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2000 Distinguished Graduate Award

Dr. Buzz Aldrin '51

A distinguished airman, scientist, astronaut, and patriot, Dr. Buzz Aldrin has left an indelible mark, not only on the history of his country, but also on that of the world. In a career spanning nearly five decades, the incomparable measure of his achievements has been demonstrated in countless ways. His exploits as an astronaut have earned him international renown, and his current activities continue to build and burnish his reputation. As a leader in the scientific community, he inspires his fellow citizens to look to the future, set their goals high, and strive for greatness in advancing our Nation’s exploration of the frontiers of space. He is a living exemplar of the principles expressed in the motto of the United States Military Academy: Duty, Honor, Country.
After graduating third in his Class of 1951, Dr. Aldrin earned his Air Force pilot’s wings and soon found himself flying Sabre Jets in the Korean War. In that conflict, he demonstrated his skill and bravery by completing 66 combat missions and downing two MIG-15s, and in recognition of his achievements he was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Air Medals.
During the decade after his return from Korea, Dr. Aldrin served as a gunnery instructor pilot at the Fighter Weapons School, attended the Squadron Officers’ School, was the aide to the Dean at the Air Force Academy, flew Super Sabres with the 22nd Fighter Squadron in Germany, and earned a doctorate in Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he wrote a doctoral thesis on orbital rendezvous that developed techniques which would prove crucial to the future success of the Gemini and Apollo programs.
In October 1963, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration selected Dr. Aldrin as one of its early astronauts. After completing a training program that was both physically and mentally demanding, he began receiving operational assignments, first as a member of the back-up crew for the two-man Gemini 9 mission in May of 1966 and then as the pilot of the Gemini 12 mission in November. It was during the latter mission that Dr. Aldrin conducted the first satisfactory demonstration of man’s ability to work outside a space vehicle. As a fellow astronaut put it, “He invented the art of working in space.”
This was, however, only one of numerous innovations, and he accomplished the next in short order as the back-up command module pilot for Apollo VIII, the first flight around the moon. During that mission Dr. Aldrin significantly improved operational techniques for star display in astronautical navigation.
Finally, in 1969 he was named the lunar module pilot for Apollo XI, which NASA had selected to make the first landing on the moon, and on the 20th of July, while the largest worldwide television audience in history looked on, Neil Armstrong and Dr. Aldrin made their heroic and historic moonwalks. This scientific triumph, one of the most memorable events of the 20th century and the fulfillment of President John Kennedy’s challenge and pledge to the American people, represented the epitome of the Nation’s scientific capabilities and established its preeminence in the exploration of space.
Upon his departure from NASA in 1970, Dr. Aldrin, who was by then a Colonel, became the Commandant of the Air Force Test Pilot School, and he retired from the Air Force in 1972. Since then, as the head of Starcraft Enterprises and Starcraft Boosters, Inc., Dr. Aldrin has remained at the forefront of efforts to ensure that America continues to have a leading role in manned space exploration. As part of his lifelong commitment to this goal, he has created a master plan for a series of missions using a concept he developed called “The Cycler,” which is a spacecraft system that remains in perpetual orbit between Earth and Mars. He has also proposed reusable interplanetary space vehicles, a cost-effective solar power station on the moon, and a permanent space station whose design was patented in 1993.
In addition to all of his other accomplishments, Dr. Aldrin has authored or co-authored three books related to space exploration, Return to Earth, an autobiography; Men From Earth, a recounting of the United States-Soviet race to the moon; and Encounter With Tiber, a science-fiction novel designed to stir the imagination of the young and encourage their pursuit of the space sciences. Beyond the three books, he has also written dozens of articles about space-related topics. He participates in many organizations worldwide, including the National Space Society, that aim to develop future space programs and space education. Finally, his interest in American youngsters is manifest in his endorsement of two educational computer software programs for children.
Dr. Aldrin’s highest American awards and decorations include the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the Air Force Legion of Merit, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Eleven foreign countries have also accorded him high honors, and six colleges and universities have granted him honorary doctorates.
Dr. Aldrin has shaped his life in accordance with the ideals expressed in West Point’s motto. A man of indomitable spirit, he has faced an extraordinary array of obstacles and challenges during his career. But his courage and enthusiasm, his imagination and intellect have always prevailed. He has fought for his country in war and expanded its knowledge in peace. He has walked where only one other has walked, and his deeds, words, and works have served to inspire generations of his fellow citizens to strive for higher, greater achievements.
Dr. Aldrin’s Howitzer entry remarked that “he should make a capable, dependable, and efficient officer in the U.S. Air Force.” This has turned out to be a vast understatement of the case. He is a truly great American, and accordingly, the Association of Graduates takes great pride in presenting the 2000 Distinguished Graduate Award to Dr. Buzz Aldrin, USMA Class of 1951.

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