Sunday, July 26, 2009

Buzz Aldrin: First Man (to Pee) on the Moon

Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin: First Man (to Pee) on the Moon
Anne Minard
for National Geographic News
July 20, 2009

Buzz Aldrin may not have been the first man on the moon, but the Apollo 11 astronaut has another historic first under his belt, so to speak: first person to pee on the moon.

Marking the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing this month, the U.S. astronaut reflects on his moonwalk, his embrace of Twitter, his hopes for the future—and that hallowed lunar leak, accomplished on the Apollo 11 lander's ladder, into a special bag in his space suit.

"Everyone has their firsts on the moon, and that one hasn't been disputed by anybody," he said in the 2007 Apollo-program documentary In the Shadow of the Moon.

It's also undisputed that Aldrin was the second man to moonwalk—about 15 minutes after Neil Armstrong—though he's still a bit embarrassed about his fumbling attempt to reboard Apollo 11's Eagle lander.

"I jumped what I thought was going to be enough to get up to the bottom rung of the ladder, and I didn't jump hard enough the first time, so I had to go back and do it again," Aldrin told National Geographic News.

Of course it wasn't all bumbling and bathroom breaks.

Asked about his initial impressions of the moon, Aldrin rhapsodized over the "magnificent desolation" of the lunar surface and the "velvet luminosity" of the sky.

And in the book Moon Shot, Apollo astronauts Alan Shepard and Donald "Deke" Slayton write that Aldrin told them he was buoyant and full of goose pimples as he stepped onto the moon.

But don't push him too hard for deep thoughts.

Reflecting on decades of being asked "What was it like?", he said, "I guess after 40 years I still don't know what they're looking for or what they want to hear."

Just don't expect any romanticizing: "Ladies do that. Guys don't, especially if they're fighter pilots"—as Aldrin was for 21 years.

"I've never wanted to manufacture something after the fact. I still don't know if it was fantastic, far out, or what."

Despite his self-professed stoicism, Aldrin is indulging in the lighter side of his moon milestone—and embracing new technologies—to reach out to younger generations.

The astronaut said he pulled himself up from a post-Apollo 11 period of alcoholism and depression and decided he could share his experiences for a greater good.

"Do you continue to descend into an abyss? Or do you try to make a difference with what you know best?" he remembered thinking.

To Aldrin, making a difference includes getting his message out any way he can—gamely sitting down with fictional talk show host Ali G, rapping alongside Snoop Dogg, and working with science teachers through his nonprofit educational ShareSpace Foundation.

He's even been adapting to post-space age modes of communication.

"People communicate in Twittering ways," he said, referring to the micro-blogging Web site Twitter. "I've learned how to do that."

More than 111,000 people follow Aldrin's tweets, which most recently have been about the ongoing tour for his new memoir, Magnificent Desolation.

"Did a lot of interviews today including a website called I guess they're a gadget site. It's a new one to me. BUZZ," he wrote last week.

And just what is Aldrin's message?

Mostly, he said, he wants his Apollo 11 experiences to encourage Americans to shoot for the moon again, metaphorically speaking.

"America can take man to the moon, and America can take men to Mars—and beyond."

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