Of all the nominees for “Most Important Moment Of The 20th Century,” you’d be hard pressed to make a convincing argument against the moon landing. It changed everything. The technology we use daily is a result of the NASA buildup to the moon, and it made us look differently at our place in the universe. All three crew members were interesting in their own right. Neil Armstrong had a distinguished military career before Apollo 11, but he spent his later years teaching and holding speaking events in relative obscurity. Michael Collins went on to head museums and various businesses. Both impressive, but neither of them quite rose to the greatness that is associated with our man of the day, Buzz Aldrin.
Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr. (no wonder he went by Buzz) was born in New Jersey into a military family. This explains why he turned down a full ride scholarship to MIT (not something many can say) in favor of West Point. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, and he immediately went to serve in Korea, flying Sabrejets in 66 combat missions with two recorded kills. He spent the next decade as an instructor, a flight commander, and a Ph.D. candidate. His doctoral thesis at MIT concerned “Line-of-sight guidance techniques for manned orbital rendezvous.” Now, I don’t know what the fuck that means, but it sounds impressive. More importantly, he expressed his hopes for the future in the dedication of his paper, writing:
“In the hopes that this work may in some way contribute to their exploration of space, this is dedicated to the crew members of this country’s present and future manned space programs. If only I could join them in their exciting endeavors!”
The dude already knew what the future was, and he knew he wanted in on it. That kind of commitment to a vision is what gets you places, so it’s not shocking at all that he was accepted into the third wave of the astronaut program. I know I don’t need to go into the harrowing details of the Apollo 11 mission, because as we all know, those motherfuckers landed on the damn moon. Armstrong’s quote is, of course, famous, but I personally prefer Buzz’s first words: “Beautiful view. Magnificent desolation.” As a devout Christian, Buzz also took communion in secret on the surface of the moon, because of previous backlash from atheists over the reading of Genesis on an earlier mission. This is made even more interesting because Buzz later somewhat regretted that action, saying, “Perhaps if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind–be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. 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.” Well, you know what, Buzz? I’m an agnostic, and I think having communion as the first food and drink consumed on the moon is pretty fucking rad, so don’t sweat it too much.
Buzz’s post-NASA career is what really sets him apart for me, though. As thoughtful, intelligent, and devout as he was, he struggled with alcoholism for years after his retirement, a symptom of his clinical depression. But he wasn’t satisfied with allowing substance abuse and anger to be what defined his later years, so he got treatment, sobered up, and turned it all around. He then spent the next several decades focusing on promoting space exploration, and just being a general badass. Obviously, this included lecturing and public speaking, but Buzz wasn’t just going to take the obvious route.
Take a look:
• He helped develop a computer game for kids in 1993 that lets users basically finance, research, and launch space missions.
• He appeared twice as himself on “The Simpsons.”
• He made a rap video with Snoop-a-Loop, Talib Kweli, and Quincy Jones at, like, age 80.
• He campaigned for the GOP in Congress.
• He pulled off humanity’s first extraterrestrial prank.
• He developed training for future space missions, as well as a methodology for a possible mission to Mars.
• Oh yeah, and he fucking right-hooked a douchebag moon-landing conspiracy theorist.
That’s a helluva life..
Image via NASA