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Space Exploration

Buzz Aldrin

astronaut Jim Lovell, Charles Bassett, National Space Society, Gemini program, Apollo spacecraft

Buzz Aldrin, born in 1930, United States astronaut, aerospace engineer, author, and pilot. On July 20, 1969, Aldrin became the second human being to set foot on the moon. He served as the pilot of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, the capsule that descended to the surface of the moon. Aldrin also flew into space during the Gemini program (a precursor to the Apollo program) and is one of the world’s leading advocates of space exploration. He has more than 4500 hours of flying time, including 290 hours of spaceflight and 8 hours in space outside of the spacecraft. He is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and numerous other U.S. and international awards.

Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr., was born in Montclair, New Jersey. Aldrin later legally adopted his childhood nickname, Buzz. He earned a bachelor’s degree with honors from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1951. He entered the U.S. Air Force after graduating from West Point and earned his air force pilot’s wings in 1952. He served as a combat jet pilot during the Korean War (1950-1953). Aldrin temporarily left flying in 1959 to enter graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He planned to complete a master’s degree and then apply for test pilot school, but he instead earned a Ph.D. degree in aeronautics and astronautics in 1963. His thesis subject was the study of piloted rendezvous (bringing piloted spacecraft into close proximity with each other). His thesis dedication reads, “The men in the astronaut program. Oh that I were one of them.” Techniques he devised are used on all space rendezvous and docking flights.

After leaving MIT, Aldrin was assigned to the air force’s space division in Los Angeles, California. Later in 1963 he transferred to the Manned Space Center (now the Johnson Space Center) in Houston, Texas, to work more closely with experiments slated for missions aboard the spacecraft of the Gemini program. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) accepted Aldrin into its third group of astronauts in October 1963. He was the first astronaut with a Ph.D. degree and quickly earned the nickname “Dr. Rendezvous.”

In 1966 Aldrin and astronaut Jim Lovell were assigned to the backup crew of Gemini 10. When the prime crew for Gemini 9, Charles Bassett and Elliott See, were killed in an airplane crash in 1966, the crews were rearranged so that Aldrin and Lovell were scheduled to fly aboard Gemini 12. Gemini 12 flew from November 11 to November 15, 1966. Aldrin’s two-hour spacewalk on the flight was the longest and most successful spacewalk ever done to that time. His rendezvous abilities were also put to use: He manually recomputed all the rendezvous maneuvers after the on-board radar failed. After Gemini 12, Aldrin was assigned to the backup crew of Apollo 8 with Neil Armstrong and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt. Aldrin was closely involved with Apollo 9 rendezvous flight tests, the first flight in which two astronauts in a Lunar Module separated from the third astronaut in the Command and Service Module. The Lunar Module of the Apollo spacecraft could not reenter the earth’s atmosphere, so rendezvous and docking were operations that were critical to the life of the two astronauts in the Lunar Module.

Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969, carrying Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Mike Collins. On July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin joined Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon for a spacewalk that lasted 2 hours 14 minutes. (Armstrong’s spacewalk time was a little longer, since he exited the spacecraft first and reentered last.)

After Apollo 11 and the worldwide whirlwind of publicity and visits, Aldrin worked briefly on the space shuttle program and then decided to resume his air force career. In 1971 he became the commander of the Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in Lancaster, California. He was hospitalized for depression within a year and retired from the air force in 1972. By 1984 he was once again fully engaged in space activities, working to ensure continued piloted space exploration through writing, public speaking, and the design of innovative new spacecraft systems for missions to Mars. Among his books are Return to the Earth (1973), a candid account of his Apollo experiences and his subsequent breakdown. He has taught aerospace engineering at the University of North Dakota, served as chairperson of the National Space Society, and written numerous books and articles. He now lectures and travels for his company, Starcraft Enterprises.

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