Friday, July 24, 2009

A Night with Jim and Buzz . . .

Image courtesy Adler Planetarium

On Wednesday, July 22nd, the Adler Planetarium of Chicago hosted an event at Northwestern's Chicago Campus, celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Dr. Buzz Aldrin and Captain Jim Lovell came and talked with an audience of about 700 about their experiences in space during one of the most exciting times in human history. The talk was moderated by Craig Nelson, author of the recent book Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon , and there was even some time at the end for questions the audience had submitted.

I arrived very early, meeting up with a friend, and fellow space-head, Chris and his father. We hung around outside Thorne Auditorium while the Adler people decided whether or not they were going to let us in; it was not the smoothest, best-run event I've ever been to, but I give the harried girls who herded us around an A for effort;) About 6:30 they let us in to get seats, and we quickly claimed the closest row to the front that we could get; there were about six rows in front of us that were reserved for trustees, big-tickets donors, and VIP's (there were a few other astronauts there, identifiable by the gold pin on the lapel!) Buzz's wife Lois was there too, sitting right up front. I didn't feel too bad about sitting behind these people; we were dead-center, so much so that it felt like they could look right at us as they talked (though in a darkened theatre they certaily couldn't have seen us!).

The talk got started a little late and it was a packed house, not a seat empty. Nelson was a congenial host, and clearly very knowledgeable about his subjects. He professed being as awestruck to be in their presence as the rest of us; all 6'5" of him seemed a little trembly, to be sure;) The back-and-forth got going then, and let me just say: brilliant. To listen to these two men talk was one of the true highlights of my life thusfar: incredibly intelligent, witty, gentlemanly, and passionate, they were such a joy to listen to. Very different in the way they answered questions, too: Buzz tended to be long-winded and would sometimes stray from the topic a bit, though his meanderings were always interesting, but Jim was funny and usually concise, explaining complicated subjects like hypergolic fuel and sub-lunar orbit with the same ease as he showed when ribbing his colleague and friend (Buzz is a PhD from MIT with a very different background than Jim, who came to NASA as a test pilot. This was a source of some friendly jibes throughout the night). There was, indeed, a lot of laughter throughout, as the men told anecdotes, one thing spurring on another remembrance. They were fascinating and incredible men, but I was left with the sense that you could sit down to a family dinner with them and it would not feel out-of-place (but what a dinner that would be!)

There were no pictures allowed inside the auditorium; Adler was taping and photographing, of course, so I'm sure they'd rather we buy their version of the evening;) Still, Chris managed to snap a few very quick shots at the end, as we all jumped to our feet to applaud, an ovation that lasted several minutes.

Craig Nelson is there on the far left, Buzz is in the center in the blue suit (with a very bright tie!), and Jim is on the right.
I don't want to play favorites, but Captain Lovell has been a hero of mine for some time. His courage and determination, his regular beginnings and incredible achievements, and his graciousness and charm are a real inspiration for me. He was rejected from the astronaut corps once for a hinky medical test result (bilirubins? really?), but kept shooting for his dream of space, and ended up having more time in space tthan any other man by the end of Apollo. Someday, if I'm very lucky, I hope to truly meet him, shake his hand, invite he and Marilyn to dinner, anything; it would be a real honor to know Jim Lovell.

It was ceratinly an honor to be in the presence of Buzz Aldrin; the book signing, though poorly organized, was still pretty amazing. I had this whole speech prepared for when I got up there, hoping to tell him what an honor it was, how much NASA and the space program means to me, etc, etc, but . . . right as I got up there, this other guy who'd been hovering nearby starts toalking to Buzz, stealing my moment. I wanted to strangle him (my BFF B says I should have tracked the guy down afterwards and yelled at him). Oh well. All I managed at the end of that was a quick, "Dr. Aldrin, it's a real honor." I think he might have even looked at me, too;) Still, in spite of that, it was an amazing experience, and that book is getting framed with this picture.
The whole thing has gotten me to thinking about getting more involved. I've always said that if I ever get famous I'm going to set up charities and foundations for the things I'm passionate about . . . but why should I have to wait? There are plenty of programs and things started by ordinary people who see a need and fill it; you don't have to be famous to promote a cause you believe in. What about women in space, and women in science and math?
What do you think, dear readers? Do you think a foundation that encourages girls to pursue math and science,with an eye towards becoming astronauts, is a good idea? What would I call it?


padawansguide said...

That's really cool - wish I could have seen it too! :-) Since you're into space and NASA, you might enjoy this podcast I work on.

Ginger said...

This is fabulous! Thanks, Maggie! Okay, you must have a terribly fun job;)