A dream of mankind was fulfilled on 20 July 1969 when the lunar module Eagle touched down on the moon's Sea of Tranquillity. Two American astronauts became the first humans to set foot on another planetary body. One of these, Buzz Aldrin, was an Air Force officer and pilot of the highest caliber. He was born in Montclair, New Jersey, the son of an Army colonel who had served as an aide to General Billy Mitchell. After graduating third in the United States Military Academy Class of 1951, Aldrin entered flight training at Bartow, Florida. Following graduation, he attended fighter training in Bryan, Texas, then upgraded to the F-80 Shooting Star and F-86 Sabre at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
Assigned to the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing in December 1952, Lieutenant Aldrin flew 66 combat missions over Korea in the F-86 and achieved 2 aerial victories against MiG-15s. After returning stateside, he served as a gunnery instructor at Nellis before attending Squadron Officer School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. In August 1956, he transferred to Bitburg Air Base, Germany, to fly F-100 Super Sabres with the 36th Fighter (Day) Wing. Aldrin entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for graduate study in the summer of 1959 and graduated with a doctorate of science in astronautics. Following graduate school, he was assigned to the Air Force's Space Systems Division at Los Angeles Air Force Station, California, in January 1963. He worked in the Gemini Target Office, and was subsequently transferred to the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston, Texas, to work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Department of Defense experiments being planned for the Gemini two-man space missions. He was selected for the third group of astronauts named by NASA in October 1963, and he flew with command pilot Jim Lovell on Gemini 12 in November 1966--the last of the Gemini missions.
During the flight, Aldrin established a new record for extravehicular activity, spending 5 1/2 hours outside the spacecraft. In January 1969, he was named to the 3-man Apollo 11 crew, which had been designated for the first lunar landing attempt. Following a flawless launch and journey to the moon, he and Neil Armstrong spent over 2 hours walking on the lunar surface before returning to earth on 24 July 1969. After leaving NASA, Aldrin commanded the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, until his retirement in 1972. He is the author of two books about the manned space program--Return to Earth and Men from Earth.
On 20 July 1969, the NASA/Grumman Lunar Module Eagle descended to land on the dusty, rock-strewn surface of the moon. Resembling a large metal spider, the lunar module was a unique vehicle, optimized for operations outside the atmosphere. The landing propelled Aldrin and crewmate Neil Armstrong into the history books as the earth's first emissaries to the moon. Aldrin would later recall that the heavy schedule of tasks to be performed did not allow him much time for introspection about the epochal nature of their journey.