Edwin Eugene "Buzz" Aldrin (born 1930) and fellow American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins received world-wide recognition for their Apollo 11 lunar spaceflight in July of 1969. Aldrin, who followed Armstrong from the lunar landing module Eagle, became the second person to ever walk on the moon.
Edwin Eugene "Buzz" Aldrin was born on January 20, 1930, in Montclair, New Jersey. Nicknamed "Buzz" by his sister, Aldrin's upbringing contributed greatly to his later career choices. His mother, Marion Moon, was the daughter of an army chaplain. His father, Air Force Colonel Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Sr., was a former student of rocket scientist Robert Goddard, and an aviation pioneer in his own right.
Aldrin graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1951, ranking third in his graduating class. After graduation, Aldrin was as an officer in the Air Force. A year later, he was sent to Korea as a fighter pilot. He completed 66 fighter missions during the Korean War, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He then served as an Air Force instructor in Nevada before being assigned to the Air Force Academy as an aide and later a flight instructor. In 1956, he became a flight commander for a squadron in West Germany (now Germany).
In 1959, Aldrin decided he needed a new career challenge and became interested in the developing U.S. space program. He enrolled in an engineering program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He graduated in 1963 with a Doctor of Science degree in Orbital Mechanics; his thesis dealt with the piloting and rendezvous of two spacecraft in orbit.
Training as an Astronaut
In the formative years of the Space Program, in order to participate in the National Aeronautics & Space Administration's (NASA) astronaut program, candidates were required to have attended test-pilot school. Aldrin passed the age limit to enter test-pilot school while he was at MIT, but believed this requirement would soon eliminated. He was right. After he completed a series of strenuous mental and physical fitness tests, Aldrin was selected to be in NASA's third group of astronauts in October of 1963. There were 14 pilots chosen for this group-seven Air Force pilots, including Aldrin, four Navy pilots, one Marine pilot, and two civilian pilots. Aldrin was the first astronaut to hold a doctoral degree and the only astronaut who was not a test pilot.
This new group of astronauts, selected for the Gemini and Apollo space missions, spent eighteen months undergoing intensive basic training in the general duties required of an astronaut. During this time Aldrin and the other trainees also had to participate in strenuous physical training exercises, attend classes, and maintain their flying skills by participating in flight exercises. To prepare for his first space mission as Command Pilot for Gemini 12, Aldrin had to complete another 2,000 hours of specialized training. During these months, Aldrin pioneered the use of underwater training to simulate spacewalking.
Aldrin's first space mission was Gemini 12, which was with Jim Lovell, Jr. in November of 1966. During this flight, Aldrin established a new record for extra vehicular activity. In other words, his spacewalk proved that astronauts could work outside an orbiting vehicle to make repairs-a necessary ability if lunar flight was to become reality.
Training for the Apollo 11 Mission
Following completion of the Geminimissions, the race was on between the United States and Russia to see who would reach the moon first. Aldrin completed many more hours of training to prepare for his role in different Apollo spaceflights. Intensive static and dynamic training classes were key components of the study program. (Static training simulates space flight conditions. Dynamic training prepares astronauts for the physical stresses of spaceflight.) However, his studies also included geology. Field trips to Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, and Iceland gave him an opportunity to study rock formations similar to those expected to be found on the moon.
During his months in training, Aldrin created ways to improve various operational techniques, such as those used with navigational star displays. It was a combination of his temperament and skill that led to his being named Back-up Command Module pilot for Apollo 8 (December 21, 1968), the United States' first attempt to orbit a manned lunar spacecraft. Then, in 1969, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Aldrin were chosen as the Apollo 11 crew. The United States was ready to launch a lunar landing flight.
Personal Experiences of the Apollo 11 Space Crew
In "Apollo Expeditions to the Moon," edited by Edgar M. Cortright, the three astronauts related their personal reactions to the lunar mission. Aldrin's reflections, made on that momentous morning, give a sense of the tension and drama surrounding the launch. He shared, "While Mike and Neil were going through the complicated business of being strapped in and connected to the spacecraft's life-support system, I waited near the elevator on the floor below. I waited alone for fifteen minutes in a sort of serene limbo…. I could see the massiveness of the Saturn V rocket below and the magnificent precision of Apollo above. I savored the wait and marked the minutes in my mind as something I would always want to remember." At 9:32 a.m., July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted-off the launch pad.
Three hours later, it was time to separate the command module, Columbia from the Saturn rocket's third stage, then turn around and connect with the lunar module, Eagle. This was the next critical step in the Apollo mission. If anything went wrong during the separation and docking, the astronauts were to return to earth. Aldrin commented to Cortright that he felt "no apprehension about it (the maneuver) and the entire separation and docking proceeded perfectly to completion."
By July 20th, the pressures were building. In Collins' own words, "Day 4 has a decidedly different feel to it…. Despite our concentrated effort to conserve our energy on the way to the Moon, the pressure is overtaking us, and I feel that all of us are aware that the honeymoon is over and we are about to lay our little pink bodies on the line. Our first shock comes as we stop our spinning motion and swing ourselves around so as to bring the Moon into view. We have not been able to see the Moon for nearly a day now, and the change is electrifying…. It is huge, completely filling our window."
During the next few minutes, precision was critical. The Columbia had to move into a closer circular orbit of the Moon, one where the Eagle could separate and continue onward. An overburn (firing of the rocket engines) of even two seconds would send the Columbia on an impact course with the far side of the Moon.
As the Eagle moved towards the lunar surface, a yellow caution light came-on. Aldrin continued his narration, "Back in Houston, not to mention on board the Eagle, hearts shot up into throats while we waited to learn what would happen. We had received two of the caution lights when Steve Bales, the flight controller responsible for the LM (lunar module) computer activity, tells us to proceed. We receive three or four more warnings but kept on going." When the astronauts received their Medals of Freedom from President Nixon, Bales also received one. "He certainly deserved it," said Aldrin, "because without him we might not have landed."
Then, on July 20th, 1969, at 4:17 p.m., the Eagle landed on the Moon. "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." Aldrin radioed. He continued, "We opened the hatch and Neil, with me as his navigator, began backing out of the tiny opening. It seemed like a small eternity before I heard Neil say, 'That's one small step for man … one giant leap for mankind.' In less than fifteen minutes I was backing awkwardly out of the hatch and onto the surface to join Neil, who, in the tradition of all tourists, had his camera ready to photograph my arrival. I felt buoyant and full of goose pimples when I stepped down on the surface."
Neither Armstrong nor Aldrin slept much during their one night sleepover on the moon. They were elated, but cold. After staying on the Moon for twenty-one hours, raising the American flag, testing equipment, and gathering Moon rocks, the two astronauts lifted-off in the LM for its return trip to the Columbia. Collins' excitement bubbles over when his two teammates reentered the Command Module: "The first one through is Buzz, with a big smile on his face. I grab his head, a hand on each temple, and am about to give him a smooch on the forehead, as a parent might greet an errant child; but then, embarrassed, I think better of it and grab his hand, and then Neil's. We cavort about a little bit, all smiles and giggles over our success, and then it's back to work as usual."
On July 24th, eight days after launch, Columbia reenters the earth's atmosphere, and the journey of Apollo 11 ends with splashdown. After being recovered from the ocean, the astronauts, the equipment, and the lunar rocks were placed in isolation for 17 days. This was done to make certain no harmful material had been brought back with the space voyagers.
After the Moon Landing
After the successful moon landing, the astronauts reluctantly embarked on a good will tour for NASA. Parades were given in their honor. They were awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom and were asked to speak to Congress about their experiences. They were also asked to write a book about their experiences. The result was First on the Moon, published in 1970. The Air Force also promoted Aldrin to Commander of the Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base.
Unhappy with his new assignments, Aldrin resigned from NASA in 1971. Shortly afterwards, having undergone treatment for depression, he retired from the Air Force. Aldrin was one of the few celebrities of that time period who publicly acknowledged that he was a recovering alcoholic. He later chaired the National Association of Mental Health and made appearances across the country discussing his battle with depression. He also appeared at a news conference sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and openly discussed how his alcoholism and depression were intertwined.
Into the Future
In 1972, Aldrin founded his own company, now known as Starcraft Enterprises. He sees his commercial relationships as an important link in the promotion of space tourism and the colonization of Mars. In an interview with Stephen Ring, journalist for The Coast Star, he stated, "We need another great goal, another great endeavor, that will once again inspire us to bring out our best." During an interview with USA Weekend, Aldrin expressed his belief that low-Earth orbiting tourism is "going to be what allows NASA to get funding for vehicles for exploration."
According to Ring of The Coast Star, Aldrin has designed and patented several spacecraft, including the Star Booster, the Stargrazer, and the Cycler. The Star Booster, a cylindrically-shaped, all-aluminum aircraft, with an internal Zenit rocket, would launch a Stargrazer into a suborbital path around Earth. The Star Booster would then return to Earth and be readied for its next flight. In the meantime, the Stargrazer would continue in its suborbital path around the Earth, taking passengers on a space cruise, much the way cruise ships take passengers on ocean tours. As discussed in an interview with USA Weekend, Cyclers would use the gravitational pull of the planets to perpetually cycle themselves between Earth and Mars. Smaller ships, stored inside the Cycler space station, would ferry people and supplies between the Cycler and Mars.
In 1974, Aldrin wrote his autobiography, Return to Earth. In 1989, he and Malcolm McConnell co-authored Men From Earth which describes Aldrin's trip to the Moon. In 1996, Aldrin and John Barnes co-authored a science fiction novel, Encounter with Tiber. He has also served as chairman of the National Space Society's Board of Directors, and has been awarded 50 distinguished medals and citations from nations all over the world, including the United States' Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Further Reading on Dr. Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr
Aldrin, Buzz and Malcolm McConnell, Men from Earth, 1989.
Aldrin, Edwin E., Return to Earth, 1974.
Ad Astra, September-October 1996.
Independent, July 11, 1996.
Life, July 4, 1969; July 17, 1970.
Omni, January 1993.
People, July 25, 1994.
Popular Science, July 1993.
Space News, July 18, 1994.
"Buzz Aldrin Comes to Town," Coast Star, (Manasquan, New Jersey, June 19, 1997) http://www.thecoaststar.com/6.19.97/Aldrin.html (March 31, 1998).
"Buzz Aldrin's Official Website," The National Space Society, http://www.buzzaldrin.com/excerpt.html (March 31, 1998).
Cortright, Edgar M., ed. "Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, NASA/Kennedy Space Society," Space Flight Archives, Project Apollo, http://www.ksc.nasa.gov/history/apollo/apollo-11/apollo-11.html (March, 31 1998).
"From Moonwalker to Professional Hawker: The Selling of Buzz Aldrin," FLORIDA TODAY Space Online, (May 10, 1997) http://www.flatoday.com/space/explore/stories/1997/051097a.htm (March 31, 1998).
"Q & A with Buzz Aldrin -The Next Giant Leap: Mars?" USA Weekend, (June 29, 1997) http://www.usaweekend.com/97issues/970629/970629respaldrinmars.html (March 31, 1998).