Buzz Aldrin is best known as the second man to walk on the moon, but the West Point graduate, Air Force pilot, and MIT-trained engineer has had an incredible life beyond the Apollo 11 mission. Here are 10 fascinating facts about this quotable explorer.
1. Buzz Aldrin was honored for combat service in the Korean War.
Aldrin was born Edwin Eugene Aldrin in Montclair, New Jersey, on January 20, 1930. His father, Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Sr., was a former Army pilot who served in both World Wars; his mother Marion's maiden name was literally Moon. Before his storied career with NASA, he flew F-86 Sabre Jets in the Air Force’s 51st Fighter Wing, completing 66 combat missions in Korea. His unit shot down 61 enemy planes and grounded another 57 in a single month. Aldrin himself shot down two enemy fighters and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service.
Following the war, he earned a doctorate in aeronautics from MIT and was chosen for NASA Astronaut Group 3, which also included his Apollo 11 teammate, command module pilot Michael Collins.
2. Buzz Aldrin received communion on the moon.
The Apollo 11 lunar lander touched down on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility on July 19, 1969, but Aldrin and Neil Armstrong had to wait several hours before they could leave the spacecraft. Aldrin used the time to give himself communion.
As an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Texas, Aldrin had received permission to bring bread and wine into space. He wrote later that the wine “curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup” thanks to the moon’s gravitational pull being one-sixth that of Earth. Through mission control, he invited others to contemplate the moment in their own way, but later admitted that he should have aimed for a more inclusive celebration.
“We had come to the moon in the name of all mankind—be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists,” Aldrin wrote in his book Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home From the Moon. “But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.”
By the time he got back to Earth, more practical matters were on Aldrin's mind: He had to send an expense report (for $33.31) to NASA for the moon trip.
3. Buzz Aldrin also ate snacks on the moon.
Aldrin finally emerged from the lunar module Eagle 19 minutes after Armstrong, and the pair spent two hours gathering rock samples, taking photos, and setting up scientific experiments. During their work, they ate humankind’s first meal on the moon, which had been carefully developed by NASA food scientist Rita Rapp. But it still sounds like a menu from a college dorm: sugar cookie cubes, square-shaped bacon, fruit drink, and coffee.
“It’s not exactly a grand feast for a couple of guys on the verge of making history,” Aldrin tweeted in December 2021, “but when you’re in space you have to make do with what you have.”
4. Buzz Aldrin arrived in space ready for any medical emergency.
Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins took two medical kits containing hundreds of pills for Apollo 11’s eight-day mission—it was the 1960s, you know. In all, they included 60 antibiotics, 12 for nausea, 12 stimulants, 18 pain killers, 60 decongestants, 24 for diarrhea in space, 72 aspirin, and 21 sleeping pills. A selection of first aid ointment, eye drops, nasal sprays, bandages, and thermometers prepared the astronauts for anything the moon could throw at them.
5. Buzz Aldrin has spent a little more than 12 days in space.
Aldrin has logged 289 hours and 53 minutes in space, with nearly eight hours of that time spent outside of a spacecraft. He established a record for space walks when he spent 5.5 hours outside the Gemini 12 spacecraft during its 1966 mission. During the Apollo 11 moon landing, Aldrin and Armstrong spent two hours and 31 minutes outside of the lunar module.
His achievements have occasionally made Aldrin the target of conspiracy theorists who claim that the moon landing was a hoax. In 2002, Aldrin punched a moon-landing-denier who was harassing him; the denier tried to press charges, but a judge ruled that Aldrin had been provoked.
6. Buzz Aldrin candidly revealed his struggles with depression and alcoholism after his NASA career.
After the euphoria of the moon walk, Aldrin became fatigued by the globetrotting schedule that NASA had the astronauts undertake. He had spent his career as a fighter pilot and then an astronaut, and life as a civilian proved to be a difficult adjustment. Two years after the moon landing, he checked into a hospital.
Aldrin wrote about his struggles in his 1973 autobiography, Return To Earth. Encouraged by initial public response to his story, Aldrin served as chairman of the National Association for Mental Health in the 1970s [PDF]. He revisited the topic in Magnificent Desolation in 2009.
7. Aldrin legally changed his first name to Buzz in 1988.
Aldrin acquired the nickname “Buzz” as a child because his younger sister mispronounced the word “brother” as “buzzer,” later abbreviated to Buzz. In 1988, Aldrin legally changed it from Edwin. You can call him Dr. Buzz.
8. Buzz Aldrin was nominated for an Emmy.
In 2020, Aldrin and Collins received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Cinematography For A Nonfiction Program for footage they shot during the Apollo 11 moon landing, which was used in the CNN documentary Apollo 11. The two astronauts lost to the filmmakers behind National Geographic’s The Cave.
Aldrin’s IMDb page lists some of his past wins, including a Jules Verne Award for promoting the spirit of exploration and an award from the Society of Camera Operators for developing and achieving photography in space.
9. Buzz Aldrin holds three patents.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted three patents to Aldrin: one in 1993 for a space station facility accommodating eight to 10 astronauts, which he designed by himself at home; another for a “flyback booster with removable rocket propulsion module” in 2003; and a one in 2004 for multi-crew modules for space flight.
10. Buzz Aldrin has a Guinness World Record.
Guinness World Records lists Aldrin as the oldest person to have visited the North and South Poles. He went to the North Pole in July 1998 aboard the nuclear icebreaker Sovetskiy Soyuz, and traveled to the South Pole as a tourist in November 2016, when he was 86 years and 314 days old.
Unfortunately, Aldrin had to be medically evacuated from the Scott-Amundsen South Pole Station to Christchurch, New Zealand, after becoming ill with altitude sickness. Aldrin said in a statement that he felt much better when he reached sea level.
Incidentally, the explorer has also been far beneath sea level: in 1996, he ventured to the wreck of the Titanic.