June 26, 2009

Aldrin Addresses Lunar Visit, Depression, Alcoholism

In his new book, veteran astronaut Buzz Aldrin details his life experiences, from being the second man to step foot on the surface of the Moon to his battles with depression and alcohol abuse after the historic mission.

In "Magnificent Desolation," 79-year-old Aldrin discusses he and mission commander Neil Armstrong's first steps on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.

But in an interview with Reuters, Aldrin said he had hoped to be the first to leap onto the Moon.

"People say, 'Didn't you want to be first on the moon?'," he told Reuters.

"Yes, from a professional point of view, I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity and project discussions about the commander, who had many responsibilities, and maybe some of those things that include things outside and going out first should be done by the other guy," he said.

"One guy will stay inside, probably the commander," he said, referring to an assumption that NASA would keep with standard procedure of sending the junior crewmember out first.

"Then they realized, 'No, we'll send two out.' There was a lot of uncertainty in the planning people. But all that newspaper stuff about a civilian versus a member of the military was just cooked up as a possible reason for hesitation on the part of NASA."

But the decision as to who would leave the capsule first ultimately came down to the fact that the door was closer to Armstrong, which allowed him to make the first human footprint on the surface of the Moon.

Upon returning to Earth, Aldrin was faced with the heavy decision on what to do next. He had served in the US Air Force, and initially had hopes for returning to the military.

"I just couldn't see waiting around for the rest of the Apollo program, or whatever might come afterward, I wanted to resume my career," Aldrin told NBC's Matt Lauer.

"But that wasn't to happen. They wanted me to be commandant of the test pilot school," which Aldrin said was "unusual, because I hadn't had test pilot training."

"It really didn't impress me," he said. "I served my year there, and did a great job, I enjoyed it every much, but it really wasn't a good introduction back to the surface."

So Aldrin was yet again faced with the troubling decision of what to do next. He found himself suffering from depression, which eventually caused him to seek medical help during a month-long hospital stay.

"People in the military know how to be disciplined, and know how to relax. It's what eases the unease of the situation," Aldrin told Reuters.

"But once you don't have these other commitments, you begin to make decisions that are not the wisest, and if you're a little uncomfortable in the morning, a drink really fixes it," he said.

Aldrin suddenly found himself battling an addiction to alcohol.

"I inherited those tendencies for alcoholism from both of my parents, for depression "“ mostly from my mother's side," he told Lauer. "She committed suicide a year before I went to the moon."

Aldrin wrote his autobiography "Return to Earth" in 1973, which mostly addressed his bouts with depression, but he said he felt that "the story really needed to be updated in a successful way."

Aldrin is celebrating his 30th year of sobriety upon the nearing of the 40th anniversary of the historic mission to the Moon.

As for the future of NASA space exploration, Aldrin told Reuters: "I know in my own mind that the Russians want to beat us to Mars. They're doing everything that you'd expect them to do to be first to Mars, and that's not going to be good for America 20 or 30 years from now."

"We need to start something that has a self-sustaining nature," he told the Wall Street Journal. "Six people can't get that done. But 40, 50 or 60 can. You need to build a thriving, self-sustaining settlement that doesn't need extensive re-supply from Earth."


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