Apollo 11: Buzz Aldrin’s young son worried about dad tripping on the moon
Children of astronauts of Apollo landings reveal how they saw their parents work as just another mission
There was one thing going through Andy Aldrin’s mind as his father descended the ladder of the lunar landing module to take his first steps on the moon, with the eyes of the world upon him and a new chapter for the history books about to be written.
Watching on television at the family home in Houston, Texas, the schoolboy was nervous – not for his father so much as his own credibility.
“Mostly, I was worried about him falling over in front of all my classmates,” he admitted in an interview with The Times to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo XI mission.
“You have to remember I’m an 11-year-old kid and that’s my dad on TV in front of 300 million…500 million people – and more importantly, my classmates, so I was scared to death my dad was going to do something to embarrass me.
“I just remember being worried about my dad screwing up and tripping as he came down the ladder and stepped on the moon…I’m just concerned my dad’s going to do something dumb.”
The dreaded scenario did not materialise – so there was apparently little to discuss at school the next day. “We didn’t talk about it,” he said of mankind’s greatest accomplishment. “It was just, ‘Hm, OK.’”
Growing up near Houston’s Manned Spacecraft Centre, now Johnson Space Center, it was not unusual for the children of Apollo space legends to feel that life was unremarkable.
Rosemary Roosa, 58, whose father Stuart Roosa flew to the moon on the Apollo XIV mission in 1972, recalls the almost business-like manner in which wives and children accepted their loved ones’ exploits.
“Fear wasn’t expressed a lot in our families. Moms get credit for that. We all had faith in the programme…These Apollo guys were military, they were fighter pilots and used to risk. It was just one more mission,” she said.
Speaking to The Times at Kennedy Space Center’s historic Apollo/Saturn V Center, where she last week planted 12 ‘moon trees’ grown from sycamore seeds that her father flew to lunar orbit, she said: “I was here at five years old, standing next to my father when Apollo 11 launched. He wanted us to see and experience the ground shaking and see the flames, because he didn’t want us to be nervous or scared – since the next launch I saw was going to be his,” she said.
“He said ‘If something should happen to me, I died doing what I wanted to do.’… It was just ‘OK Daddy’. Acceptance.”
Dr Aldrin recalls that three of the five houses immediately adjacent to his family home belonged to astronauts and “you couldn’t swing a dead cat at school without hitting an astronaut’s kid.”
“My dad was cool because he could pole-vault – not so much because he was an astronaut,” he joked.
A week or so before Apollo XI’s liftoff, his father took him to the top of the launch gantry to admire the rocket and the view. “I don’t remember any really poignant parting words…It was just ‘OK dad’s going on a trip.’”
Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo XI, and Mike Collins, the pilot of the command module, would pop round to join a family barbecue now and then – but to the young Aldrin “they weren’t heroes, they were just guys dad worked with.”
Half a century later, Dr Aldrin choked up with emotion as he welcomed Mike Collins at an Apollo 50th gala this week. “There are heroes of the mind and heroes of the heart. This guy is a hero of my heart,” he said.
Space, said Dr Aldrin, “unites us in a way that nothing else can.” Yet his father did not attend the prestigious Aldrin Family Foundation gala for the second consecutive year, and was a no-show at another commemorative event at the space centre on Tuesday, the anniversary of the launch.
Dr Aldrin declines to speak publicly about their private family struggles, having last year filed legal action seeking guardianship over his father, concerned that the 89-year-old had fallen victim to manipulators and was in mental decline. Buzz Aldrin shot back with a lawsuit levelling accusations at his son, his daughter Jan, and his former manager. Both sides have since dropped the actions.
A respected figure in aerospace and the charitable community, Dr Aldrin is a professor at Florida Institute of Technology and has launched a new graduate programme in association with the International Space University to train future space entrepreneurs. The AFF, which he also heads, provides STEAM-based educational outreach to schools.
“We are trying to inspire a new generation of explorers. Maybe just maybe the first generation of Martians,” he said.
“I think my dad’s legacy is still to be determined but it should be as someone who continues to innovate, and as a pioneer always trying to advance the cause of exploration and human development in space. I think he would want his legacy more to do with his vision for space exploration than stepping on the moon; it’s all about trying to look into the future.”