By current space-shuttle standards, the 12 astronauts who walked on the Moon were a homogeneous bunch: all male, all white, all-American, all but one born between 1930 and 1935. (Alan Shepard, at 48, was by far the oldest at the time of his 1971 Apollo 14 mission.) All of them except the geologist Schmitt were navy or air force pilots, and even Schmitt became an experienced pilot during the course of his training, logging more than two thousand hours of flying time. Many were sons of high-ranking military officers; remarkably, all were either the eldest child or the first son, and they were – by nature, upbringing and the Apollo training system – intensely competitive. Each was part of a pool from which only The Best would be selected. It was all about ‘getting a mission’, especially as it became clear that the programme was going to be curtailed: the last three scheduled missions were cancelled in 1970 because of the costs of the Vietnam War and waning public enthusiasm. It wasn’t clear what you had to do to get a mission, other than be very good at your work. Some astronauts politicked hard and made themselves seriously unpopular with their colleagues. Most realised that selection probably meant striking the right balance between daring and foolhardiness, between following the rules and showing an ability to improvise.
Despite the vast attention paid to the astronauts’ psychological profiles and their ability to work in teams, the Apollo 11 crew verged on the dysfunctional. While Armstrong and Aldrin didn’t quite match Stoppard’s Scott and Oates, there was a fierce behind-the-scenes battle between them to be first to set foot on the Moon. Early plans were for Aldrin, as module pilot, to step out first, but one version reported by Smith has it that Armstrong, as mission commander, lobbied more vigorously than Aldrin, and Nasa backed him up because he would be ‘better equipped to handle the clamour when he got back’ and, more mundanely, because his seat in the lunar module was closer to the door. Aldrin paid Armstrong back by taking no photographs of him on the Moon: the only manually taken lunar image of the First Man on the Moon is in one of many pictures Armstrong snapped of Aldrin, showing himself reflected in the visor of Aldrin’s spacesuit. Asked about this omission later, Aldrin lamely replied: ‘My fault, perhaps, but we had never simulated this in training.’ ...
And so, at the most mundane level, all were faced with problems of re-entry into the civilian economy. Only Young was still working for Nasa when the interviews for Moondust were done. He retired at the end of 2004, while his Nasa web bio promises that ‘he will continue to advocate the development of the technologies that will allow us to live and work on the Moon and Mars. Those technologies over the long (or short) haul will save civilisation on Earth.’ Others cashed in any way they could. Some sold real estate; some went into business (beer distribution, insurance, cable TV, small airlines, tugboats, a minor oil company); some consulted for TV shows and movies dealing with space travel; one or two took on the role of salesmen for the commercial potential of further lunar exploration, including visionary schemes for mining lunar platinum and building Moon-based helium-3 nuclear fusion plants to solve the terrestrial energy crisis. Armstrong held a university position in aerospace engineering during the 1970s, and Schmitt served one term as a Republican senator from New Mexico. Many were sought after as corporate front men, doing nothing more specific than lending their names to whatever business it was whose customers might want to meet a Moon Man. Dick Gordon, the command module pilot of Apollo 12, was briefly executive vice-president of an American football team, before moving on to a miscellany of other business positions. In such capacities, as one of them put it, the astronauts were serving as little more than ‘table decoration’.
There was, of course, a series of ‘as told to’ books, and there was public speaking, though none of the Moon Men seems to have enjoyed it or was much good at it, and Armstrong and Young are Mogadon Men of the highest order. There are fees for appearances at Star Trek conventions, where the TV actors tend to draw bigger crowds than the real thing. Autographs bring in a reliable stream of revenue for the majority of astronauts willing to meet the demand. Armstrong stopped signing about ten years ago, so his are scarce and expensive. Personal autograph fees range from about $20 to much more than that for signatures on rare documents or autographs that complete an Apollo set. An ‘authenticated’ signed Neil Armstrong photograph retails online at $2495, while bidding for either a Charlie Duke or an Al Bean autographed postcard on eBay starts as low as $19.99. There is a sad-making account in Moondust of Gordon sitting practically alone at his signing-table at a Trekkie convention in Las Vegas. Why does he do it? ‘Oh, I enjoy getting out and meeting people. It gives me something to do.’ David Scott got in serious trouble when he surreptitiously packed several hundred ‘first-day cover’ envelopes in his lunar module for future personal sale by the crew (to help finance their children’s education), and there have been allegations about ‘questionable’ business activities associated with others.
More elaboration at The Atlantic.