Toppings Bookshop event
The Forum, Bath, 3 June 2016
When a friend at work e-mailed round a heads up that tickets were about to be released for a chance to meet Buzz Aldrin, a bunch of us leapt at the chance. It almost didn’t matter what the actual event would be – we’re talking about a man who has walked on the Moon, a genuine living legend. Turns out, he’s promoting his new book No Dream is Too High: Life Lessons from a Man who Walked on the Moon.
The Forum can seat 1640 and the event was a sellout, but with a bit of planning ahead we managed to get ourselves near the front, with a prime view of the 86 year old and his manager, who corralled him through his story, prompted by photos from his life. And I do mean corralled. From his parents (with wonderful foreshadowing his mother was called Marion Moon), to his Air Force career, to NASA, to scuba diving with sharks on his 80th birthday, Buzz was ready to expand at length on every anecdote, to go off on tangents (often related to the more scientific or historic aspects of the tale) and had to be persuaded back on track. Which was wholly delightful.
Though he must have told these stories hundreds, or more likely thousands of times before, Buzz has the gift of the storyteller (albeit a rambling one) and made it all seem fresh and off the cuff. When explaining that his name Buzz comes from his older sister mispronouncing “brother” as “buzzer”, he ended with, “Don’t you wish you had a story like that?”
He still has a great love for planes, having taken his first ride in one aged two, and enthused about every plane pictured. He’s also a very smart man, with a doctorate in astronautics from MIT, which is how he got accepted for NASA’s space programme despite not being a test pilot (on first application he was rejected, for that reason). The subject of his thesis was docking and rendezvous in space, so to his test pilot astronaut colleagues he became “Dr Rendezvous” – and it wasn’t always affectionate.
As an experienced scuba diver, Buzz pioneered training under water for space walks – an innovation that is still how such training is given to this day. In audience questions at the end he was asked if he misses weightlessness, and he replied that he can still experience it by going diving. Which might explain why he is still diving in his late 80s.
He’s pretty unstoppable, always looking for new challenges. This November he’s going to the South Pole. He works tirelessly for his children’s charity and his Destination Mars project, in which he works with students, scientists and politicians advocating getting humans to Mars by 2025.
This all ties in with his very excellent advice for children: “Go through life with arms open,” he says, his own arms flung wide, “Try as many things as possible.” Tim and I have already repeated this advice to some of the children in our family and will be passing it on tirelessly I’m sure, because who better to take advice from than a man who walked on the Moon and 47 years later is still working to further scientific knowledge and education?