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Happy Birthday, Buzz Aldrin, Second Man to Walk on the Moon

January 20, 2010
by Lindsey Chapman
The allure of space has captivated adults and children for centuries. For Buzz Aldrin, the fascination was no different. Eventually, his aspirations to enter outer space literally took him to the moon.

Buzz Aldrin's Early Days

Buzz Aldrin was born Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr., in Montclair, N.J., on Jan. 20, 1930. His father, Edwin Sr., was an aviation groundbreaker who studied under “rocket developer” Robert Goddard.

When he was 6 years old, Aldrin set out on what would become a path of discovery. He began collecting rocks and studying their colors and surfaces. He appreciated nature throughout his life, but it would be slightly more than three decades before he would be able to become an astronaut and ultimately collect rocks from the moon.

Aldrin graduated third in his class at West Point in 1951, earning his wings and flying F-86 Sabres during the Korean War. After his military service, he continued his education by earning a doctorate in Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Manned Space Rendezvous.

Notable Accomplishments

Aldrin would prove to have the knowledge NASA required to advance the space program. His techniques helped solve a problem with the “rendezvous of spacecraft in Earth or lunar orbit, and docking them together for spaceflight.” He also created methods for astronauts to perform extra-vehicular activity. This knowledge was integral to the success of the Apollo mission.

Buzz Aldrin was the pilot of Apollo 11, the 1969 lunar landing mission that saw Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the moon. Aldrin, himself, completed two hours and 15 minutes of extra-vehicular activity as the second person to walk on the moon.

Aldrin has received more than 50 awards in his lifetime, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Rest of the Story

Aldrin left NASA after his trip to the moon. He told Time magazine, “It would have been pretty hard to top the moon landing. Neil Armstrong elected to stay with NASA in aeronautics, and I, being more of a military person, left to continue my career in the U.S. Air Force. There were a lot of other people who wanted to walk on the moon, and we didn’t want to be greedy.” For a time, he struggled with depression and alcoholism. “I was a celebrity on a pedestal, and I had to live up to that. Like actors and writers who are on and off again in terms of employment, I had a very unstructured life. So the alcoholism and depression, which I inherited, were ripe to flourish,” he explained.

Aldrin managed to turn things around, however. He is the author of the children’s book “Reaching for the Moon.” “I wanted to take this historic moon landing and describe it in terms of an ordinary person doing something extraordinary so that kids might realize they can each have their own moons to reach for,” Aldrin stated.

A photo essay of Aldrin’s life and career is available at Time’s Web site.

Now that he’s retired from NASA, Aldrin has dedicated himself to supporting America’s space program and encouraging a pioneering role for the country in space. He has also served on the National Space Society’s board of governors, worked with the Planetary Society, and even been the voice of his own character on an episode of “The Simpsons.”

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