Buzz Aldrin: The Pilot Who Never Wavered

Now the last surviving crew of Apollo 11, Buzz Aldrin holds the distinction of being the second man to set foot on the moon after Neil Armstrong. He also received credit for conducting three spacewalks as the pilot of the Gemini 12 mission, as the lunar module pilot of Apollo 11. Born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, to a Colonel father who wanted him to join the Navy, Aldrin had no choice but to follow his father despite having other plans for his future.

Love for Flying

Due to his tendency to get seasick, Aldrin never loved the sea, but he has a great degree of attachment to flying for weird reasons. When he graduated from West Point, Aldrin ranked third. This meant that he had the choice of where to be assigned, and he took this chance to choose the US Air Force. He was later commissioned to be a second lieutenant.

Finally able to pursue his love for flying, Aldrin did his best while undergoing basic flight training at the Bartow Air Base in Florida. He even attempted a double Immelmann turn in a T-28 Trojan, which temporarily affected his eyesight. Nonetheless, he made the necessary effort to become part of the fighter crew. He once more defied his father’s advice, who wanted him to join the bomber crew, perceived it to have a greater chance of landing a leadership role.

The younger Aldrin’s decision proved to be correct, as, during his stint in the military, he was assigned to the 51st Fighter Wing with combat missions in Korea. His wing was tasked with breaking the enemy records during combat, which they were able to do so, earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross in credit for his service during that period.

After the war, Aldrin pursued a master’s and a doctorate in astronautics and aeronautics. His dissertation focused on the line-of-sight guidance techniques for manned orbital rendezvous when maneuvering spacecraft at a close distance with each other.

NASA Career

Aldrin’s expertise and study of rendezvous served as his ticket to NASA’s space program. He then became part of NASA’s third group of future astronauts as the Space War was heating up. While waiting for deployment, he studied and pioneered underwater training techniques in order to simulate zero-gravity conditions. His investments in training did not go unnoticed, and in 1966, he was called on to do a spacewalk as part of the Gemini 11 mission. This mission’s five-hour spacewalk was the longest and the most successful ever done during that period. There was a time the onboard radar failed, and true to his degree of tenacity, he calculated all the docking strategies manually.

Apollo 11

Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins were assigned to be part of the historic Apollo 11 flight, which landed on July 20, 1969. He also became the second man to set his two feet on the moon’s surface. He never did forget this experience, as he recalled them with fondness in interviews later on. After their safe return to Earth, Aldrin was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was sent on a 45-day goodwill tour, where the three of them appeared on TV, gave selfies (or their versions during that time), and various interviews.

Post NASA Career

What happened to Aldrin after Apollo 11? He considered 21 years of serving the country as enough and hung his astronaut clothes. Aldrin returned to the Air Force, but this time in a managerial role. He later admitted in an autobiography that he struggled after Apollo 11. One reason given was that the retired astronaut had to separate from his wife, which involved a lengthy and costly process involving lawyers.

Undaunted, he dedicated his time to studying advancements in space science and technology. His work paid off, and he acquired three US patents for his blueprint of a modular space station he called Starbooster, which is similar to today’s International Space Station. Aldrin also wrote several books and a new memoir which was scheduled to be released in 2009, in time for the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. Unbeknownst to many, he also wrote two science fiction novels, namely, The Return and Encounter with Tiber and the historical documentary Men from Earth. He was making investments in knowledge so that children would learn more about space travel and its complexities.

Photo Sources:

Cover Photo – Twitter
Photo 1 – YouTube 0:59
Photo 2 – YouTube 1:37
Photo 3 – YouTube 1:41
Photo 4 – YouTube 5:24