American astronaut Buzz Aldrin made history when he became the second man to walk on the moon in 1969, just after Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11 mission (the feats came eight years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space). While on a previous mission, Aldrin established a new record for extravehicular activity and helped pioneer underwater training to prepare astronauts for their visit to space. Here is a brief biography with some facts about this well-known astronaut.
Born Jan. 20, 1930 in New Jersey as Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr., the astronaut received his nickname “Buzz” when his little sister pronounced the word brother as "buzzer." The family shortened it to Buzz, which Aldrin took as his legal name in 1988.
Aldrin's father was a Colonel in the Air Force, and his son followed his path, entering the Air Force after his graduation from West Point Military Academy in 1951. Buzz flew 66 combat missions in Korea, where he shot down two MiGs. He was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service.
After the cease-fire between North and South Korea, Aldrin enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned his Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics in 1963, with a thesis focusing on rendezvousing piloted spacecraft. He then entered the space program.
Aldrin has been married three times and has three children.
Aldrin: Gemini and Apollo missions
After joining the space program in 1963, Aldrin relied on his doctoral studies to help him create docking and rendezvous techniques for space craft. He pioneered underwater training techniques, which simulated zero gravity situations and helped astronauts prepare to work in space. . [Giant Leaps: Top Milestones of Human Spaceflight]
On Nov. 11, 1966, the Gemini 12 mission launched Aldrin and command pilot James Lovell (of Apollo 13 fame) into a four day flight, with the primary objective of rendezvousing and docking with an Agena target vehicle, as well as evaluating extravehicular activity. Aldrin spent five and a half hours outside of the craft, establishing a new record for space walks. Fourteen scientific experiments were also performed, as well. Gemini 12 was the last of the Gemini missions, and was followed by the Apollo missions.
Aldrin served as lunar module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, traveling with Commander Neil Armstrong and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins. The craft landed in the Sea of Tranquility. On July 21, 1969, after Armstrong had become the first man on the moon, Aldrin followed Armstrong down the ladder to become the second person to walk on the surface of the moon. As he gazed at the lunar landscape, Aldrin described it as, "Beautiful, beautiful. Magnificent desolation."
One of Armstrong's roles while on the moon was to document the trip, so the majority of the Apollo 11 pictures are of Aldrin, including the famous visor shot reflecting the Eagle Lander and Armstrong.
Eight days after its launch, Apollo 11 returned home, landing in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969. Aldrin was decorated with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American peacetime award. He toured the world with his fellow astronauts.
In 1971, Aldrin resigned from NASA, having logged 289 hours and 53 minutes of time in space. Almost 8 hours of his travel were spent outside of a vehicle. He retired from the Air Force in 1972, after almost two decades.
In recent years, Aldrin has used his fame to continue to lobby for the expansion of the space program, specifically calling for a return to moon and manned visits to Mars. In 2009, he called for putting humans on Mars by 2031. He has somewhat famously danced on “Dancing with the Stars” and been on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”
—Nola Taylor Redd