Buzz Aldrin was 39 years old at the time of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. And yet somehow, his life has gotten bigger since then.
The now-86-year-old just won his first-ever March Madness bracket in a friendly bet against ESPN analyst Dick Vitale — despite the fact that, as he told Upworthy, “I didn’t know what a bracket was when I filled it out!”
That might sound like a ridiculous non sequitur factoid (it is), but it just goes to show that even the second man to walk on the moon is still discovering new things.
Buzz has seen a lot in the nearly 50 years since that fateful day that launched him into orbit and infamy; he’s even written several books about it (the latest of which just came out last week). Here are just a few of his most out-of-this-world memories — both the times when he felt higher than the moon and the moments when he felt the exact opposite.
1. On his 80th birthday, Buzz took a ride on a whale shark in the Galapagos.
Apparently, the tour guide had specifically instructed the group not to touch any marine life during their scheduled scuba session. But like no one puts baby in the corner, no one tells Buzz Aldrin not to ride a freaking whale shark.
“Holding onto the dorsal fin of a whale shark, 60 feet underwater,” Buzz told Upworthy with a laugh. “It was maybe 40 feet long. It was incredible.”
2. He took the first selfie in space way before selfies were cool.
“Clearly, there is a fetish among human beings about [being] first,” Buzz once said in an interview with The Telegraph, debunking any perceived jealousy that people thought he might feel about being the second person to walk on the moon, just moments after Neil Armstrong.
That being said, he can still claim several other interstellar firsts — from the selfie above (during Gemini 12 in 1966) to his controversial lunar communion to, yes, peeing on the moon. I mean, hey, someone had to be the first to go.
3. Believe it or not, he was actually rejected from the astronaut program the first time around.
That’s right — Buzz almost never got to go to space at all because he had never trained as a test pilot (though he was a fighter pilot during the Korean War). It’s a good thing NASA learned the error of their ways and lifted the requirement the next time around.
4. He helped pioneer the underwater training system for spacewalk — and broke an early record for the longest freestyle spacewalking.
Buzz was the sixth person to ever walk in space, with a record-breaking duration of 2 hours and 29 minutes on his first trip out. He was also the first astronaut to complete all the objectives of his extravehicular activity. (That’s the fancy official terminology for “doing stuff outside of a spaceship.”)
5. And after he retired from NASA, Buzz found work as a … used car salesman?
Buzz has been fairly candid over the years about his general frustrations with being a poorly-rewarded public figure. “Most people who have received a degree of public recognition find themselves financially pretty well off. Doesn’t happen to be the case with astronauts,” he said in a 2009 interview with CNN Radio.
And so to make some extra cash after he retired from NASA and the Air Force, Buzz spent six months or so selling cars in Beverly Hills.
Except he never actually managed to sell a single car.
6. That’s due in part to the fact that Buzz has grappled with depression his entire life.
Depression runs in the Aldrin blood. His grandfather died from suicide and so did his mother — just a few weeks before the Apollo 11 lunar mission. Her name was Marion Moon.
With impending fear that his best days were already behind him after he left government service, Buzz hit a major low point in the 70s.
But of course, there’s no cure for depression; it haunted him well before the lunar landing, and it continues to loom to this day. “I still see a shrink every couple of weeks,” he said in a recent interview with AARP. “When you’re depressed, you’re convinced it will never end. But when you’re on top of things, you’re convinced that will never end.”
7. And today, he’s been sober for nearly 40 years.
In addition to depression, Buzz also struggled with alcoholism until the late 1970s. These two issues are separate but often intertwined as one can exacerbate the other. “More and more, I turned to alcohol to ease my mind and see me through the rough times,” Buzz wrote in “Magnificent Desolation.”
To this day, he acknowledges his drinking as a major factor in the breakup of his first marriage; and he only got into AA because the woman who became his second wife threatened to dump him if he didn’t.
Buzz Aldrin’s incredible life is a powerful reminder that the highest highs and lowest lows often come hand in hand — but that doesn’t make you any less of a Real American Badass™.
There’s a certain poetry to the fact that the second man on the moon could also struggle with something like depression. But that notion also distracts from the fact that depression and alcoholism are real diseases, and diseases don’t make exceptions for exceptional lives.
“I haven’t quit working to the best that I know how to do,” Buzz said at the end of our conversation, before going on excitedly about the prospect of colonizing Mars, the future of solar energy, and his plans to visit the North and South Poles (along with a few cryptic references to a “submersible the size of the Titanic”).
Even at 86, he’s still keeping himself busy, searching for the next great horizon.
And that’s perhaps the most important takeaway from Buzz Aldrin’s life story: Sometimes the best thing to do is to just keep moving.