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Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, but his long, strange trip began after Apollo 11

Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S flag on the Moon. (Neil Armstrong/NASA)

Just eight years after being called a modern day Christopher Columbus, Buzz Aldrin was selling used cars.

And he wasn’t any good at it.

For six months, the man who figured out how to get a spaceship off the moon could not figure out how to sell a single Cadillac in Beverly Hills.

“A lot of people like to think astronauts fit into one particular mold,” Aldrin said at the start of his autobiographical video. “That’s not necessarily the case.”

The astronaut mold was supposed to produce infallible supermen full of the right stuff. Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr. has always displayed plenty of right stuff, wrong stuff, weird stuff and human stuff.

He is a decorated war hero, a rocket scientist, an alcoholic, a maverick and a dreamer. And perhaps you’ve heard he was the second man on the moon.

Aldrin’s heard it about a billion times.

“I’ll always be identified as the second man to walk the moon,” he told National Geographic.

The official story was the lunar module’s design made it easier and safer for Neil Armstrong to exit first. The undying rumor is Aldrin lobbied for the honor, but NASA worried he wouldn’t handle the First Man legacy as well as the unflappable Armstrong.

Whatever the reason, it helped paint Aldrin as “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

In that 1976 movie, a human-looking space traveler played by David Bowie came here looking for a way to transport water back to his dying planet. His alien brilliance made him a tycoon, but he developed a taste for women and gin and totally lost mission focus.

That was never a problem for Aldrin when he was shooting down Soviet MiG-15s over Korea. He flew 66 combat missions, but he never became a test pilot.

That’s what NASA was looking for in astronauts, but it was dazzled by Aldrin’s brainpower. He got a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His chatty nerdiness could be a bit much, even around NASA.

“We tried sometimes not to sit next to Buzz at a party,” astronaut Michael Collins once joked.

He sure came in handy on the moon, however. When it was time for the Eagle to depart, Aldrin noticed a switch that activated the engine had broken off.

It could have been a fatal problem, but Aldrin stuck a felt-tipped pen into the small cavity to reengage the circuit breaker. Minutes later, the Eagle took off for home.

Aldrin retired from the military in 1972. His mother and grandfather had ended their lives by suicide. As he tried to adjust to civilian life, Aldrin felt the same dark tug of depression.

“I began to think it was a genetic, inherited tendency,” he said. “That brought me to consuming alcohol more and more.”

He divorced twice and was a complete bust as a car salesman. But he sought therapy and stopped drinking in 1978.

Aldrin gradually embarked on a new journey fueled by his passion for adventure. He’s written nine books, and has basically spent the past couple of decades promoting two things – space exploration and Buzz Aldrin.

There’s a lot of quirky appeal to peddle. Aldrin may have the second man on the moon, but he took the first selfie in outer space.

Other Buzz Trivia:

He was the first man to urinate on the moon. The MTV Video Music Awards statuettes are modeled after him saluting the U.S. flag on the moon.

He hitched a ride on the back of a whale shark to celebrate his 80th birthday. In 2016, he became the oldest man to reach the South Pole.

His mother’s maiden name was Marion Moon. He’s the first astronaut to admit to getting a facelift and the only one to make a music video with Snoop Dogg.

“Buzz” came as a childhood nickname from his sisters, who mispronounced “brother” as “buzzer.” Aldrin legally changed his name to Buzz in 1988.

Inspired by that name, Disney legally changed the character “Lunar Larry” to “Buzz Lightyear” before launching the Toy Story franchise.

You can’t buy “To Infinity and Beyond” T-shirts on Aldrin’s website. You can buy official Buzz Aldrin baseball caps ($34.95), autographed books ($499) and autographed Saturn V rocket models ($1,299).

Aldrin has been pushing for man to colonize the moon and set foot on other planets. That explains the “Get Your Ass to Mars” T-shirts he wears.

It’s easy to see him as the crazy uncle in NASA’s attic. Aldrin readily admits he’s made mistakes over the past 89 years.

But the cinematic “Man Who Fell to Earth” ended up drunk and passed out in a café. Aldrin vows that will not be his final scene.

“I have gained so much by facing adversity,” he said. “I have a lot of frailties, a lot of shortcomings. But I am a much more productive person now than I ever was at the peak of my astronaut career.”

In the 50 years since NASA’s peak moment, he has certainly proven one thing. When they made Buzz Aldrin, they broke the mold.


© 2019 The Orlando Sentinel