Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Informed and Engaged, Part 2: Dr. Rendezvous

This has certainly been the time to be involved with INSGC on the Purdue campus.  As we were getting ready for the Tyson lecture, I received another quiet request.  Could INSGC help bring *another* distinguished guest to campus for a public lecture?  I was reminded of discussions with Angie and Dawn to learn to say no, and to remember that we don't have lots of money available, but I decided to ask anyway.  I was told who, and quickly responded: INSGC would be honored to help sponsor the visit of Dr. Buzz Aldrin to speak on his vision for space exploration, including Mission(s) to Mars.  

I cannot express my thrill at being able to attend this lecture, and be part of a welcoming dinner beforehand.  This is, of course, Dr. Rendezvous, the first astronaut with a doctorate, and the second human to set foot on the moon.  But the person whom I met, shared a few words, and listened to his conversations was engaging on another level.  He could speak on a variety of topics, sometimes tiny tidbits, sometimes grand surveys of the tides of history.  Notable and noteworthy.  But even since my prior experience of Dr. Aldrin (two years ago at an MIT event), I saw something that I hadn't expected to see.  Graciousness and passion.  A sense of humor, as well as a need to share and communicate across the generations.  Even a joke about him sounding amazingly like Neil Armstrong.

A simple picture doesn't do justice to the feeling of inspiration that I got from the talk.  Fortunately, I was able to take some fairly good ones, as I found myself sitting right behind Dr. Aldrin after his entrance, and while Dean Leah Jamieson introduced him.

Listening to him talk about both the science and the social systems of space travel, I recognized an unavoidable element:  this is what incessant curiosity and indefatigable passion can do, and be.  I could go on about the Cyclers, but he was extremely elegant and supportive to say that a Purdue AAE grad student had extended, and even improved upon, his longstanding work.  (High praise indeed.)  He bowed to and acknowledged Jim Longuski, with whom he's collaborated for 25 years (and who helps others learn to Think Like a Rocket Scientist).   He talked about STEM Education, and the role of STEM as being valuable for everyone on Earth.  It's not just that I grew up wanting to be like Buzz Aldrin.  It's that I felt that Dr. Aldrin was now speaking to a shared passion, and a recognition of what is needed for the future.  

Afterwards, he stayed to sign the Mission to Mars books.  He signed them all.  This is not to be ignored.  Over 800 books were sold at Purdue, and others attending the lecture brought their copies as well.   Past 11:00, he was still signing books, with kind words and gestures and jokes with the attendees.  ("He told me he liked my sweater!")  I stayed around for a while just to watch the happy faces and renewed enthusiasm from the folks as they emerged from the signing area in the Purdue Memorial Union.  That was feeding enough for me.  (It also helped that I had already been gifted with a signed copy of the book. Thanks, Mike.  You've done pretty well already as an INSGC alumnus, talking about the future of spaceflight and space operations.)  

Thank you, Dr. Aldrin, for reaffirming why this INSGC leadership, and STEM Engagement, is such a significant part of what I must be doing right now.

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