To Infinity (1995)
Only one person in history can lay claim to an association with the moon landing and a hit movie. The man behind this duo distinction: Colonel Edwin Eugene (Buzz) Aldrin Jr.
A part of the most momentous chapter of history, Edwin was born in Montclair, New Jersey, in 1930; his parents named him after his military father who had crossed the Atlantic in the Hindenburg. Marion Moon, his mother’s maiden name, was to prove prophetic. The name Buzz derived from his sister Fay Ann’s inability to pronounce the word “brother” and instead called him “Buzzer.” In the 1980s, he made his nickname his legal one.
In a world that celebrated firsts, the fact that Buzz was the second man on the moon rankled him for years. He eventually accepted the fact and joked that he was “the first person to ever relieve his bladder on the moon,” the first to receive communion on an outer space crater, and the first to take a selfie in space. Buzz described the planet as a “magnificent desolation,” a term he used as the title of his 2009 autobiography. Floating upside down in the command module upon the Eagle’s return to Earth, the three space explorers waited for the craft to right itself. Rather than elation, Buzz pondered a question of which Houston did not have an answer: Now what? After the ticker tape parade, the good-will tour around the world, and congratulations by President Nixon, Buzz embarked on a life-long struggle against the fear that after being the man on the moon nothing would ever rival the hours spent in the galaxy. The 1970s turned into a lost decade when Buzz went through two marriages and innumerable bottles of Scotch. His fortune slipped through his fingers, and he worked at a Cadillac dealership in Beverly Hills; he never sold a car. His mother, following her own father’s example, committed suicide through an overdose of prescription pills as she felt her son’s fame would be overwhelming. Unlike most men of his era, Buzz admitted to depression and confessed he would stay in bed for weeks, only leaving home to buy booze and buckets of fried chicken.
Another brush with fame arrived with the release of Toy Story in which Buzz became famous as animated action-figure astronaut, Buzz Lightyear. With his space age gadgets, Buzz became Andy’s favorite toy, supplanting old-fashioned Woody. Lightyear underwent an existential crisis when he came to the realization that his role was not to save the universe, as he was merely a pompous piece of plastic. Notwithstanding his angst, in 2008 NASA sent Lightyear on a real space mission on the space shuttle Discovery headed for the International Space Station where he remained for a year.
Eventually the craft of Buzz Aldrin’s life righted itself when he lay to rest some of his demons. When asked if he was still a churchgoer, he replied, “No. My Sunday mornings are spent in a recovery room in Pacific Palisades.” He also achieved acclaim by rubbing shoulders with pop icons. He performed a rap session with Snoop Dogg on song, “Rocket Experience,” and Homer Simpson interviewed him on a segment of “The Simpsons.” The man who transcended the stars appeared on Dancing with the Stars. Buzz recalled that the rehearsals for that show “may even have been more strenuous that my West Point conditioning.” At age eighty, Buzz “hitched a ride on a gigantic whale shark while scuba diving in the Galapagos.”
While Buzz Lightyear starred in four Toy Story movies, and received star billing in 2022’s Lightyear, Buzz Aldrin set his sights on a manned mission to Mars where he hoped to find the figurative Sea of Tranquility that had eluded him on Earth.
At age ninety-two, Buzz is still, well, buzzing. And his personal statement could be Buzz Lightyear’s own, “To infinity and beyond!”