Apollo Expeditions to the Moon|
WHAT HAPPENS TO EX-ASTRONAUTS?The exclusive-story gambit almost ended when the Kennedy Administration took over, and Kennedy's press secretary actually announced there would be no more contracts after Mercury ended. But John Glenn went sailing with the President one summer day in 1962 and enumerated the costs and risks that came with fame. The President relented and more contracts were signed after the Second Nine entered, this time with not only Life but also Field Enterprises. But as more astronauts were selected, the pie sliced thinner until finally each astronaut was receiving only $3000 per year for his literary output. One last surge came with Life's European syndication of the stories of Apollo 8 through 11 in 1969, which brought about $16,000 for each of sixty astronauts and widows.
A principal advantage of the contracts was the insurance, $50,000 worth from both Life and Field for each astronaut, and the widows of the accident victims were left with nest eggs. Congress might have been able to provide extra income and extra insurance, but the Vietnam War got in the way, and who was to say a man dying in space was more deserving than one who stepped on a land mine in a jungle path?
Unfortunately, this easy money led, directly or indirectly, to money acquired less scrupulously when the Apollo 15 astronauts sold 400 unauthorized covers to a German dealer in exchange for $8000 each (the dealer got $150,000). The three returned the money, and were subsequently reprimanded. It also turned out that each of fifteen astronauts had sold 500 copies of his signature on blocks of stamps for $5 apiece, without saying anything to bosses Slayton and Shepard about it (five of the fifteen gave the proceeds to charity). Deke and Al were incensed, but threw up their hands. If a man has a claim to owning anything, it is his own signature. Nevertheless NASA put a stop to this business and also placed heavy restrictions on what astronauts could and could not carry into space.
Homogeneous the astronauts never were. Frank Borman learned to fly a plane before he was old enough to get a driver's license, and so did Neil Armstrong, but at the same age Dick Gordon was considering the priesthood, Mike Collins was more interested in "girls, football, and chess" than in planes, and Jim Irwin had never flown until he rode a commercial aircraft to begin flight training.
John Glenn went into politics and, after several disappointments, was elected U.S. Senator from Ohio on the Democratic ticket in 1974. Alan Shepard's $125,000 from the Life and Field contracts became the egg that hatched a fortune in real estate. Borman, success-prone as always, spent a semester at Harvard Business School, went to work for Eastern Airlines, and became its president. For several years Donn Eisele served as director of the Peace Corps in Thailand, which was as different from Dick Gordon's executive job with the New Orleans Saints football team as was Mike Collins's directorship of the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum. Armstrong became a professor of engineering at the University of Cincinnati, Ed Mitchell founded an organization devoted to extrasensory perception, and Jim Irwin became a fundamentalist evangelist. Jim McDivitt became an executive of Consumers Power Company in his home town, Jackson, Mich., and Jim Lovell stayed put with the Bay-Houston Towing Company.
Once in awhile some them still turned up on television or radio: Schirra plugging the railroads, Aldrin Volkswagens, Armstrong and Carpenter banks, and Lovell insurance. Collins was offered $50,000 to advertise a beer but he turned it down, "although I like beer". Lest he appear too upright, Collins did confess that he once made an unpaid commercial for U.S. Savings Bonds, although he had never seen one in his life.
If the astronauts sometimes dwelt in an aura of public misconception, they nonetheless performed dazzling feats with skill and finesse. You may search the pages of history in vain for deeds to match theirs, and many years will pass before similar feats occur again. All hail, then, to these daring young men who married technique to valor and in barely a decade transformed the impossible into the commonplace.