Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin: Leading Privacy Campaigners …

| July 22, 2009

This is not a long blog.  I encourage you to read a longer article & possibly explore further from there.

I was one of the first people in the world to see Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon.  We were first by only small parts of a second, but first we were.  Why?  Because the images to be broadcast to the rest of the world came in through the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station just outside Canberra, back through the suburb of Deakin before going further including to NASA then out to the wider world.  The Dish (aka Parkes) made its contribution later, unlike the portrayal in the movie.  As such, in Canberra we got to see the feed before anybody else did outside of the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station, an area so beautiful before being ravaged by time and the horrific bushfires in 2003.
On the day of the landing, I was in the last months of secondary school before graduating.  Our school organised televisions large and small to be brought from home and placed all around the school gymnasium for us all to see.  I recall the whole school crowding round the TVs see that momentous "one small step for [a] man …"
It is one of my most vivid memories of adolescence apart from the assassination of US President Kennedy and confirmed my desire to start a career in science. (Interesting, isn’t it, that memories of similar moment with an Australian connotation are mostly sporting:  the first Cricket Test I ever saw, at Adelaide Oval; Greg Chappell’s first Test century and later Australia II winning the America’s Cup yacht race, although there is also the biochemistry class at ANU in the 1970s run by Peter Doherty where the whisper round our lab was that he would win a Nobel Prize for his breakthroughs in immunology research.)
Ever since, we have celebrated the periodic anniversaries of the Moon landing.  We are celebrating the 40 year anniversary right now.
One of the sub-themes in these celebrations is the different impact of fame on the three Apollo 11 astronauts and their responses. 
All equally valid. 
Buzz Aldrin for example has famously spoken of the stress caused by living with fame including its contribution to his decline into alcoholism before pulling himself together in a life that clearly celebrates. 
But it is Neil Armstrong who should give us cause to ponder in the see everything – hide nothing era in which we now live.  In the words of his biographer, James Hansen, "Neil was very much the same person after Apollo 11 as he was before it.  The pragmatism, the modesty, the shyness were there from an early age".
Or, as Paul Fahri put it in The Sydney Morning Herald in an article titled "A small step for man, and a lifetime walking away", "Even before the world insisted on lionising him, he was his own man, faithful to his standards – reject personal glory, avoid focusing on the self, keep what’s private private".
At the risk of repeating, the choices of both Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong are equally valid. 
The important thing is that they had the choice.  Even in today’s age, they have been able to exercise it (just).
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin:  both powerful advocates of a right to privacy; both choosing how little and how much of their private lives they wanted to reveal.  Read Paul Fahri & then a biography of Armstrong & ponder.


Malcolm Crompton is Managing Director of Information Integrity Solutions (IIS), a globally connected company that works with public sector and private sector organisations to help them build customer trust through respect for the customer and their personal information.  He is also foundation President of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, Australia New Zealand,




  1. sally.rose

    July 24, 2009 at 12:16 am

    What about Mike?

    It seems somehow unfair (even though it’s probably a blessing) that Mike Collins has had less need than Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin to have to make choices about his privacy.
    Was his feat less amazing because he didn’t get a spacewalk that day? Or was the instrusion into his privacy minimised because there weren’t the same cool pics available?
    • Malcolm Crompton

      July 24, 2009 at 12:18 am

      Oh so true. Mike Collins

      Oh so true. Mike Collins is often the forgotten one, yet like the others he had to have stone cold blood to take the mission through to successful conclusion.

      Interestingly, he seems to have made a middle ground choice compared with the other two. And worthy of noting for that reason.
      Thank you for pointing this out.
      • alison gordon

        August 10, 2009 at 6:30 am

        Mike Collins?

        I’m embarassed to admit that once upon a time if you’d asked me who the third astronaut was I would’ve scratched my head in confusion.

        Sadly I think you are correct Sally. Mike Collins did not "moon walk" or say any famous, profound one liners (that I know of). It’s a shame we think about the event rather than the work leading up to, during and after the show was well and truly over.