Yesterday was Buzz Aldrin’s birthday.
In the great unlikelihood that you don’t know who he is, many people globally know of him as the second human to walk on the Moon during the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969 with companion Neil Armstrong.
I much prefer to regard Buzz as one of the first two people to land and walk together on the Moon. My life has been enriched by opportunities to know both of them.
As a close personal and professional friend over a period of more than four decades, I will share more about Buzz and his remarkable achievements that are far less well-known. Fewer people are aware, for example, of Buzz’s major contributions to making that Apollo 11 mission possible as the Gemini 12 mission pilot in 1966.
I’ll briefly discuss this later.
To begin, Buzz Aldrin was born 90 years ago in Montclair, New Jersey to Eugene and Marion Aldrin. Perhaps providently, his mother’s maiden name was Moon.
His father, Eugene, was an engineer and aviation pioneer who inspired Buzz to pursue dreams of flying. Eugene, a personal friend of Charles Lindbergh and Orville Wright, had flown coast-to-coast for Standard Oil, and later served with the Army Air Corps during World War II.
Although his dad had urged him to attend the Naval Academy, some friends influenced Buzz, then 17 years old, to choose West Point instead. Upon graduation near the top of his class during the Korean War, he entered the U.S. Air Force and trained as an F-86 swept-wing fighter pilot.
Buzz flew 66 combat missions, and shot down two MiG-15 aircraft over the Yalu River. Life Magazine featured a picture showing the pilot having ejected out of the first Soviet-made MiG he destroyed.
Following the Korean War, Buzz was sent to Germany flying F-100s that carried nuclear weapons. It was during the late 1950s when the Cold War was escalating between the Soviet Union and United States when he first learned of the Russians launch of the first artificial satellite in October of 1957.
That orbiting 184-pound chirping sphere called Sputnik initiated a space race.
Sputnik was followed on April 12, 1961 by a 108-minute-long mission flown by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in a Vostok 1 spacecraft. Then, only weeks later on May 5, an American Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket delivered astronaut Alan Shepard on a 15-minute suborbital flight to the edge of space.
That first U.S. suborbital launch, in turn, was immediately followed by President John Kennedy’s bold commitment twenty days after that to deliver a U.S. citizen safely to the Moon and back before the end of that decade. As Buzz has recounted, with only 15 minutes of suborbital experience at the time, the know-how to accomplish this simply didn’t exist.
While stationed in Germany, Buzz decided to pursue a doctorate of science in astronautics at MIT, the same university that his father had attended. His doctoral thesis research applied his experience as a fighter pilot in intercepting enemy aircraft to develop orbital techniques which would later enable spacecraft to meet in space.
In 1963, thanks to his fighter pilot record and the topic of his thesis, Dr. Buzz Aldrin won appointment to the third group of Gemini-Apollo astronauts. Project Gemini served as a fundamental stepping stone between the one-person Mercury and three-person Apollo programs to test equipment and to do trial runs of spacecraft rendezvous and docking scenarios in Earth’s orbit.
Apollo 11 wasn’t Buzz’s first rocket-riding rodeo. He launched on on November 11, 1966 as pilot of Gemini 12 alongside James Lovell. During that 4-day mission, Buzz established a record five and one-half hour-long tethered spacewalk which drew upon both his MIT research and his extensive recreational scuba diving experience.
He subsequently introduced underwater weightlessness training as a standard astronaut protocol in a special underwater buoyancy facility that was constructed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Dr. Buzz Aldrin tirelessly continues to advocate that the U.S. must set its next trajectory on Mars — not just as a place to plant more footprints and flagpoles — but as a permanent destination.
Finally, why go to space at all?
Why should we set such challenges?
Because, as Buzz points out, "It reminds the public that nothing is impossible if free people work together to accomplish great things. It captures the imagination of our youth, it fuels the American workforce and economy with high technology jobs, and it fosters peaceful and beneficial international collaborations to ensure U.S. foreign policy leadership."
Buzz urges us to realize that we are at an important inflection point in human history: "America must once again dare to pursue big dreams . . . Our Apollo days were a time when we did bold things, achieving leadership. Now is our time to be bold again in space."
Happy birthday bold and brilliant friend.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of several books, including “The Weaponization of AI and the Internet: How Global Networks of Infotech Overlords are Expanding Their Control Over Our Lives” (2019), "Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity" (2019), "Thinking Whole: Rejecting Half-Witted Left & Right Brain Limitations" (2018), "Reflections on Oceans and Puddles: One Hundred Reasons to be Enthusiastic, Grateful and Hopeful” (2017), "Cosmic Musings: Contemplating Life Beyond Self" (2016), "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and “Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax” (2011). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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