Buzz Aldrin

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin re-creates his moonwalk at the Richard Nixon Library and Museum in Yorba Linda. (Richard Nixon Foundation / June 11, 2013)

“Well,” he said, crunching a bite of salad, in the worst-case scenario, “he wouldn’t get left on the lunar surface!”

Note that Aldrin said “the lunar surface” and not simply “the moon.” With a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT and a graduate of West Point, Aldrin is above all else a scientist and a patriot. Despite his good humor, his outlook is unsparingly no-nonsense. When I asked him for his first impressions upon landing on the moon, he launched into a wonky description of G forces and how they affect your balance and stability when trying to walk.

“Buzz!” I wanted to scream. “Where’s the awe, the wonder, the 'Holy moly, I just stepped foot on the moon!!'"

But that’s not Aldrin.

After landing, Aldrin and Armstrong either shook hands (according to Armstrong’s recollection) or Aldrin slapped him on the back (Aldrin’s take), but after their touchdown celebration that would make even Icky Woods proud, they turned to business.

“It wasn’t a moment for great reflection,” he said, “because things could be leaking.”

Only in the closing minutes of his speech did Aldrin reveal some vulnerability and spiritual insight, sharing that he had taken communion on the moon and that he struggled for years afterward with depression and alcoholism.

But Aldrin doesn’t seem too concerned with the past, except where it can make us better in the future.

“Where do we want this nation to be?” he asked no one and everyone. “What are our priorities?”

If NASA and the rest of Washington are listening, perhaps a FastTrak sticker for Mars won’t be such a fantasy after all.

Return to Science Now.

brad.balukjian@latimes.com