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The back up man

BOOK>> MAGNIFICENT DESOLATION, THE LONG JOURNEY HOME FROM THE MOON • by Buzz Aldrin and Ken Abraham • Bloomsbury • Rs 750

By Lawrence Christopher
Published: Thursday 15 April 2010

imageBuzz Aldrin knows what it is to be second best. In his most famous photograph, his face is not visible. Taken on the moon, Aldrin’s face is entirely hidden inside his space helmet.

But you can see the figure of Neil Armstrong, who took the photograph, reflected in the mirrored black of the visor. The image is symbolic of Aldrin’s life, lived under the shadow of the man who preceded him to the moon.

Aldrin removes his headgear in Magnificent Desola - tion and shows us the human face of an all-American hero. His second autobiography, following Return To Earth, deals with how the momentousness of what he achieved threatened to ruin the rest of his life.

imageAldrin had spent six years preparing for the mission to the moon, but not the challenge of returning home. After their return, the astronauts were hailed as superheroes, greeted with tickertape parades and praised by presidents. Female space groupies, desperate to get their hands on a moon man, were too much of a temptation for Aldrin, who writes candidly about his infidelities and the damage to his first marriage.

Adulation aside, Aldrin found himself increasingly without purpose. “For the first time in more than 40 years I had no one to tell me what to do, no one sending me on a mission. I felt isolated, alone and uncertain.” He turned to alcohol and “felt like a mass of tangled wires inside.” It was not until he met with a car crash that he sought help. Through visiting Alcoholics Anonymous, he conquered his problem and has been dry since 1978.

imageSo honest about his infidelities and alcoholism, Aldrin is less candid about his feelings on being pipped to the post by Armstrong. “I didn’t really want to be the first person to step on the moon,” he claims. At another place he describes his feelings when a US post office issues a stamp that has Armstrong stepping off the Eagle with a caption, ‘First Man on the Moon’: “It felt like we were back-up singers for Elvis.” Aldrin’s father had resorted to picketing in front of the White House with a sign reading: “My son was first, too.”

Lawrence Christopher is a journalist in New York

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