Nick Smith reviews Buzz Aldrin’s new book ‘Magnificent Desolation’ in E&T magazine

Magnificent Desolation

By Buzz Aldrin, with Ken Abraham

Fighter pilots aren’t any good at poetry and are trained to keep their emotions in check. So says Buzz Aldrin in the latest installment of his autobiography ‘Magnificent Desolation’ that takes its name from a memorable phrase he uttered while walking on the moon in July 1969. ‘It was a spontaneous utterance, an oxymoron that would take on ever-deeper dimensions of meaning in describing this strange new environmet’ he writes early on in the book.

In fact ‘Magnificent Desolation’ starts on the upper platformon Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39-A, just as Aldrin is about to enter the Apollo Command Module prior to take-off. What happens over the next week or so is well-known, but such a terrific yarn that Buzz tells it gain. But it is the ‘Long Journey Home from the Moon’ that occupies the remainder of the book, and as his subtitle seems to imply, in many ways it was a much more dangerous journey.

The fabric of Aldrin’s life since Apollo 11 is woven with many threads. There is his devotion to the public understanding of space, his long-running one-man crusade to get NASA moving in a positive direction; And yet there are a pair loose threads that continually threatens to unravel the whole thing: depression and alcoholism. Faced with the awkward question of ‘what’s next?’, after the Lunar Landing, Aldrin hit the bottle hard and it retaliated. Failed marriages, long dark nights of the soul, physical immobility, the loss of dignity, all spiraling downwards hand-in-hand with their attendant depression. It was a horrible existence and Aldrin was a sick man. In some ways it’s harder to be a down-and-out when you’re an all-American hero and a moon-walker too. As Aldrin’s father, a distinguished aviator in his own right, continually urged his high-achieving son: pull yourself together.

Easier said than done, and after a spell of trying to sell cadillacs to a public that only wanted his autograph he saw ‘the long journey home from the moon’ as being one of public disclosure. He told the world he was ill, attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on a daily basis, dried out, fell off the wagon and dried out again with a cyclical monotony that seemed to bore even himself. And when this happened he’d stay in bed and watch daytime TV.

Every superman needs his Lois, and when he married Lois Driggs Cannon, on Valentine’s Day in 1988 it seemed the only way was up. More than two decades later they are still together touring the world, lecturing on the future of space, dining with the crowned heads of Europe facing their second Recession together. In the early 1990s the private bank Mrs Aldrin was heiress to collapsed leaving the couple virtually penniless and having to build up from the floor. This is when Buzz became the extraordinary freelance astronaut he is today.

Nothing if not entrepreneurial by nature Aldrin is a pioneer even today. He has exploits his celebrity to lobby governments and to inspire school children alike. He has been one of the biggest supporters of space tourism and has launched the Sharespace foundation to try to get ordinary people up there. He’s had a best selling toy named after him and he’s been on the Simpsons. He famously kept a straight face while interviewed by Ali G and punched a conspiracy theorist journalist’s lights out when told his whole life was ‘a lie’. He likes to wear his dress whites and be seen with beautiful women, and he can compute orbital mechanics in his head. Buzz Aldrin’s story is amazing, and his new book Magnificent Desolation is inspirational.

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