Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr. (1930-), better known as "Buzz," was part of the Apollo 11 mission that first put a man on the moon. The son of a U.S. Air Force colonel, Aldrin became a top student at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before a decorated stint as a fighter pilot during the Korean War. He was among the first NASA astronauts tapped for the nascent space program, and his historic Apollo 11 mission with Neil Armstrong in 1969 was televised to an estimated 600 million viewers. Aldrin later returned to the Air Force in a managerial role and developed spacecraft systems, writing an autobiography and publishing several additional books.

Buzz Aldrin's Early Life

Born Edwin Eugene "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. on January 20, 1930, in Montclair, New Jersey. The nickname "Buzz" originated in childhood: his little sister mispronounced the word "brother" as "buzzer." His family shortened the nickname to "Buzz." Aldrin would make it his legal first name in 1988.

His mother, Marion Moon, was the daughter of an Army chaplain. His father, Edwin Eugene Aldrin, was a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. In 1947, Buzz graduated from Montclair High School in Montclair, New Jersey, and headed to West Point Military Academy in New York. He took well to the discipline and strict regimens, and was the first in his class his freshman year. He graduated was third in his class in 1951 with a BS in mechanical engineering.

Buzz Aldrin: Military Career

Aldrin's father felt his son should continue on to multiengine flight school so that he could eventually take charge of his own flight crew, but Buzz wanted to become a fighter pilot. His father relented to his son's wishes, and after a summer of hitching around Europe on military planes, Buzz officially entered the United States Air Force in 1951. He again scored near the top of his class in flight school, and began fighter training later that year.

During his time in the military, Aldrin joined the 51st Fighter Wing, where he flew F-86 Sabre Jets in 66 combat missions in Korea. During the Korean war, F-86 planes fought to defend South Korea from the invasion of Communist forces in North Korea. Aldrin's wing was responsible for breaking the enemy "kills" record during combat, when they shot down 61 enemy MiGs and grounded 57 others in one month of combat. Aldrin shot down two MiGs, and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service during the war.

After a cease-fire was declared between North and South Korea in 1953, Aldrin returned home. He returned to school this time, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he planned to complete a master's degree and then apply for test pilot school. Instead, he earned a Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics, graduating in 1963. His thesis subject "Line-of-sight guidance techniques for manned orbital rendezvous" was the study of bringing piloted spacecraft into close proximity with each other.

Buzz Aldrin: Space Flight

His specialized study of rendezvous helped to earn him entry into the space program shortly after graduation. In 1963, Aldrin was part of a third group of men selected by NASA to attempt to pioneer space flight. Aldrin was put in charge of creating docking and rendezvous techniques for spacecraft. He also pioneered underwater training techniques, to simulate flight in zero gravity.

In 1966, Aldrin and astronaut Jim Lovell were assigned to the Gemini 12 crew. During their November 11 to November 15, 1966, space flight, Aldrin made a five-hour spacewalk the longest and most successful spacewalk ever done up to that time. He also used his rendezvous abilities to manually recalculate all the docking maneuvers on the flight, after the on-board radar failed.

After Gemini 12, Aldrin was assigned to the backup crew of Apollo 8 along with Neil Armstrong and Harrison "Jack" Schmitt. On July 20, 1969, Buzz, along with flight commander Neil Armstrong, made the historic Apollo 11 moonwalk, becoming the first two humans to set foot on an alien world. They spent a total of 21 hours on the moon's surface, and returned with 46 pounds of moon rocks. The walk, which was televised, drew an estimated 600 million people to watch, becoming the world's largest television audience in history.

Upon their safe return to Earth, Buzz was decorated with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, followed by a 45-day international goodwill tour. Among their distinguished honors and medals, Buzz and his Apollo 11 crew also have four stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in California.

On March 1972, after 21 years of service, Aldrin retired from active duty and returned to the Air Force in a managerial role. He later admitted in his 1973 autobiography, Return to Earth, that he struggled with depression and alcoholism following his years with NASA. After struggling with divorce and maintaining sobriety, Aldrin turned to studying advancements in space technology. He devised a spacecraft system for missions to Mars known as the "Aldrin Mars Cycler," and has received three US patents for his schematics of a modular space station, Starbooster reusable rockets, and multi-crew modules. He also founded ShareSpace Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to advancing space education, exploration and affordable space flight experiences.

Aldrin has also written several more books. In addition to his autobiography, Return to Earth, the astronaut has also penned a new memoir, set to hit bookshelves in 2009�just in time for the 40th anniversary of his historic moon landing. He has also written several children's books, including Reaching for the Moon and Look to the Stars; two science fiction novels, The Return and Encounter with Tiber; and the historical documentary, Men from Earth.

Aldrin has been married three times. His first wife was actress Joan Archer, followed by Beverly Zile. He married his current wife, Lois Driggs Cannon, on Valentine's Day in 1988. He has three children and one grandchild.

Biography courtesy of BIO.com