Buzz Aldrin in his astronaut days and now his dancing days.

Left: Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin takes photos during training on July 1, 1969. Photo: NASA Kennedy Space Center. Right: Aldrin rehearses with dance partner Ashly Costa. A typical session in the studio is three-and-a-half to four hours. Photo: ABC/Rick Rowell.

A competitive nature propelled Buzz Aldrin ScD ’63 into his career as an astronaut, and it’s that same spirit he’s taking with him on his next venture, as a contestant on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars (DWTS), premiering this Monday, March 22. Aldrin has already sized up his competition, targeting none other than Olympic figure skating gold medalist Evan Lysacek as his most formidable challenge.

“If you take [Lysacek’s] age and multiply by three, it’s still eight years younger than me,” Aldrin says. But he’s not daunted. For relaxation, the octogenarian scuba dives and downhill skis (which he took up at age 50) and continues exploring other non-celestial worlds: Antarctica, the Titanic ruins two-and-a-half miles below the ocean surface, the North Pole on a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker. “This dude, for an 80 year old—he could probably bench-press me if he wanted to,” Lysacek told Access Hollywood.”

And let’s not forget that Aldrin brings something to the competition no other dancer does. An MIT degree. What exactly does that afford him? “Concentration, orderly thinking, memory, integrated thinking of transitions from one step to another,…an appreciation for the bigger picture” he says. “I learned all of those things at MIT.”

Buzz Aldrin dancing with partner Ashly Costa for the premier of Dancing with the Stars.

Photo: ABC/Rick Rowell.

On being hip
Dancing on a reality show is not Aldrin’s first foray into pop culture. You might actually be surprised to learn how visible he is. He’s performed in a rap video with Snoop Dogg and others (view the performance or see the making-of video at the end of this post—it’s hilarious); guest-starred in episodes of The Simpsons, Numb3rs, Sesame Street, 30 Rock (airing May 6), and more; will soon release an iPhone app; launched a space brand, Rocket Hero, that’s been licensed by electronics, toys, science-edutainment, and apparel companies, like Nike for a skate shoe; is the inspiration behind Disney’s Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear; and served as the icon for MTV’s original station identification and its video music award, the Moonman (originally called the Buzzy). MTV is so indebted to Aldrin that it has given him its first-ever official endorsement of a DWTS contender, dubbing Aldrin the celebrity they most hope wins the competition.

Some of Aldrin’s many public appearances are aimed at promoting books he’s coauthored, of which there are seven, including two illustrated children’s books, two science-fiction novels, and two autobiographies. His most recent is the memoir Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon (Harmony 2009), written with Ken Abraham.

Buzz Aldrin appearing relaxed during suiting operations in the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building (MSOB) prior to the astronauts' departure to Launch Pad 39A. He'll take this same intrepid spirit to the dance competition. Photo: NASA Kennedy Space Center.

Buzz Aldrin appearing relaxed during suiting operations in the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building (MSOB) prior to the astronauts' departure to Launch Pad 39A. He'll take this same intrepid spirit to the dance competition. Photo: NASA Kennedy Space Center.

Why Buzz generates buzz
Ask him what his favorite pop culture moment has been (and trust me, I tried twice) and Aldrin won’t pick one. Instead, he always brings the conversation back to his real passion and agenda: human space exploration. Aldrin speaks worldwide about privatizing space and stimulates support for America’s space program through his inventions, advocacy work, TV commentating, and government consulting. He devised a master plan for Mars missions known as the Aldrin Mars Cycler—a spacecraft system with perpetual cycling orbits between Earth and Mars. He has received patents for his schematics of a modular space station, Starbooster reusable rockets, and multi-crew modules for space flight. And he founded the ShareSpace Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to advancing space education, exploration, and affordable space flight experiences for all.

The real reason Aldrin is happy to prepare Buzz Lightyear for space (also a funny video) or appear on The Colbert Report is to reach as broad an audience as possible and convince others of the necessity of space travel. Sure, he doesn’t mind hobnobbing with celebrities like Quincy Jones, Tom Hanks, and others in the entertainment industry, but they also have the wherewithal to support his cause and help spread his message.

On fear and disbelievers
Aldrin has certainly been watched on TV by millions of viewers, but I wondered, was he worried he’d make some terrible tango goof that would make the Internet rounds and land him on The Soup? Nah. Fear, Aldrin says, “is a paralyzing emotion. And in dance I have to be aware of flow from one step to another.” He had to access the same calm under pressure when traveling to outer space, so he could be alert and ready for any spacecraft emergency that might arise. Plus, he says, if he can handle moon-landing disbelievers, he can handle just about anything.

No word on how many songs mentioning the moon, stars, or flying he’ll be dancing to, but Aldrin says to look for references to his astronaut days. “We will try…and maybe insert gestures like airplane wings, things of that nature,” he says. The show begins at 8:00/7:00 p.m. CT. Watch Aldrin and his partner, dance pro Ashly Costa, and send those good MIT vibes his way. “I hope,” Aldrin says, “that there’s a technical/scientific fellowship…that will cheer on and support a lunar dust-kicking alum who’s going to kick up his heels on the dance floor.”

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Above: Watch as hip-hop legend Buzz Aldrin hits the studio with Snoop Dogg and Talib Kweli to record his latest track, Rocket Experience. Quincy Jones and Soulja Boy also weigh in on Buzz’s lyrical genius and impact on the music world.