How the three astronauts have adjusted to life on Earth: A new book has been published about the Apollo astronauts. Susan Watts talked to the author

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The Independent Online
THE THREE-strong crew of Apollo 11 has planned no reunion on Wednesday for the 25th anniversary of man's first step on the Moon.

While the popular imagination might like to think of Neil Armstrong, Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin and Michael Collins sharing a joke as they crack a six-pack in front of the video, the three ageing spacemen are unlikely even to see each other on that day.

The three personalities on board Apollo 11 were very different, which helps to explain their attitude to each other. They are still friends, but are not particularly close. Armstrong has become famous as the highly private man who concedes no press interviews from his home on a farm in Ohio. At most astronaut reunions, he is notable by his absence. After Apollo 11, he worked for a while at Nasa's Astronaut Office, leaving in 1971 to become an engineering professor at Cincinnati University

In 1979, he left teaching for the business world, serving in 1986 as vice-chairman of the presidential commission that investigated the Challenger disaster.

Andrew Chaikin, a space journalist who has spent the past eight years studying the lives of the crews of the Apollo space missions, has had unique access to each of the 24 astronauts. He says Armstrong cannot understand why the public and the media makes so much of Apollo 11.

'Armstrong is not a very easy man to know, although he is very warm once you get to know him . . . People say that once he becomes a friend he is a very good friend.'

Aldrin, in contrast, thirsts for the publicity that might bring wider acknowledgement of his novel, if unorthodox, ideas on space transport systems. He secured his place in the history books as the subject of one of the best-known photographs of the Apollo missions - showing him in full garb with the Sea of Tranquillity and Armstrong (the photographer) reflected in the golden sheen of the visor of his helmet.

Edwin Eugene Aldrin changed his name to Buzz by deed poll in 1979. Buzz came from a nickname used by his baby sister, whose attempts to pronounce 'brother' came out as 'buzzer'. 'Aldrin's problem has been that he is very intense, and wants to put his point across but doesn't always know how to connect with his listeners,' Mr Chaikin said.

Aldrin suffered with manic depressive illness and alcoholism for several years after Apollo. 'But he got himself into Alcoholics Anonymous and has been sober now for about 18 years. He has remarried and seems very happy.'

Collins, the Italian-born astronaut who stayed behind in the lunar module while Armstrong and Aldrin pranced about on the surface, spent a year working in public affairs at Nasa's Washington headquarters. He has written several books on space travel, but says he now spends 'more time fishing than writing'.

So what of the 21 astronauts on the Apollo programme other than the most famous three on the 1969 mission? Their lives have proved remarkably diverse. Alan Bean, one of the Apollo 12 crew, lives in Houston, Texas, where he is a full-time artist. Charles Conrad, also of Apollo 12, is a vice-president of the McDonnell Douglas Corporation. Charles Duke, of Apollo 16, has become a born- again Christian. His religious experience, he says, is far more fulfilling than the time he spent as an astronaut.

A Man on the Moon. The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts; Andrew Chaikin; published by Michael Joseph; pounds 17.99.

(Photographs omitted)