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Gala with Buzz: Aldrin's lessons

In 2012, I learned two important lessons within 5 minutes, taught by none other than Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 lunar module pilot.

That year, the National Space Society celebrated its 25th anniversary. I was thrilled when I read the invitation: They had planned a big shindig at the National Air and Space Museum, featuring many distinguished guests, including former astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter. Looking forward to meeting the legendary space pioneers, I booked a ticket for Washington, D.C.

Author Bert-Oliver Boehmer had the privilege of meeting John Glenn and Scott Carpenter during an event in 2012.
John Glenn and Scott Carpenter go over the flight plan for the Mercury-Atlas 7 mission at Cape Canaveral, Florida in May 1962

The nation’s capital had been my home for two years in a previous life, and re-visiting what is—in my opinion—the best air and space exhibition in the world was a big bonus. Arrived at the venue, I began browsing their collection of aviation milestones: The Wright brothers’ Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1. I took my time, and when I reached the spacecraft exhibit, the main event began.

John Glenn was a US Senator, and it was difficult to get past his entourage, but I could exchange a few words with Commander Carpenter before guests were urged to get seated. The seating area set up between the exhibits filled quickly and I saw open seats in the last seat rows only. The last time I preferred sitting in the back was during junior high school, so I kept looking.

Buzz Aldrin's thesis title page

One seat was open in the center of the first row, reserved for VIPs, next to moonwalker Buzz Aldrin. I am not shy, but I have a healthy respect for “reserved” signs—except I couldn’t see one. Could the best seat in the house still be open? I approached, hopeful, and a bit starstruck. “Excuse me, Dr. Aldrin, is this seat available?” He gave me a wide grin, gestured at the chair next to him and said, “please, sit!” When Buzz was still Edwin Eugene Aldrin, he was the first astronaut to have received a scientific doctorate.

‘It never hurts to ask’, people say. Well, people say a lot of things, but this one turned out to be true wisdom (lesson 1). We chatted a little before the speeches began and society officials recognized the 50th anniversary of Glenn’s (February 20) and Carpenter’s (May 24) historic flights in 1962 as the first two American astronauts to orbit Earth. Buzz Aldrin was up to speak next. While the two astronauts on stage were still being awarded, Buzz Aldrin got up, and darted to the men’s bathroom, but not before—with a mischievous smile—sharing the second piece of wisdom on this remarkable evening:

“Always start the mission on an empty bladder!”


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