• Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11 moon landing

    Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, during the Apollo 11 mission. Mission commander Neil Armstrong snapped this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. (Image: NASA)

In 1969, Buzz Aldrin stepped out of a spacecraft and saw the Earth as a bright blue sphere more than a quarter of a million miles away. I was 32 years old and obsessed with the unfolding story of humans landing on the moon. As a freelance journalist for the Toronto Telegram, I was at Cape Kennedy to witness his fiery departure on a vertical cloud of rolling thunder. For me, Apollo 11 was the event that defined the century.

Years later, I met Buzz and we scuba dived inside a tropic ocean. As the years passed, I listened to him talk with great passion about sending astronaut teams to Mars. He encouraged me to write a book about leadership and teamwork in lethal environments.

Buzz is a study in temperament and grace under pressure. A master pilot and astronaut, he was at home in the tightly controlled world of technical memos and operating procedures. He was not trained to deal with celebrity. For years after his moon flight, he struggled with clinical depression and alcohol addiction. He looked deep inside himself and found a new orbit. Unafraid to share his life story, he wrote two biographies: Return to Earth and Magnificent Desolation.

Buzz is loyal to friends and eager to share his insights. Thank you, Buzz, for inspiring me to go to tough places and do hard things. Fifty years later, here are thoughts about how you carried the fire to the moon.

Buzz Aldrin is 39 years old, breathing fast between clenched teeth, the sound echoing inside his helmet. He’s just stepped off the narrow ladder, trying to get his bearings. Second man on the moon.

There is no "What’s next?" What’s next has been programmed into him for months, every action rehearsed to the final full stop. Millions of Earthlings, on a small, blue planet hanging in the sky, are watching. He leans forward, boots firmly settled in the grey dust. The words come, practised and poignant, "Beautiful view. Magnificent desolation."

Where is fear in all this?

He’s suspended in a hyper-vigilant state, heart rate just above normal — fear controlled by practised, problem-solving decisions. Brimming with determination to do the work, commitment is his survival tactic.

Return to Earth will be the hard part. There is no preparation for fame and its ruthless consequences. But there is always the remembered light of the moon.