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Happy Birthday, Buzz!

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
Neil A. Armstrong/NASA via AP

Dr. Buzz Aldrin turned 92 years young on Thursday – an age, despite being another year into the nonagenarian level, really doesn’t seem to slow him down. For younger generations, and for America writ large, this is a good thing. As we move further into the 21st century and unavoidably away from the great milestone accomplishments of the 20th – we increasingly value people like Buzz. This is especially as America’s place in the world is being challenged by competing nations, and as we wrangle domestically about who we are as a culture, a citizenry, and a country. We would do well to listen to and learn from Buzz while he’s still here.


Frankly, if we’re looking for a leadership model to follow we could do much, much worse than Buzz Aldrin. His accomplishments are well known – in fact, to say his life is one of seismic achievement would be an understatement. Starting life in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, Buzz went on to graduate from West Point with a degree in mechanical engineering and served as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War – flying 66 combat missions and downing two MiG-15s (one of the shoot-downs was captured on film and published in LIFE Magazine).

Of course, it is his legacy as an astronaut that we mostly know him for – and rightfully so, having made three spacewalks, serving as the pilot of Gemini 12 in 1966, and being one of three Apollo 11 crew members to accomplish the first moon landing. With the passing of Neil Armstrong and Micheal Collins, Buzz is the last surviving member of the Apollo 11 mission.

But the example that Buzz has set for all of us goes beyond the missions in space, or the combat time in the cockpit over Korea. It goes beyond the hours spent training at NASA, or in academia working out the tough mathematical small-perturbation orbital rendezvous methods and the unprecedented analysis needed to get to the Moon. The example that Buzz has set is one of constant drive, perseverance, and commitment to purpose.


He could have easily cashed out and hung up his spurs. But he’s still out there, now in his 90s, sounding the call, making the argument for why America needs to lead in space, why we can’t surrender our position or role, and why we need to press forth onto the next objective. For American national security, global leadership, historical awareness, and economic and industrial health moving into the 21st century, his voice carries weight. It is also inspiring the next generation of thinkers and doers to pick up the baton and carry us forward.

More broadly, this lifelong devotion to duty-to-country and a higher purpose is both admirable and something that we can all learn from – particularly when social and economic stability is uncertain, where global competitors seem to delight in our foibles, where creativity seems suppressed, where options for success seem restricted, and where real leadership and dignity have been supplanted with pettiness, cynicism and grievance. Against this backdrop – Buzz, and many others of his generation who are fortunately still by our side – remind us of who we can be, and what we can achieve if we think big, and doggedly press forth on a noble purpose that benefits all.

As we all search for what is right and what is true, and as we struggle to evaluate and sift what is important from what is not, just think about Buzz and his crewmates Neil Armstrong and Micheal Collins on Apollo 11, making life-or-death decisions on a venture never before undertaken, fraught with risk and uncertainty. Their experiences and trials were the kind of tough tests that we can, and should, reflect upon in order to both maintain a more level perspective on life and its challenges, and to help move us through our own difficulties. We can, in fact, look at what every previous generation had to go through – from the Great Depression and World War II, to the Cold War, to the struggle for civil rights – to gain a more informed understanding and appreciate real sacrifice and struggle.


All of this is not to sideline, ignore or diminish the accomplishments and contributions of other astronauts from the golden era of America’s path-blazing space program – it took hundreds of thousands of great Americans from academia, private industry, and government to turn scientific theory into the Apollo reality. But the inescapable fact is that most of those great and daring patriots have passed, and more and more are sadly leaving us every day. And with that reality in mind, we should observe, honor and learn from those who are still standing with us, and who offer so much of value.

So I say Happy Birthday, Buzz! – and thank you for your leadership and service, your tireless work to build interest in space, and your enduring contributions to human exploration and noble achievement. You have certainly inspired me.

It may be your birthday, but through it, those of us who chose to pick up the torch you lit and run with it – in all areas of human achievement – can reflect on a much greater cause.

Grant Anderson, P.E. is the President & CEO of Paragon Space Development Corporation, a recognized leader in life support and thermal control in extreme environments. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S. in Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering from Stanford University.

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