Moon-landing astronaut explores Grand Cayman’s reefs
From the surface of the moon to the depths of the ocean, Buzz Aldrin’s passion for exploration knows no boundaries.
The astronaut, part of the first successful mission to the moon, swapped his space suit for SCUBA gear to explore some of Grand Cayman’s most popular dive sites last week.
The 83-year-old told the Compass the Cayman Islands was among his favourite places in the world to dive.
Aldrin, who describes the sensation of SCUBA diving as the closest thing to moon-walking that he has experienced on Earth, has been diving since the 1950s. His first experience of the underwater world involved breathing through a rubber hose while holding a rock to keep him below the surface.
Since then the technology has advanced to the degree that some of the equipment involved in technical diving is as complex as the technology he and Neil Armstrong used to breathe on the moon in 1969.
The Apollo 11 astronauts famously took a ‘giant leap for mankind’ when they stepped on to the moon’s surface.
Aldrin took a more gentle leap from the back of the DiveTech boat and into the clear blue waters off Grand Cayman to explore the wreck of the USS Kittiwake. The sunken naval vessel also has links to the space programme, having been used to recover the Space Shuttle Challenger’s black box after the disaster in 1986.
Aldrin was in Grand Cayman with a group of divers who had bid for the chance to join him on the trip as part of a charity auction to raise funds for the Astronauts Scholarship Foundation. The two-day trip also involved jet-skiing and snorkelling and a chance to chat to the astronaut.
Aldrin has been a regular visitor to the Cayman Islands since becoming the second man to set foot on the moon.
He said: “I was a member of a dive group that first came here in 1970 and I have been coming here fairly regularly since then. I’ve been to Cayman Brac, Little Cayman; I’ve dived several times at the Bloody Bay Wall.” Armstrong’s ‘giant leap’ speech as he touched down on the moon’s surface has gone down in history. Less well remembered, but perhaps more evocative, were Aldrin’s first words as he described the scene before him, “..beautiful, beautiful, magnificent desolation.”
His love of SCUBA diving could perhaps be seen as an attempt to rediscover that “magnificent desolation” on earth.
He has dived all over the world, from Hawaii and the Marshall Islands to Egypt and Thailand, and he rates the Cayman Islands, and in particular the Bloody Bay Wall, as among his favourite sites.
Aldrin completed his first proper SCUBA dive in Tripoli, Libya, during gunnery training with the air force in 1957.
He said: “Before that I had just played around with a snorkel and mask and tried to breathe at depth through a rubber hose, while carrying a rock to hold me down. I didn’t know much physics at the time, but I quickly found out you can’t get very far like that.”
Once he got into proper SCUBA diving his passion for the sport increased and he had tried to convince NASA to make it part of the training for astronauts.
“I had seven-eight years experience diving when the programme was having difficulty with outside space walking. I suggested training astronauts underwater.”
Despite initial protests, underwater training became part of the training regime for the 1966 Gemini 12 mission, which Aldrin was part of, and is now standard training for space-walking astronauts.
Buzz Aldrin factfile
Part of the first successful mission to the moon aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft and the pilot of the lunar module, which touched down on the moon’s surface.
Second man to set foot on the moon, he is the helmeted astronaut photographed with the US flag in the iconic moon-landing shots.
Described the scene with the famous words: “beautiful, beautiful, magnificent desolation.”
Was part of the previous Gemini 12 space mission in 1966, where he spent more than five hours “spacewalking” outside the vehicle.
Retired from NASA in 1971 having logged nearly 300 hours in space.
Prior to joining NASA he was a pilot in the US Air Force and flew 66 combat missions in F-86 aircraft on duty in Korea.
Since the moon landings, he has become a familiar figure in popular culture and was the inspiration for Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear.
He has written six books about his experiences including his 2010 autobiography Magnificent Desolation.
Believes “space tourism” – taking civilians into space – should be a big part of future space programmes.
Aldrin describes the sensation of SCUBA diving as the closest thing to moon-walking that he has experienced on Earth.