Buzz Aldrin: 2nd Man on the Moon

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Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin is a former astronaut known for being the second person to walk on the Moon.

Aldrin was born on Jan. 20, 1930, in Glen Ridge, N.J., and grew up in nearby Montclair. His younger sister, Fay, intending to say "brother," said "buzzer"; this gave Aldrin his nickname (which he made his legal first name in 1988). Young Edwin was a star football player in high school; during his junior year, the team was undefeated and state champions. He graduated from Montclair High School in 1947 and then enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy, excelling at track and field and studying hard, graduating third in his class in 1951 with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering. Following his father's footsteps, he became a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, flying 66 combat missions in the Korean War; he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In all, he logged more than 2,500 hours of flying time.

Back in the U.S., Aldrin went back to his education, completing a master's degree and then, in 1963, a doctoral degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also worked with the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation on improving the Agena vehicles that would serve as targets for the spacecraft during Project Gemini.

Buzz Aldrin

In 1963, he was selected to be an astronaut. During the development phase of Gemini, Aldrin, the only astronaut with a doctoral degree, led a program to develop docking and rendezvous protocols. That had been his specialty study during graduate school, and he was soon named "Dr. Rendezvous" for his expertise.

Aldrin and Jim Lovell flew on Gemini 12, in November 1966. During the four-day mission, Aldrin completed a five-hour spacewalk, the longest at the time. When the onboard radar failed, he called on his "Dr. Rendezvous" expertise to manually recalculate all the maneuvers needed.

His next assignment was on the backup crew of Apollo 8, the first mission to orbit the Moon. His most famous mission was Apollo 11, for which he was the Lunar Module Pilot. He was the second person to walk on the Moon. He and Neil Armstrong spent a total of 21 hours on the Moon. Among their main tasks was procuring rocks to take back to Earth so NASA scientists could study them; they returned with more than 46 pounds of them.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

Armstrong was the principal photographer on the mission, and so most of the photos taken on the Moon were of Aldrin, including perhaps the most recognizable one, in which Armstrong appears in the reflection of Aldrin's visor. Aldrin considered his faith a strong part of his life and conducted a short religious ceremony while on the lunar surface; he was the only astronaut to do so.

Aldrin did not go in to space again but was busy in space-related matters nonetheless. He helped develop the space shuttle and made many public appearances. He left NASA in 1971 to take up the post of Commandant of the Air Force Test Pilot School, at California's Edwards Air Force Base.

Aldrin retired from active duty in 1972, transitioning into a managerial role with the Air Force. The following year, he wrote an autobiography, Return to Earth.

His later life has been punctuated with high-profile endeavors in the space realm. Among his accomplishments are the development of a spacecraft system called the Aldrin Mars Cycler, reusable rockets, and a modular space station.

He is also the founder of the ShareSpace Foundation, which aims to help with the exploration of space in affordable ways. A proponent of missions to Mars, in August 2015 he opened the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute.

Aldrin has enjoyed many high-profile pop culture performances, including guest appearances on the television shows 30 Rock, The Simpsons, and The Big Bang Theory. He was a competitor in 2010 on the TV show Dancing with the Stars. He also branched out in the musical realm, collaborating with rappers Snoop Dogg and Talib Kweli on the song "Rocket Experience," aimed at inspiring young people to pursue space exploration.

Buzz Aldrin

In 2016, Aldrin became the oldest person to reach the South Pole. He visited the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. (He had also traveled to the North Pole in 1998.)

He has married three times and has three children. He also wrote a second autobiography, Magnificent Desolation, in 2009.

Among his many awards are these:

  • Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
  • NASA Distinguished Service Medal
  • Langley Gold Medal
  • Congressional Gold Medal

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