Intelligent Machines

The Life of an Apollo 11 Astronaut

A deeper look at Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon.

Jun 23, 2010
This is the official NASA portrait of astronaut Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin. Prior to joining NASA, Aldrin flew 66 combat missions in F-86s while on duty in Korea. At Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, he served as an aerial gunnery instructor. Following his assignment as aide to the dean of faculty at the Air Force Academy, Aldrin flew F-100s as a flight commander at Bitburg, Germany.
Aldrin was among the third group of astronauts, named by NASA in October 1963. He logged 289 hours and 53 minutes in space, of which, seven hours and 52 minutes were spent in extra-vehicular activity.
Aldrin was the prime crew pilot of the Gemini XII spaceflight. Here he undergoes evaluation procedures with the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit in a 30-foot altitude chamber at McDonnell Aircraft, an aerospace manufacturer in St. Louis.
On November 11, 1966, Aldrin launched into space aboard the Gemini XII spacecraft on a four-day flight that brought the Gemini program to a successful close. During that mission, Aldrin established a new record by spending five hours and 30 minutes outside the spacecraft.
NASA’s Apollo 11 flight crew, from left: Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot. Behind them is the Apollo/Saturn V space vehicle that would eventually carry them into space.
The Apollo 11 crew conducts a crew compartment fit and functional check of the equipment and storage locations in their command module. Peering from the hatch are, from left, Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin.
Aldrin (left) and Armstrong prepare for the first lunar landing as they practice gathering rock specimens during a geological field trip to the Quitman Mountains area near the Fort Quitman ruins in west Texas. They used special lunar geological tools to pick up samples and place them in bags.
Their practice paid off. Aboard the Saturn V launch vehicle, the Apollo 11 mission launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969.
Aldrin (here) followed Neil Armstrong onto the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, while Collins remained in lunar orbit.
The crew collected 47 pounds of lunar surface material, which it brought back to Earth for analysis. The lunar surface exploration was concluded in approximately two hours and 30 minutes.
The Apollo 11 lunar module approaches and prepares to dock with the command module in lunar orbit. The photograph was taken by Collins who resided in the command module. The view is looking west and the Earth rises above the lunar horizon.
The crew safely returned to Earth, splashing down in the command module, Columbia, about 812 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii and only 12 nautical miles from the USS Hornet, on July 24, 1969.
New York City welcomed the three Apollo 11 astronauts in a parade down Broadway and Park Avenue. At the time, it was the largest parade in the city’s history.
Aldrin resigned from NASA in July 1971. Here, Aldrin (far left), Collins, and Armstrong are honored by President Obama at the White House on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11.
Aldrin has become an iconic American figure. Among his many accomplishments are two space science-fact-fiction novels, and a few nonfiction works, including an autobiography. He has also recently appeared on the TV series, 30 Rock, and reality TV shows, Dancing with the Stars and Top Chef.
Aldrin has also become an authoritative voice in the future of U.S. human spaceflight. Here he listens to the presentation by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board regarding the final report of the investigation. (Space Shuttle Columbia was the first shuttle in NASA’s orbital fleet and was destroyed during reentry in 2003.)
In April, Aldrin flew aboard Air Force One with President Obama to Kennedy Space Center, where Obama unveiled details of NASA’s future. Aldrin discussed his ideas for the space agency, which he believes should focus on travel to Mars.