19 Sep Aldrin Walked On Moon, Wants America To Reach Mars
On the morning of July 16, 1969, Buzz Aldrin had steak and eggs for breakfast.
If cholesterol from such food was supposed to worry him, it didn’t.
“I knew it was the last hot meal I was going to have for a while that wasn’t freeze-dried,” he told IBD.
Besides, he had bigger fish to fry.
In a few hours, he’d be perched 300 feet in the air in a small cubicle atop 2,000 tons of liquid oxygen.
Then Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins would set off on their Apollo 11 flight to the moon.
Aldrin would be the second man to step foot on the moon, the capstone of a brilliant career as a fighter pilot, astronaut and author, most recently of “Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration.”
He remains a loud advocate for America’s space exploration.
And yet his “most difficult task,” he said, has been revealing his family history of depression and his own battle with alcoholism.
Aldrin, 83, was born in Montclair, N.J. His mother Marion’s maiden name, fittingly, was Moon.
Then there was his father, Edwin Sr., an Air Force colonel and an aviation pioneer with a science degree from MIT.
War And Space
Buzz attended West Point, graduated third in his class in 1951, went to flight school and wasted little time soaring into the Korean War.
He had 66 combat missions and downed two MiG fighters on the way to landing the Distinguished Flying Cross.
And he brought home more than honor. Without realizing it, he accumulated knowledge that would prove helpful in outer space.
“The way you’re trained as a fighter pilot for aircraft-to-ground attacks, for landing, for maneuvers, for dive bombing and air-to-air gunnery, the way to do that basically led to the maneuvers for space docking and maneuvers,” he said.
Aldrin wanted to join the astronaut program in 1959, but the first two classes were limited to test pilots. He wasn’t into such training, so he aimed for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics. “My doctoral thesis was on manned orbital rendezvous,” he said. “It made an impression on NASA, and I was selected to be in the third class, which eliminated the need for training as a test pilot.”
Aldrin and Jim Lovell were promoted to backup crew for Gemini 9 in 1966 following the deaths in a trainer jet crash of Elliot See and Charles Bassett. That mission was supposed to rendezvous and dock with a target vehicle, but it failed.
Even though Aldrin was backup, he was sufficiently close to the operation to see what went wrong. As a result, he introduced changes based on his experience as a fighter pilot that ultimately made docking relatively effortless.
He is also widely credited with pushing extra vehicle activities underwater.
“I don’t want to take credit for that,” he said modestly. “I was aware of the difficulties we were having with EVAs. When someone suggested underwater practice, I was very receptive and supportive. I started scuba diving in 1957, so by the time of the last Gemini mission (with Lovell) in 1966 I had more than nine years’ experience.”
That mission, Gemini 12, hit the mark. It docked with the Agena target vehicle via a maneuver now almost routine, thanks to the exercises Aldrin perfected.
Springboarding from his underwater training, Aldrin spent 5-1/2 hours outside the Gemini capsule, demonstrating astronauts could work outside a space craft.
His next trip into space — the Apollo 11 mission — did not go as smoothly. Collins stayed aboard the command craft while Aldrin and Armstrong descended toward the moon on the lunar module Eagle.
Five minutes into the descent, an alarm went off.
The problem was that the Eagle’s computer, which had less power than an iPhone does today, was overloaded. Mission control told Aldrin and his teammates to continue their descent, but at 2,000 feet another alarm went off.
Now, with 750 feet left, “Neil took over manually,” recalled Aldrin, who at the same time did “what every dutiful co-pilot does”: kept Armstrong posted on instrument readings. “With the guidance system down, while he’s looking out the window I’m giving him the info (altitude and fuel) he needs.”
Finally the Eagle landed — amazingly in a flat area amid boulders — with just 20 seconds of fuel left.
Aldrin contends that mission 44 years ago didn’t scare him, just as he wasn’t afraid in the Korean War: “You are so busy concentrating on the situation at hand you don’t have time to get fearful.”
After the Americans landed on the moon, they had to concentrate. Collins was flying the command module overhead for only two more minutes. Armstrong and Aldrin had to make sure their list was checked fast or be stuck on the surface until it came around again two hours later after circling the moon.
With all systems go on the moon, Aldrin did not want this enormous moment to fly by without noting its significance. So before the astronauts descended the ladder to the moon’s surface, he broadcast a message to the world, inviting “each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.”
Soon, it was down to the moon’s surface — first Armstrong, then Aldrin. They had little time to admire the scenery. “We weren’t trained to smell the roses,” said Buzz.
Hence his desire to get artists, poets and songwriters into space: “A competent aviator like John Denver or the guy (Bart Howard) who wrote ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ could write something that would inspire the American people and the world to contemplate the major historical events that are on the horizon for human beings.”
During their July 20-21 stay on the moon, Aldrin and Armstrong took photographs and samples of the moon’s surface. They planned to return with them, but that almost didn’t happen.
When they got back on the Eagle, Aldrin discovered a key circuit breaker — the one used to send electrical power to the ascent engine — had broken off.
Aldrin searched for anything on the landing module he could push into the circuit. Solution: a felt-tip pen from his flight suit’s pocket.
Such deft thinking is “obviously his forte,” said Norm Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin (LMT), who has known Aldrin through the firm’s work on the space program. “Both as a pilot and astronaut, his life depended on making good decisions and making them quickly. His ability to do so, I suspect, is one of the reasons he was chosen.”
Though the felt-tip pen held its place, the situation was harrowing. Buzz used humor to relieve the stress when the Eagle was cleared for takeoff. In a serious tone he said: “Roger. Understand. We’re No. 1 on the runway.”
The crew returned to earth safely on July 24 to worldwide acclaim.
But Aldrin’s transition from space hero and Air Force colonel to public speaker in 1972 did not go easily. He was living with a family history of depression and his own alcoholism. He’d privately sought help, an action he feels killed his shot at becoming a general. Just before he left the Air Force, he went public with his condition.
“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” he said. Still, he felt his announcement “could help others in recovery.”
Said Augustine: “You have to admire anybody brave enough to speak out. If someone the magnitude of Buzz Aldrin has had these problems, it encourages others to say, ‘If Buzz Aldrin can work his way through it, then I can too.'”
Augustine points to another Aldrin attribute: “Buzz is the ultimate in forward thinker. He’s always looking at new ideas, particularly in space travel.”
The moonwalker even devised a spacecraft system to reach Mars, besides co-authoring science-fiction novels.
Aldrin, who lives in Los Angeles, has taken it as his mission to “intensely support what is best for the nation, to continue to be the greatest nation in the world and a leader in space achievements and expanding the human presence outward.”