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Retired astronaut, Air Force Col. Buzz Aldrin promoted to one-star general

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin stands outside the house he grew up in. (Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media/TNS)

Buzz Aldrin is an American icon. He was one of the people to walk on the moon. And he was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force — but not any more.

Now, he’s an honorary general.

Aldrin, a retired Air Force colonel and the second man to walk on the moon, received an honorary promotion to brigadier general during a Friday, May 5, ceremony at the Los Angeles Air Force Base.

Aldrin’s friends and family, as well as Air Force members, gathered in the base’s courtyard in the early afternoon to, in the words of Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, “celebrate a man who flew among the stars by giving him a star of his own.”

Brigadier general is the first of four general ranks — represented by one star.

Band music and an Air Force flyover welcomed Aldrin to Friday’s ceremony, during which he was also made an honorary U.S. Space Force guardian.

Aldrin, 93, was the lunar module pilot on the 1969 Apollo 11 spaceflight, during which he and the late Neil Armstrong — the flight’s commander — became the first humans to walk on the moon.

“It has been an epic era,” Aldrin said Friday. “May that continue.”

Aldrin’s first spaceflight was in 1966 aboard the Gemini 12. Before becoming an astronaut, the New Jersey native served as a combat-ready fighter pilot with the Air Force from 1952 to 1959 after graduating from U.S. Military Academy West Point.

With the Air Force, he flew the F-86 Sabre in 66 combat missions, shooting down two MIG-15 jet fighters while assigned to the 16th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron during the Korean War. Aldrin was also an F-100 Super Sabre flight commander with the 22nd Fighter Squadron in Germany during the Cold War.

Aldrin then earned a doctorate of science in astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was the first astronaut to have a doctoral degree.

His love for flight and space exploration was nearly inherent.

Aldrin took his first airplane ride at 2 years old, he said Friday, and found himself on pins and needles every time a new ground was broken in aerospace, such as the invention of jet propulsion in 1939 and Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in 1947.

His fascination with air exploration made him an eager pilot in the Air Force — one who yearned to take his flight to the next level as an astronaut. He applied for astronaut training in 1962, and again the following year, when he was accepted, sending, unknowingly at the time, on his way to the moon.

During his training, Aldrin pioneered underwater training techniques to simulate weightlessness in space, which prepared him to perform the world’s first completely successful spacewalk during the Gemini 12 trip, setting a world record of 5.5 hours. On a later spacewalk, Aldrin took the first “selfie” in space.

Aldrin “has that imagination and persistence, (he’s a) person who produces progress no matter what the challenge,” Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein said during the ceremony. His “contributions to the aerospace field and our nation are immeasurable.”

And Aldrin’s patriotism didn’t end after the moon landing, Guetlein added; he’s been an advocate for space exploration ever since.

“He is one of our first true guardians” of space exploration, Guetlein said, “His character, connection, commitment and, above all, his courage were tested on a daily basis; without the courage and dedication of him, we may not have had the luxury of leading the lifestyle we enjoy today.”

Calvert, in his remarks, called Aldrin an American hero — a living legend.

“Buzz will always be one of the only two people to leave this world and land in another,” Calvert said. “Few endeavors have unified the globe like Apollo 11, and the invaluable contributions Buzz made ensured its success.”

Despite hanging up his space suit, Aldrin continues to be an advocate for space exploration, Calvert said, adding that he has no doubt that future space explorers will look to the honorary general for inspiration.

After Aldrin reaffirmed his oath during the ceremony, his wife, Anca Faur, removed the eagle-shaped colonel pins from his shoulders and replaced them with star pins — one for each shoulder — signifying his promotion to brigadier general.

“The eagle (that) landed on my shoulders long ago are now replaced by stars,” Aldrin said. “Let the stars now placed on my shoulders help inspire humanity in achieving its true destiny of galactic colonization.”

After Aldrin spoke, Space Systems Command Chief Master Sergeant Willie H. Frazier unfurled and posted the brigadier general flag, which is blue with one white star, on the stage to commemorate Aldrin’s promotion.

“Gen. Aldrin lives a life epitomizing space exploration,” Guetlin said.

During his more than 21 years of service, Aldrin has also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Air Medals and many more honors from around the world.

“I am deeply honored here today,” Aldrin said. “It is thrilling that I am still here to see NASA sending brave astronauts to circumnavigate the moon next year and land astronauts (on it) soon thereafter; now that’s space exploration.”

That mission, called Artemis II, is set to take off in November 2024

And Aldrin isn’t done exploring space himself just yet. He said, tongue-in-check, that he wants to beat the NASA astronauts to the moon, 55 years after he was the second person to set foot on the satellite.

“I intend to impatiently pester Elon Musk a lot harder,” Aldrin said, “so that he and I will be waiting there on the moon to greet the NASA astronauts when they land.”


(c) 2023 Daily Breeze

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