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Famed astronaut traces steps back to Air Force

Retired Air Force colonel and former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin, recounts his aviation experiences to commemorate the Air Force’s 60th anniversary during a press conference at the Nellis AFB 2007 air show, Nov. 9. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Larry E. Reid Jr.)

Retired Air Force colonel and former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin, recounts his aviation experiences to commemorate the Air Force’s 60th anniversary during a press conference at the Nellis AFB 2007 air show, Nov. 9. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Larry E. Reid Jr.)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- An aged man dressed in a blue flight suit standing behind a wooden lectern stared intently at the crowd gathered in front of him. His warm smile welcomed the attention as he knows his aviation story is about to be heard.

It was 60 years ago when Buzz Aldrin, whose name would later be in history books, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Force to become a fighter pilot.

Although many people associate Aldrin for his historic moonwalk July 20, 1969, few people know the Air Force played an integral part in him becoming a space explorer, he said while speaking to news media at a Nellis AFB air show Nov. 9.

During his 21-year Air Force career, the Montclair, N.J., native faced many challenges. One notable experience occurred during the Korean War.

As a F-86 Sabre pilot, Aldrin flew 66 combat missions, during which he shot down two MIG-15s. It was after shooting down his second enemy "MIG" that he was separated from his wingman and now was alone.

Remembering the haunting solitude, Aldrin said, "Flying solo in enemy air space was not an easy task, but my survival instincts kicked in."

He had to find and fight his way back. The hardest part, he said, was remaining in control and squelching his fears.

The uncertainty of what will happen next, concern for personal safety and security, mission success and thoughts of going home surfaced while flying solo, said Aldrin.

"You have to appreciate the threats, the danger of things, but you can't be obsessive over them, otherwise you are in the wrong business," said Aldrin.

In fact, the ability to control personal fears and worries was a gradual process Aldrin learned while training as a fighter pilot at Nellis AFB.
In addition to conquering personal fears and honing his pilot skills, Aldrin was still not satisfied and wanted to make a bigger difference.

"I wanted to contribute my knowledge, analysis and judgment of what the future should be and that's why I chose the path to becoming an astronaut," said Aldrin.

When asked about greatness, he did not respond with personal motivation speeches.

"Trying to help others - that's the key," said Aldrin. "There's a truism in having knowledge, cementing it in your head and sharing it."

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