50 years ago, on July 20, 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission successfully touched down on the lunar surface, marking the end of the space race with the Soviet Union. Neil Armstrong became an overnight global celebrity after becoming the first man to walk on the Moon, shortly followed by lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin. However, Aldrin, 89, did not receive quite the same hero-worshipping from his colleagues, according to a new book.
James Donovan’s “Shoot For The Moon” claims Aldrin had struggled to fit in from a young age.
Mr Donovan writes: “When he arrived at his astronaut interview in a suit and tie wearing his flight wings and Phi Beta Kappa keys, Gus Grissom said: ‘We’ve already seen your resume, why are you wearing it?’
“Small talk was a foreign language to Buzz, and one he never mastered.
“Even fellow astronauts dreaded sitting next to ‘Dr Rendezvous’ at dinner, since the conversation usually became a one-sided lecture on Aldrin’s favourite topic, orbital mechanics.
“He once spent hours lecturing an astronaut’s wife on the subject.”
The book goes on to claim there were worse nicknames, too.
It adds: “One friend said: ‘Aldrin is a professor who is always on’.
“One newspaper referred to him by a nickname that some at NASA had used – the Mechanical Man.
“One flight planner commented: ‘I sometimes think he could correct a computer’.
“If a computer could talk, he might have sounded like Aldrin.
“After the Gemini 9 misunderstanding, Slayton had suggested that next time, Buzz should let him translate.”
Aldrin made his own admission after the Moon landing that NASA wanted to keep quiet.
He told Guideposts magazine in 1970 how he snuck a bottle of wine and some bread on board to hold Communion on the Moon.
He said “I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me.
“In the one-sixth gravity of the Moon, the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup.
“It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were Communion elements.”
Before he took Communion, he read John 15:5 to Mission Control.
Aldrin asked for the experience that would follow to be shared on live TV, but NASA decided not to, and for good reason.
At the time, the space agency was fighting a lawsuit with activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
A few months earlier, Ms O’Hair had sued NASA after Apollo 8 astronauts read the Book of Genesis during a broadcast made on Christmas Day 1968, when they became the first humans to orbit the Moon.
Though Ms O’Hair’s case was ultimately dismissed, it made an impression on NASA officials, who worried that any overtly religious display might open the agency up to another lawsuit.
Mr Aldrin’s Communion was reported at the time, but he kept the ceremony low-key and, out of respect for the debate over religion on the Moon, kept his actions confined to the spacecraft and not the lunar surface.