On top of all his other adventures and entanglements, local eccentric Lonnie Hammargren once worked as a flight surgeon for the Apollo program.
Of course he did. Why not?
Hammargren, 71, says he spent about a year with NASA in the early days of Apollo, and he has a flight record to prove it.
His time with the space agency came between a tour in Vietnam on a medevac helicopter and his enrollment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he trained for a career in neurosurgery.
At the time, his job was to give physical exams to astronaut candidates and supervise some of their training. His goal was to earn a trip into orbit as a scientist-astronaut.
"I loved the idea of flying to the moon or Mars or anywhere in space," he says.
Hammargren’s flight record documents seven training flights in various types of aircraft between November 1965 and March 1966.
He says his most memorable flight was a trip from Johnson Space Center in Houston to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in a T-38 jet piloted by Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.
Hammargren says he wanted to see if he had the stomach for space flight, so he told Aldrin to "really wring it out."
"He started doing snap rolls — click, click, click, click — and I started vomiting into my mask."
Hammargren says he tried to hide his airsickness from Aldrin, but after they landed, the second man to walk on the moon calmly informed him, "Doc, your microphone was on the whole time."
But Hammargren says it wasn’t his stomach that kept him on the ground.
He wears glasses to correct nearsightedness, and he knew NASA had plenty of qualified applicants "who had excellent eyes," he says.
He decided to leave NASA and go to medical school not long after the Apollo 1 capsule fire, which killed astronauts Roger Chaffee, Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Ed White.
Two-and-a-half years later, Hammargren watched on television from the Mayo Clinic as the Eagle landed and Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind.
Hammargren’s interest in space flight never faded.
After moving to Las Vegas, he acquired a sizeable collection of space art featuring, and in some cases painted by, astronauts and cosmonauts. In the process, he forged a relationship with a legend of the Russian space program, Alexi Leonov, the first man to walk in space.
Hammargren says he and Aldrin have remained friends and that the two last spoke about a month ago.
On the 37th anniversary of the moon landing, he attended a banquet with Aldrin at Bellagio.
"He’s a futurist," Hammargren said of Aldrin. "He’s looking forward. He’s looking at, ‘How do we get to Mars?’"
In the 40 years since Apollo 11’s flight into history, Hammargren has become Nevada’s most famous brain surgeon, turned lieutenant governor, turned lunatic curator of his own backyard museum.
And with no regrets, he says.
But he didn’t always feel that way. As he watched those first grainy images from the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, he couldn’t help but think of what might have been.
"I thought, ‘I should have stayed in the space program. I should have tried harder,’" Hammargren says. "I wanted to be there."
Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.VIDEO