The Truth About Buzz Aldrin's Relationship With Neil Armstrong

It's a trope commonly seen in many television shows and films: Significant shared experiences, whether positive or negative, can make friends out of total strangers. It's not that far-fetched to think that a group of diverse people can find common ground and develop a strong bond when they're subjected to circumstances that either require them to work together or affect them in profound ways.

Thus, it sounds like a common-sense conclusion that the three astronauts on the Apollo 11 mission — Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins — would end up being the closest of pals after their (literally) out-of-this-world experience. Especially Armstrong and Aldrin, who both had the opportunity to do something no one else had ever done before: walk on the Moon.

Then again, being on the same mission together doesn't automatically mean that you'd be friends with your teammates. And in the case of Armstrong and Aldrin, the answer to the question regarding whether or not they became friends after they made history isn't as straightforward as one might think.

They didn't really have time to develop a friendship

The Apollo 11 mission may seem like it was an exhilarating excursion to a place where no man had previously gone before. And while there certainly was an element of excitement and fun to it, it had to be meticulously planned and prepared. After all, sending a man to Earth's satellite was uncharted territory back in the 1960s. In other words, the astronauts on the mission had little time for camaraderie, even six months before their trip (via the Navy Times).

Neil Armstrong served as Apollo 11's mission commander, while Buzz Aldrin was assigned as the pilot of the Lunar Module. Michael Collins completed the trio as the pilot of the Command Module, which meant that while he didn't get to step on the Moon himself, he was the key to them making them back to Earth.

As no one had attempted such a mission prior to Apollo 11, it took half a year for the crew to train and prepare for the trip. Additionally, Apollo 11 marked the first time Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins became the crew of a single spaceflight. Collins described the preparation period as "almost frantic," and shared that the sheer amount of work that had to be done preflight meant they didn't really get the chance to hang out after their training sessions. "We were all business. We were all hard work, and we felt the weight of the world upon us."

Armstrong trusted Aldrin

Imagine being part of a mission with two individuals you've never worked with as a team, assigned to go off-planet to a place that no other person had ever successfully reached in the past. Additionally, your only hope of coming home after your mission depends on so many variables out of your control, including the hope that nothing malfunctions on your way back. Without question, it would require an immense amount of trust and cooperation among you and your fellow crew members to ensure your success and survival.

In a 2009 interview published by the Cincinnati Enquirer, Neil Armstrong gave a succinct, candid answer when he was asked about what helped make the Apollo 11 mission successful: "In a large project like Apollo, no one can know everything. It was mandatory that we trust the other members of the team. You develop that trust by constant interaction and the joint solving of problems."

James Hansen shared an interesting anecdote in his book "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" involving Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. The former was allegedly given the option to replace the latter in the mission, due to reports of Aldrin being challenging to work with. After some thought, Armstrong declined, stating that "everything [had been] all right" while he had been working with Aldrin over the course of months.

No bad blood over who got to step on the moon first

Aside from being part of the historic Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong is best known as the first man to set foot on the Moon. As it turns out, however, the honor of being the first human to walk on Earth's satellite almost went to Buzz Aldrin.

In a 2020 interview with Sky at Night Magazine, Aldrin shared that in previous extravehicular activities (EVAs) or "spacewalks," it was typically the pilot of the Lunar Module or the second-in-command who stepped out of the spacecraft first. "In the history of NASA EVAs, the guy who got out was always the junior person," explained Aldrin. However, it was ultimately decided that Armstrong would exit first — and despite what Aldrin believed was the proper procedure, he said that he gave way so as not to further delay their training.

In interviews such as the one he gave to National Geographic in 2016, Aldrin has gone on record as saying that he didn't make a fuss about the decision, believing that it made sense due to Armstrong's status as senior crew member. As a 1969 article published in Florida Today described Aldrin: "He accepts the fact that Commander Neil Armstrong will set foot on the moon first because he is the commander and that's just the way things are. Even after it became clear that plans would change and Armstrong would be the first man on the moon, Aldrin remained unflappable."

...Or was there?

That said, Buzz Aldrin didn't always feel at peace with the fact that he was the second man to step on the Moon — but this feeling was less about holding a grudge against Neil Armstrong, and more about Aldrin's general annoyance at being constantly reminded by the media that he was "second."

According to the Washington Post, Aldrin shared some of his thoughts about his unwanted moniker in his book "No Dream Is Too High." Aldrin also wrote that under typical circumstances, he "should have been the first person to walk on the moon." However, even after Aldrin raised this concern to senior management, the honor still went to Armstrong (per Sky at Night Magazine).

In his 2016 National Geographic interview, Aldrin admitted (with a laugh) that he felt a tad frustrated after being constantly introduced as "the second man on the moon" at public events. "Is it really necessary to point out to the crowd that somebody else was first when we all went through the same training, we all landed at the same time and all contributed? But for the rest of my life I'll always be identified as the second man to walk on the moon."

The mission and their observations

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin brought different skill sets and perspectives to the Apollo 11 mission, due to their differing professional backgrounds. During the course of the mission and upon reaching home, the two men also provided different (albeit complementary) observations, both about the mission itself and what they found on the Moon.

In a Quora post republished by Forbes, amateur astronomer and sci-fi author H. Paul Honsinger explained that Armstrong's experience as a pilot meant that his observations leaned more towards the technical aspects of the mission: "the performance of the spacecraft, what it was like to fly the [module], how maneuverable it was, how easy it was to control the rate of descent, and so on."

Meanwhile, Aldrin generally provided more scientific observations about the satellite, including the limitations of his visual range while on the Moon, what Earth and the stars looked like from his vantage point, and how lunar dust and regolith (soil) behaved while they were there (via

Armstrong and Aldrin nearly got stranded on the Moon

The Apollo 11 mission is a story of the triumph of the human spirit, a history-making trip that served as a major milestone in the Space Age. For a few short moments, though, it almost became a story of tragedy — all because of a small switch that broke, threatening to leave Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin unable to come home.

As Time Magazine recounted, Armstrong and Aldrin ended their moonwalk after two and a half hours. Upon entering their lunar module, the engine arm circuit breaker that allowed the module's engine to start snapped off from the instrument panel, rendering it unable to lift off. After Aldrin took a look outside the module window, he spotted the switch lying in the dust and realized their predicament.

It took hours for the engineering team in Houston to try to come up with a way to power the engine sans switch, only to conclude that they couldn't do it. In a stroke of brilliance and desperation, Aldrin pulled out a felt tip pen and pressed against the switch's stem that was still in the instrument panel. Fortunately, it worked; Armstrong and Aldrin were able to return to Earth, thanks to "the pivot point of a fifty-cent bit of plastic nothing."

'Closely bonded' despite going different paths

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were welcomed as heroes back on Earth, touring not just the United States, but also 25 capitals across the world (per Sky at Night Magazine). After they had fulfilled their duties, however, the three of them went their separate ways. Considering how they were more like co-workers than old friends, this isn't surprising.

Armstrong became an educator, joining the University of Cincinnati's faculty as an aeronautical engineering professor. Likewise, Collins didn't venture too far away from space, as he assumed the top leadership role at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Strangely (and tragically) enough, Aldrin didn't quite adjust to his grounded life as well as his Apollo 11 crewmates did, at least for a few years. Aldrin's mental health took a toll, and he subsequently developed a drinking problem. His personal life also proved to be a whirlwind of challenges, including a divorce and two more failed marriages.

Aldrin eventually recovered, though — and by his own account, he had successfully maintained contact with both Armstrong and Collins. "Our crew is still closely bonded together because of our fantastic shared experiences," shared Aldrin in a 1998 interview with Scholastic. "Yet our lives are going in different directions."

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Aldrin loved the spotlight; Armstrong (seemingly) hated it

One of the ways in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are frequently differentiated is in their media exposure. To many, Aldrin seemed to gravitate towards media attention, while Armstrong seemingly shied away from it (leading to some mistakenly branding him as "reclusive," per The Cincinnati Enquirer).

When the 1980s rolled in, Aldrin seemed to have found his purpose — and thoroughly basked in the spotlight that the media gave him due to his role in the Apollo 11 mission. According to Sky at Night Magazine, Aldrin had endeared himself to the press, with multiple autograph signings, seminars, TV show appearances, and other public engagements. He had also authored multiple books by this time and had gained a reputation as a staunch advocate of space exploration. He even became part of the National Space Society Board of Governors, a nonprofit space advocacy organization.

Armstrong, on the other hand, appeared to prefer a simple, quiet life, describing himself to The Cincinnati Enquirer in 2009 as "a relatively normal person who had some extraordinary experiences." When asked about how he felt in terms of his visibility in the space community, his response was brief and straightforward: "[The notion that I am reclusive] is a viewpoint created by the press because I have not given individual interviews for many years."

The trio were 'amiable strangers'

In various interviews, Buzz Aldrin has done his best to establish that he, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins were able to forge a bond after the Apollo mission (via Scholastic). Based on the way Collins described them as "amiable strangers," however, one might think that this feeling wasn't entirely mutual (via CBS News).

Collins' rather neutral description of the Apollo 11 crew's relationship appeared in his memoir "Carrying the Fire." However, he clarified in an interview that it wasn't intended to downplay or disregard his relationship with his fellow crew members. "'Amiable stranger' just sort of popped out one time, but I didn't mean it to be a criticism," Collins explained. "It was simply a description of our training cycle."

According to Collins, being part of the Apollo 11 crew placed a tremendous amount of pressure and responsibility upon their shoulders, and their separate assignments to the command module and lunar module led to him coining the term for them. Or, as he put it: "A good term. Not a bad way to describe it."

Armstrong and Aldrin: 'neutral strangers'?

Interestingly, Michael Collins' description of the relationship between Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made it sound like they were actually more distant than how Aldrin portrayed it.

In an interview with Armstrong's official biographer, James Hansen, Collins — whom Hansen described as "very thoughtful" and possessing "a really good sense of humor and good insight into people" — reportedly described Armstrong and Aldrin as "neutral strangers" after briefly pondering the question (via NBC News). Hansen found it interesting that Collins didn't bother to mention the word "amiable" in his answer.

Anyone who reads the words "neutral strangers" couldn't be faulted for thinking that not even an iota of friendship existed between the two moonwalkers. That said, Collins went on to clarify that the astronauts weren't exactly hostile or indifferent towards one another; they just weren't that close. According to Hansen, the three "did their job, they did what they had to do professionally, but when it was lunch or the end of the day they didn't go out together and drink a beer."

Aldrin acknowledged Armstrong as a 'friend' when the latter died

Despite somewhat inconsistent accounts from Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, one thing is clear: As far as Aldrin was concerned, Neil Armstrong was a "friend." Aldrin never hesitated to use the term to describe Armstrong, especially when he paid tribute to the latter after Armstrong died on August 25, 2012.

In a statement from Aldrin published on his official website, he called Armstrong "a true American hero" and his "good friend and space exploration companion," and he celebrated the life of "the best pilot [he] ever knew" with a heartfelt tribute. Aldrin even shared how he would feel whenever he would look at the Moon, admitting that the most significant memory that always came to his mind was when he and Armstrong traversed the Sea of Tranquility and caught a glimpse of Earth from space. "I realized that even though we were farther away from earth than two humans had ever been, we were not alone."

Aldrin: Armstrong wasn't that easy to get along with, but they were friends

If the anecdote in James Hansen's book "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" was to be believed, Buzz Aldrin wasn't the easiest person to get along with among the Apollo crew members. Curiously, that was exactly how Aldrin described his late crewmate Armstrong in a 2012 interview with the Daily Mirror, some time after Armstrong's death. It was not meant to be an insult, though — on the contrary, Aldrin used it to emphasize that he and Armstrong did indeed share a warm bond.

Aldrin asserted that Armstrong contributed significantly to the Apollo 11 mission's success, and that the late mission commander was "very capable, more than capable." Aldrin also praised Armstrong's decision-making skills and adaptability, though he characterized Armstrong as "[not] a person that was a back-slapping, easy to get along with kind of guy."

Ultimately, based on his tribute to Armstrong, his numerous interviews over the years, and his public statements, it's safe to say that at least on Aldrin's part, Armstrong was more than just a workmate. Or, as he put it quite plainly: "Yes, I think we were friends."