Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. was born on January 20th, 1930 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. The son of an Air Force Colonel, he followed in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in West Point and joining the United State Air Force – ending up being a decorated Air Force pilot with 66 combat missions in the Korean War under his belt. Shortly after the war, Buzz enrolled to earn his doctorate degree in astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He applied to join the astronaut corps shortly after but believe it or not, was initially rejected for not being a test pilot. Luckily NASA altered the program’s requirements and so in October 1963 Buzz joined the third astronaut group.
It wasn’t just Buzz who was lucky by the way because three years later, during the Gemini 12 mission of which he was the pilot, a broken radar connection threatened Gemini’s docking maneuvers with Agena, the vehicle it was scheduled to rendezvous with in orbit. Buzz got the chance (see 6:20 in the video) to prove his theories on orbital rendezvous using the strategies he’d outlined at MIT (hear the commentator at 7:10 in the video talking about the coincidence!), and ended up programming the computer to complete the docking successfully. He pulled of another feat on that mission when he spent over five hours outside of the craft, setting the record for longest EVA (extravehicular activity, basically a space walk) so far.
Check out the awesome video below, from 1966, showing not only parts of his EVA but also how he trained for it using underwater simulation. By the time of the mission he already had 9 years of diving experience – a hobby he got into after someone made a comment about how similar underwater and space are when it comes to the freedom of weightlessness.
And then there was obviously that milestone in human history called Apollo 11, where he became the second man to walk on the surface of the Moon. Although he was superseded in that task by Neil Armstrong, Buzz was the first man to hold a religious ceremony on the moon when he took communion. A legend in his own right, he rescued probably the most complex thing mankind ever did up until that point, with a felt-tip pen from his flight suit’s pocket. Move over MacGuyer! If you want to read about this rather unbelievable fact, check out the “Low-Tech Trick” section about 2/3rds down this buzzaldrin.com page.
After returning from his mission to the moon, Aldrin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American peacetime award. This was followed by a goodwill tour around the globe with his fellow astronauts, where he was awarded with numerous other awards and medals from various countries of origin. Upon retiring from NASA and the space program, Buzz Aldrin became Commandant of the US Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base and he retired from military service in 1972. He devised a plan for future space missions, including his mission to Mars plan known as the “Aldrin Mars Cycler” – more on that another time – and also received several patents that will hopefully contribute to future developments in space exploration.
In 2011, Buzz Aldrin, along with the entire Apollo 11 crew, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their significant contributions to country’s space program and scientific discoveries. He is an author of eight books including his New York Times best selling autobiography entitled, “Magnificent Desolation”, and in recent years has used his influence and experience to lobby for the expansion of the current US Space Program. May he live long and prosper!