While on a family vacation in the Appalachian Mountains when he was 6 years old, Buzz Aldrin began collecting rocks. He was fascinated by their smooth surfaces and delicate shades of natural color.
This youthful curiosity about nature was just the beginning of a lifetime of discoveries and adventures for the young New Jersey boy. But his greatest adventure of all would have to wait for another 33 years.
BUZZ ALDRIN: The retired astronaut plans a 40th anniversary book about his journey to the moon. BUZZALDRIN.COM
In July 1969, Buzz - now Colonel Aldrin - would find himself gathering rocks once more. This time, they were rocks that he and fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong collected from the surface of the moon and carried some 240,000 miles on their four-day return journey to Earth for scientists to study.
Of course, that first mission to the moon in the Apollo 11 spacecraft was far more than just a rock-collecting field trip. Some half-billion people back on Earth watched the historic event on their black-and-white television sets as Aldrin and Armstrong pressed the first human footprints into the dusty lunar surface. It was a rare, uplifting moment for all of humanity to share.
It's that spirit of adventure and achievement that is captured in the pages of Buzz Aldrin's book for kids, "Reaching for the Moon" (HarperCollins).
Aldrin has written other books, including novels and works about his life as a pilot, scientist, and astronaut. But this is his first children's book.
"I wanted to take this historic moon landing and describe it in terms of an ordinary person doing something extraordinary so that kids might realize they can each have their own moons to reach for," says Aldrin.
He also says he is concerned that today's high-tech-savvy kids seem far more interested in conquering the computer-generated aliens of "virtual space" than exploring the mysteries of real space.
"It's my hope that this book will also reignite excitement [about] the space program," he says.
"Reaching for the Moon" is illustrated by artist Wendell Minor, who has illustrated more than 30 children's books. "I always wanted to do a book about space," says Mr. Minor, who works from his studio in Connecticut. "I grew up with the early space program and was mesmerized by the astronauts and their accomplishments. Kids [today] know so little about the history of space exploration and its true heroes."
So why did Minor want to help tell Buzz Aldrin's story in particular? "Buzz always seemed like the most interesting of all the astronauts," says Minor.
"I loved his dedication to space exploration and that he overcame many challenges throughout his life," he adds. "He went to the US Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., flew 66 combat missions during the Korean War, and then returned to college to get into the space program.
THEN AND NOW: In an illustration from his Apollo 11 account, Buzz Aldrin is shown with the lunar rocket in 1969.
COURTESY OF WENDELL MINOR/'REACHING FOR THE MOON'/HARPERCOLLINS CHILDREN'S BOOKS
"We're living in an age where young people are infatuated with Hollywood celebrities," Minor notes. "But I wanted to paint the story of a historical figure who was worthy of attention, and Buzz certainly is that."
Aldrin is planning to produce a second kids' book for 2009, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. "It will be a complete summary of rockets and space travel from the past to the future, aimed at young teenagers," he explains.
But for the moment, he is content to leave his young readers with some homespun wisdom: "If you set your sights high, you may accomplish more than you ever dreamed possible - just as I did."
Buzz Aldrin reached out and touched the moon. Through the plain words and colorful illustrations of his book, he hopes to reach out and touch us, too.
The buzz about Buzz Aldrin
• His mother's maiden name was Moon.
• At the age of 2, he flew in his father's plane, which was painted to look like a giant eagle. As an adult, he landed on the moon in the lunar module that was named "Eagle."
• As a child, his younger sister couldn't pronounce the word "brother." Instead, she called him "Buzzer." That was shortened to Buzz, and that's what he's been called ever since. In 1988, he legally changed his first name to Buzz.
• He flew on Gemini 12 in 1966 with Jim Lovell and made three space walks.
• A small crater on the moon near the Apollo 11 landing site is named in his honor.
• He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
• In 1998, he traveled on a Russian ice-breaker ship to the North Pole.
• He initiated the idea of astronauts training under water to simulate the weightlessness of space.
• He was featured in an episode of "The Simpsons" TV show called "Deep Space Homer" and provided the voice for his character.