22 Mar To the Moon and ‘Stars’
From walking on the Moon to “Dancing With the Stars”?
Buzz Aldrin doesn’t seem to see this as a strange transition, though television viewers indeed may.
In the new season of the ABC dance show, which has a two-hour premiere at 8 p.m. Monday, the legendary astronaut from Montclair is part of the celebrity cast, a sort of “people-you-would-never-think-of-putting-in-the-same-sentence” mélange.
Eighty-year-old Aldrin — the second man to walk on the lunar surface during the historic Apollo 11 mission of July 1969 — will share the small screen with, among others, Pamela Anderson, Shannen Doherty and Kate Gosselin. Yes, people whose biggest public achievements are “Baywatch,” the old “90210” and a marriage-ending reality show.
“We train in the same studio building, with at least six different studio dance floors. So, we see each other coming and going,” Aldrin says of all his co-stars. “It’s a new crowd of people that I’m happy to join in and be a part of.”
On the phone less than a week before the show’s debut, Aldrin, who’s paired with professional dancer Ashly Costa (formerly DelGrosso), says rehearsals have been going “just wonderfully.”
“It’s been kind of building on up in a level of confidence and enjoyment. We’re hoping to get the music today for the second week for the fox trot,” he says. “But of course, we’re still concentrating quite a bit on the cha-cha.”
Will any of his dance music have “moon” in the title? Perhaps “Blue Moon,” “Moon River” or “Fly Me to the Moon”?
“I sure hope so,” says Aldrin, who was eager to get information from producers about the musical selections.
Aldrin says his inclusion on the show came about because of “widespread publicity” for his recent autobiography, “Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home From the Moon,” coupled with his desire to call attention to an issue of paramount importance to him: the lack of federal funding for future space exploration. On April 15, he plans to be part of the space summit in Florida that President Obama has announced.
“I’m planning to be available to make some presentations there, and I’ll even fly there the night before with Ashly, so that we may be able to continue our rehearsals, [assuming] that we’re still in the program then.”
Despite his close association with the Moon, Aldrin would like to see humans explore the moons of Mars and the surface of Mars. He even discusses these things with his dance partner.
“We’re very comfortable with each other,” he says of Costa. “I show her the latest photographs of the moon Phobos on Mars that is very, very crucial to our future as we expand outward. She’s quite interested in that. That doesn’t take too much time, so we move on to all of our [dancing]. … She’s got more to show me than I have to show her.”
It’s a safe bet that the word “Phobos” had never been uttered in those rehearsal rooms before Aldrin’s arrival.
After NASA’s rigorous training program, rehearsing for “DWTS” must be a piece of cake.
“No, it certainly is not a piece of cake,” Aldrin says. “The physical conditioning of NASA astronauts was a surprise to me in that it was not regulated, it was not real aggressive, it was just left up to the individual. … But certainly the training for ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is much more precise, much more obvious, when you’re receiving the instruction and learning and confidently enjoying demonstrating this to the public at large.”
Over the years, Aldrin has kept himself in the pop-culture ethos with such things as a “Simpsons” cameo, appearances on “Celebrity Jeopardy!” “The Price Is Right” and “The Colbert Report,” and, of course, having Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story” named after him. In 2009, he recorded a rap song called “The Rocket Experience.” And he is proud of the fact that he has more than 800,000 followers on Twitter.
Now living in Los Angeles, Aldrin grew up in Montclair and says he has happy memories of his years there.
“I go back there on book-selling tours and visit the hometown, and, of course, so many people know that I came from Montclair, so quite frequently, somebody comes up and says, ‘Oh, I lived in Montclair,’ or ‘I’m from there right now,’ and we share acquaintances,” says Aldrin, adding: “I’m very proud of [being] in the New Jersey Hall of Fame.”
A West Point graduate, Aldrin joined the Air Force and flew 66 combat missions in Korea, then received his doctorate of science in astronautics at MIT before being selected by NASA in 1963.
His scant previous dance experience includes the “cadet hops” he attended while at West Point.
“They were a little on the formal side, and ever since then, I’ve not prided myself on having the greatest coordination on the dance floor,” Aldrin says.
Nonetheless, he has kept himself in shape, and is no doubt better prepared than the average octogenarian to compete against people half his age (and, in the case of 24-year-old Olympic gold medalist and world figure skating champion Evan Lysacek, less than a third his age).
“I have one-half Swedish genes in my background, and my wife of 22 years now, Lois, is very, very conscious of physical conditioning and particularly diet,” says Aldrin, explaining why he has aged well. “So I think that, and just presenting myself well in front of the public, has been the motivation.”
One final question for the man who once took a perilous mission to an uncertain frontier. As the “DWTS” premiere approaches, is he getting nervous?
Aldrin answers as though he still has Mission Control on a headset.
“Well, maybe when the countdown gets a little closer, I will.”
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