American Astronaut and Engineer 1930-
On July 20, 1969, Edwin "Buzz"* Aldrin and his fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first humans to land on another world: Earth's Moon. This achievement is arguably the technological high-water mark of the twentieth century.
Aldrin's passion for exploration and quest for excellence and achievement began early in his life. Born on January 20, 1930, in Montclair, New Jersey, Aldrin received a bachelor of science degree from the U.S. Military Academy in 1951, graduating third in his class. After entering the U.S. Air Force, Aldrin earned his pilot wings in 1952.
As an F86 fighter pilot in the Korean War, Aldrin flew sixty-six combat missions. He later attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he wrote a thesis titled "Guidance for Manned Orbital Rendezvous." After his doctoral studies, Aldrin was assigned to the Air Force Systems Command in Los Angeles.
Aldrin's interest in space exploration led him to apply for a National Aeronautics and Space Administration tour of duty as an astronaut. Aldrin was selected as an astronaut in 1963. The research expertise in the new field of space rendezvous he had acquired during his studies at MIT were applied in the U.S. Gemini program.
On November 11, 1966, Aldrin, with James Lovell, flew into space aboard the two-seater Gemini 12 spacecraft. On that mission the Gemini astronauts rendezvoused and docked with an Agena target stage. During the linkup Aldrin carried out a then-record 5.5-hour space walk. Using hand-holds and foot restraints while carefully pacing himself, Aldrin achieved a pioneering extravehicular feat in light of the many difficulties experienced by earlier space walkers.
Aldrin's unique skills in developing rendezvous techniques were tested again in July 1969. Aldrin and his fellow Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins, were the first crew to attempt a human landing on the Moon. Once in lunar orbit, Armstrong and Aldrin piloted a landing craft, the Eagle, to a safe touchdown on the Moon's Sea of Tranquility. After joining Armstrong on the lunar surface, Aldrin described the scene as "magnificent desolation." They explored the landing area for two hours, setting up science gear and gathering rocks and soil samples. The two astronauts then rejoined Collins for the voyage back to Earth.
Aldrin returned to active military duty in 1971 and was assigned to Edwards Air Force Base in California as commander of the Test Pilots School. He retired from the U.S. Air Force as a colonel in 1972. Aldrin is a spokesman for a stronger and greatly expanded space program. He still advances new ideas for low-cost space transportation and promotes public space travel. Aldrin continues to spark new ideas for accessing the inner solar system. One of his concepts is the creation of a reusable cycling spaceship transportation system linking Earth and Mars for the routine movement of people and cargo.
Aldrin has written several books, sharing with readers his experiences in space. As a cowriter, Aldrin has authored science fiction novels that depict the evolution of space exploration in the far future.
see also Apollo (volume 3); Armstrong, Neil (volume 3); Gemini (volume 3); Nasa (volume 3); Space Walks (volume 3).
Wachhorst, Wyn. The Dream of Spaceflight. New York: Basic Books, 2000.e
*Aldrin's sister nicknamed him "Buzz," and it is now his legal name.