Florida’s Space Coast has been roaring to the sound of rockets and jets this past week; SpaceX successfully launched their first reused booster with the SES-10 satellite (and landed it again, successfully), and the USAF Thunderbirds have been shredding the skies nearby at theMelbourne Air & Space Show all weekend, along with many others (including Patrouille de France, the French equivalent of the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds).
But today (Sunday, April 2), unknown to many ahead of time, the Thunderbirds were joined by one of the few humans who have ever stepped foot on another world. The second man to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, was in town to fly with the team over the place where he left the Earth from nearly 50 years ago.
Known as “America’s Ambassadors in Blue”, the Thunderbirds represent nearly 700,000 active duty, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, and civilian Airmen across America and deployed around the world, flying at air shows across the nation each year to demonstrate the pride, professionalism and precision that all airmen represent.
The former astronaut and retired USAF Colonel strapped in with Thunderbird #7, Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, to fly in the team’s 4-ship Diamond Formation before the start of Sunday’s air show, taking flight over KSC Launch Complex 39A; the place where he launched to the moon from so many years ago.
“In 1969, Buzz Aldrin broke barriers and set foot on the moon. He is a true American hero and pioneer. We are proud of his accomplishments and the legacy he represents every day”, noted the team in a Facebook post after their flight.
“For the 70 years the Air Force has been around, Col. Aldrin has been an integral part of it. In Korea, 66 missions and two confirmed MIG kills, how many of you has that?”, said Thunderbird #1, Lt. Col. Jason Heard, as he pointed to his colleagues.
“Sir we are so proud of the time you spent in the Air Force, but you went on to do even more for our nation as an astronaut,” he added. “You walked on the moon, and I think that just blows most of our minds to be honest. To fly over the Cape with you was a real honor”
Aldrin replied with thanks, and followed by opening up his flight suit to reveal a “Get Your Ass to Mars” t-shirt, saying “you guys haven’t seen nothing yet”.
Aldrin is one of the leading figures advocating not only sending humans to explore Mars, but establishing a permanent human presence there; and sooner rather than later.
After taking a photo with Thunderbird 1, Aldrin said “Blue Angels”, and gave a thumbs down; just typical USAF vs NAVY pilot stuff and all in good fun, which drew laughs and clapping from the Thunderbirds and others in attendance. But he seemed a little disappointed at only pulling 2 Gs, rather than up to 9 Gs which the team does for their solo-ship media & VIP flights.
“What a tribute to true teamwork”, said Aldrin. “Every man stands for every man, into the wild blue yonder until it turns black. Thank all of you very much,” he added.
At 87 years old, Aldrin is now the oldest person to have ever flown with the USAF demonstration team.
Aldrin is most famous for his Apollo 11 moon landing with Neil Armstrong, a truly historic and monumental achievement in human history. But Aldrin also played a pivotal role in Project Gemini, flying the Gemini XII mission with Jim Lovell to demonstrate many of the capabilities that NASA needed to achieve the late President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the Moon.
As noted in a previous Gemini XII story by AmericaSpace Senior Writer Ben Evans:
“Lovell and Aldrin’s four-day mission demonstrated rendezvous, docking, gravity gradient tethered operations, and the ability of skilled human pilots to calculate a rendezvous with sextants and charts and a slide rule and pencil. Such human skills, using, in Aldrin’s own words, the “Mark One Cranium Computer,” had relaxed managers’ concerns about the viability of astronauts being able to perform a manual rendezvous, if necessary, in orbit around the Moon.”
Aldrin’s flight Sunday took him over NASA’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building where his moon rocket was integrated with its lunar lander and spacecraft, as well as the launch pad he thundered off of to reach the moon, which is now being leased by SpaceX. Just recently, the company began flying their Falcon-9 rockets from the former Apollo and space shuttle launch site, and eventually, the company hopes to launch their own Mars missions from there as well.
NASA meanwhile is also working on their own path to Mars, developing the Orion and Space Launch System to put boots on Mars sometime in the later 2030s.
BELOW: PHOTOS from Buzz Aldrin’s flight over KSC Sunday, April 2
CREDIT: USAF Thunderbirds & Buzz Aldrin