Edwin Eugene ‘Buzz’ Aldrin (Glen Ridge, New Jersey, 1930) may have cursed the fact that he was not the first man on the moon, in many other respects he is a unique astronaut and an exceptional person. When he and Neil Armstrong landed with the Eagle in the Mare Tranquillitatis, Aldrin was very aware of the significance of that moment (21 July, 1969). He underlined that feeling not with memorable words but with a religious ceremony, using a communion kit that he had smuggled on board as a Presbyterian elder. ‘If I had to do it again, I would not choose to celebrate communion,’ he says years later, ‘we had to come to the Moon in the name of all mankind. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo-11 experience than by giving thanks to God.’ So, the first liquid ever poured on the moon and the first food eaten there were communion elements. Edwin Aldrin was also the first person to pee in his pants on that distant spot. All things that the millions of people at home didn’t know about. The direct images and sounds from 350,000 kilometres away were not very sharp anyway, which led to some doubting the historic truth of this mission. Buzz Aldrin could not stand the scepticism of conspiracy theorists; when, in 2002 he was confronted with an intrusive TV reporter who demanded evidence in an aggressive tone, the still strong moonwalker struck a few striking blows.
Edwin Aldrin’s moon walk, this summer fifty years ago, was the crown on a successful and unusual career. After training as an aviator with the US Air Force, Aldrin became involved in the Korea War in the 1950s. He proved his agility by surviving all air combat and taking down two enemy MiG-15 fighter jets. He studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, where after getting his master’s degree he enjoyed his study so much that he passed for his Sc. D as well. Aldrin wrote a doctoral thesis on ‘Lign-of-Sight Guidance Techniques for Manned Orbital Rendezvous’, (connecting and disconnecting space vehicles flying at high speed through space, an essential part of a trip to the Moon. When Aldrin was selected as an astronaut in the early 1960s, he was the only one on the team to hold a title. Among fellow roommates, his nickname became ‘Dr. Rendezvous’. Despite some heroic deeds in the Gemini era in which he was allowed to perform three EVA’s (extravehicular activity), docking manoeuvres and many other scientific, medical and technological experiments he was regarded by some of his colleagues as a difficult and obstinate person. Neil Armstrong, who would be in charge of the Apollo-11 mission, was asked confidentially but emphatically whether he was up with Aldrin, but Armstrong stated that he had no issues with Dr. Rendezvous.
In the meantime, Aldrin lobbied unsuccessfully to become the first person on the moon instead of Armstrong, since that option was laid down in an earlier protocol. On previous Gemini flights, the captain had always remained on board. Partly for practical reasons – Armstrong was closer to the exit of the compact lander – NASA insisted on this decision. That Aldrin’s frustration about this was the reason that he hardly took any pictures of Armstrong on the moon cannot be proven, but rumours about it are persistent. Aldrin strongly denies it, he states he simply did not think about it and puts forward the argument that they had not simulated this during training. Because Armstrong took most of the photos, Edwin Aldrin appears on almost all of the iconic NASA images of the first moon walk.
After Aldrin resigned from NASA in the early 1970s, the astronaut’s life went downhill. The world tour through 23 countries, the tickertape parades in Chicago and New York and the reception at the White House and the United Nations and the meetings with the Pope and with film star Gina Lollobrigida kept him in a pleasant mood, even though this goodwill trip got more and more the character of ‘crowds gawking at famous astronauts’. NASA framed the moon travellers as family heroes of unspoken behaviour, although they secretly met their groupies above Carlos’ Barbershop, giving the term rendezvous a more down-to-earth meaning. Some astronauts made a reservation for the room above Barber Carlos’ salon from the spaceship! In the early seventies the second Moonwalker fell into a sort of limbo. Aldrin was often depressed and he drank too much. He was genetically infected; both his mother and his grandfather had ended their lives themselves. In 1978, Aldrin stopped drinking rigorously, a moment that he still celebrates annually and he regards this as a greater achievement than walking on the moon.
In recent years, Aldrin has become an enthusiastic advocate of manned missions to the planet Mars. ‘Traveling to the moon would be more like reaching for past glory than striving for new triumphs,’ says the astronaut who has found a new life purpose in his Mars plans. The former astronaut designed the ‘Aldrin cycler’, a space lab that alternately passes Mars and the Earth every few months to leave and collect smaller space vehicles there. Edwin Aldrin likes to perform in public again and a Space party is only a party when Buzz has been present. The former astronaut enters catwalks in flashy outfits at a space fashion show. Almost ninety years old, Edwin Aldrin looks younger, more energetic and more alive than ever!