Jeanne Marie Laskas profiles the former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, including details about the depression and difficulties he struggled with after his historic journey:
After the moon, Buzz cracked up. There was nothing left to do. The media frenzy was worldwide; twenty-four countries in forty-five days—and that was just the beginning. NASA clearly had no further use for him in space; now he was just supposed to be some kind of NASA PR flack.
He resigned from NASA in 1971 and returned to the Air Force. It didn’t seem like the Air Force knew what to do with someone who had been to the moon. He was an outsider, the egghead from academia who’d just tumbled off the speakers’ circuit. He drank a lot. His marriage to the mother of his three children fell apart, and he retired from the Air Force. He went to rehab. He got married again, but that lasted a year. He drank a lot more, fell in love a lot more. His Air Force pension wasn’t much. That was when he started at the Cadillac dealership. He sucked at selling cars. Rehab was the first time he ever really talked about feelings. It turned out he had so many feelings. An emptiness so deep. He discovered the melancholy of all things done.
He was in his forties, a conqueror with nothing left to conquer but his own demons. The second man to walk on the moon. Number two.
His father never accepted the fact that Buzz was not number one. Grasping, his father waged an unsuccessful one-man campaign to get the U.S. Postal Service to change its Neil Armstrong “First Man on the Moon” commemorative stamp to one that said “First Men on the Moon” so it could include Buzz. As for Buzz’s mental breakdown, his depression and alcoholism, his father never accepted that, either. Or if he did, he blamed the moon, the absence of gravity, the unknown physical properties of space. The moon must have ruined Buzz.
(Image of Aldrin’s photograph of his own bootprint on the moon via NASA)