the Moon.

When you look through these interviews with Aldrin, it seems like he is still trying to figure out why his life took the turn it did. His journey to the moon took a personal toll not only on him, but on his entire family. As Marc Lee reports, Aldrin’s mother “(born Marion Moon), killed herself shortly before the lunar mission because she did not think she could handle her son’s imminent fame.”

This point alone explains Aldrin’s depression and alcoholism following his return from outer space — as well as his fixation on discussing personal issues in interviews. He’s most likely still working things out in his mind, attempting to understand why what should have been a gleaming moment in his life (walking on the moon) ended up being so bittersweet and wrecked with sadness. I wouldn’t be surprised if the NASA photo archives contain an image of Aldrin stumbling around the lunar surface with a half-empty bottle of Cutty Sark in his hand. Can you imagine the guilt Aldrin carries with him? Consider this: In 1969, not only was he preparing to “go where no man has gone before,” to be strapped to a rocket and blasted into outer space in an attempt to land on a celestial body and talk a walk — he was doing so with the knowledge that this historic moment had in some unexplainable way contributed to the death of his mother.

Perhaps Aldrin avoids talking about his moonwalk because he’s been running away from the chaos and sadness it created his entire life. But as he points out to Lee, he is more concerned with the future than the past:

“No, I wouldn’t say I’m reluctant, but my [interest] is not in the past…” And he proceeds to roll out a diversionary anecdote about how, when he was young, his father would reminisce endlessly about the early days of aviation and how “regrettable” that was. He is and always has been, he says, “future-oriented”.  (via Telegraph.co.uk)

And while Aldrin may not be able to control the future, his affinity for the road ahead says a lot about what he’s left behind. His historic legacy is still something he believes in, but he doesn’t want to rehash it — most likely because it is painful and inseparable in his mind from the death of his mother. And while many would argue to the contrary, it would seem Aldrin has earned the right to select when and how he discusses an event that so drastically changed his life. In the closing moments of his interview with Lee, Aldrin sums up his journey best:

“I have a lot of frailties, a lot of shortcomings, but I am a much more productive person now than I ever was at the peak of my astronaut career.”

(Photo: Aaron Farley)


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  1. collapse expand

    I can’t feel that sorry for Buzz Aldrin. Granted that it wasn’t easy for him. From what I remember of his memoirs, he had a hypercompetitive father who made him feel that nothing he accomplished would ever be good enough. He described himself as a prime candidate for depression and alcoholism.

    And yet he was apparently not a very popular astronaut, and he lobbied NASA hard to have himself instead of Armstrong be the first man to set foot on the Moon. I’m not sure this can all be blamed on mental illness rather than poor judgment. It’s interesting to compare Aldrin to Armstrong, who was far more under the spotlight. Armstrong is reclusive to the point of paranoia, but manages to conduct himself with more dignity.

    But the really interesting story is that of Michael Collins, the forgotten third member of Apollo 11 who orbited the Moon in the Command Module while his crewmates were on the Moon. He’s written a couple of good space books and seems to be the most well-adjusted.

    • collapse expand

      I hear what you’re saying Michael. I wouldn’t say I feel sorry for him, but rather, I feel for him. He quite obviously has an unhealthy attraction to the spotlight and a wicked competitive streak. I wouldn’t doubt that the reason he makes such an issue out of not wanting to discuss the moon landing is largely due to Armstrong winning the honor of being #1. Throw in the tragedy with his mother, and the overbearing father you mentioned, and he was certainly destined for hard times at some point in life. And you’re right, a character study of Armstrong and Aldrin would be very interesting to read.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    For what it’s worth, I just read Mailer’s A Fire on the Moon, which was pretty superb, especially his riffing on Armstrong and Collins. He spends like five pages discussing how much it must suck to have been the third wheel(Collins)but sounds like Aldrin has had the more difficult go of dealing with the event in the long run.

    (And this story by Sean Wilsey is pretty good, if you haven’t seen it:

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