This past weekend I accompanied my nearly twelve-year-old S to Purdue Space Day at Purdue University. I still cannot believe the event is free! Purdue has a a beautiful campus, full of trees and red brick buildings, and, gratefully, we were its guests at the peak of fall foliage. Surprisingly, after living in Indiana twelve years now, this was my first time on the campus.
While there may be more culturally diverse and thrilling places to live, I feel blessed to be where we are. The Midwest, and particularly Indianapolis, is a great place to raise a family. People are considerate. We have four seasons. Nature parks are plentiful. The nation’s largest (and best) children’s museum is located here downtown. And this weekend my son and I received the spectacular honor of hearing Dr. Buzz Aldrin speak. By the way, if you want to see a twelve-year old get embarrassed really quickly, walk around a university campus, and repeatedly and inadvertently refer to the esteemed astronaut as “Buzz Lightyear.” Come on! I still have a five-year old at home.
An easy hour from the Indy suburb where we live, my son was able to reach the venue where the “second man on the moon” told of his lunar experiences. He also participated in three rocket-related activities with his age group. Hearing the iconic astronaut speak, however, was the highlight.
While the announcer introduced Buzz Aldrin, she made much of the fact that his maternal grandmother’s name was Marion Moon. Destiny? Aldrin also recounted the familiar story of how he acquired his nickname from his older sister Faye, who was still a toddler. Not knowing what to call him in the early months after his birth, big sister fell upon “brother,” which came out sounding like “buzzer.” However, in humorous alliteration, Aldrin warned his audience, “Prior planning prevents poor performance.”
We heard stories from his M.I.T. days. “Winston,” the valedictorian the year Buzz ranked third in his class, signed his yearbook. In 1947, beneath Winston’s own picture was printed his classmates predictions of him. “M.I.T. graduate. Rockets to the moon.” Winston had added for Buzz, “I’ll build them. You fly them.” Prophetic?
Dr. Aldrin left us with more quips:
Aldrin described this iconic shot above as “the first selfie in space.” He continued, “You never know what you may be pioneering.”
Remember the famous photograph of Aldrin standing in full suit on the moon? It is often mistaken as Neil Armstrong, but is actually Aldrin. Armstrong had the camera. A spontaneous shot, with apparently little to no planning, it has become a definite symbol of humanity’s accomplishments in space. Aldrin explained that the media once asked him why he thought this particular photograph known as the “visor photo” was so significant. He replied, “Location! Location! Location!”
Apparently, the first time Buzz Aldrin met his famous colleague, Neil Armstrong, it was at his friend Ed White’s house back in 1963 or ’64. Aldrin remembers seeing Armstrong making circles around the driveway on his roller skates. Somehow, this is not immediately the image we conjure when thinking of these two impressive American figures, one late, one still living.
But for a twelve-year-old listening in, it might be what may capture his imagination and inspire him as he reads about Mars and other potential future exploits.
S wishes he had brought his longboard to campus.