Buzz Aldrin dedicated his life to the pursuit of space travel, but his impressive legacy arrives with a few amusing surprises. Read on to find out why Buzz punched a journalist and how he held the first religious service in outer space.
1. The Beginning: Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr. was born on January 20, 1930. He received his B.S. at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and he graduated from M.I.T. with a Sc.D. in Astronautics. Buzz wasn’t just any old astronaut. His doctoral dissertation detailed the piloting of spacecrafts in orbit. His research and techniques have persisted through many NASA missions.
2. His nickname: The unusual “Buzz” moniker launched in childhood, not as a result of a clever anecdote from fellow astronauts. Edwin’s sister called him “Buzzer” instead of “Brother,” and a nickname was born. Buzz legally adopted the nickname as his own in 1988.
3. Military career: Buzz served as a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force and a fighter pilot in the Korean War. As a decorated officer, he completed several combat missions, destroyed a couple of Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15s, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
4. Logged hours: Buzz’s first voyage into space happened in 1966 on the Gemini 12 spacecraft. As a pilot, he manned the spacecraft for nearly four days. Together with the Apollo program (1969), Buzz logged 289 hours and 53 minutes in space.
5. Moonwalk order: NASA actually planned for Buzz to set foot on the lunar surface first, in front of Neil Armstrong, but the physical positioning of the astronauts inside the landing module allowed Armstrong to exit the craft first. They spent about two hours on the lunar surface.
6. First Words: When the Eagle landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility, Buzz’s first words were “Beautiful view. Magnificent desolation.” He later wrote about this moment (and many others) in his memoir, Beautiful Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon.
7. Religion on the Moon: Aldrin’s Presbyterian faith led him to conduct the very first religious ceremony (communion) in space. Before stepping onto the lunar surface, Aldrin whipped out a plastic container of wine and some bread while reading from the Gospel of John. He radioed Earth: “I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.” NASA opted not to air the ceremony, which Buzz kept secret for many years.
8. Honors: In 1969, President Richard Nixon bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom upon Buzz. In 1993, Buzz was inducted into the Astronauts Hall of Fame.
9. Coming down to Earth: In 1971, Buzz received in-patient treatment for both depression and alcoholism.
10. Retirement & continuation: Buzz retired from NASA in 1971 and the Air Force in 1972. He went on to patent a design for a permanent space station. Buzz founded two companies: (1) Starcraft Boosters, a rocket design manufacturer; and (2) ShareSpace, a nonprofit to fund mass-market space travel.
11. Shots fired: In 2002, moon-landing conspiracy theorist/journalist Bart Sibrel attempted to force Aldrin to swear on a Bible that he’d really visited the moon. Sibril addressed Buzz as “a coward and a liar,” and Aldrin responded by punching Sibril in the face. Police ruled that Buzz was provoked, and no charges were filed. Awesome!