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Learning from Buzz Aldrin and Apollo 11’s Time in Quarantine

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

Wonders never cease – nor historic lessons for applying to the present. As we endure this coronavirus quarantine, a certain hard-to-define comfort comes from knowing crews of Apollo 11, 12 and 14 went through this, too – 50 years ago. They are teaching us, even today. 


On return, the first three crews that walked on the moon got quarantined for three weeks – in order to protect the world against spread of moon bacteria.  In the process, they recalled recent events, helped each other process the novel experience, thought about the future.

While we have not recently been to the moon, we are going through a unique experience together, which provides a similar opportunity to do as those Apollo moonwalkers and command module pilots did – think about where we have been, are and want to be. 

The “where we have been” part surely involves reflecting on recent speed of American political disunion.  Maybe there is room for spinning down, healing wounds, rediscovering a sense of national unity, balance, bearing and ballast in an unwieldy, uncomfortable time of crisis. 

The “where we are” part involves processing current events with knowledge that we are not alone, that our experiences are oddly mirrored – both enjoyed and not enjoyed, certainly being wondered on – by most Americans and other nations around the world.  

That is an odd fact, like stopping to ponder that we are all breathing, moving on two legs, susceptible to the same diseases, have in common a troubling, frightening global revelation.  

A world that is usually defined by personal, not easily cross-applied experiences is suddenly defined by one shared experience.  Interestingly, watching men land and walk on the moon – although far more positive – was a similar moment of common global reflection. 


Finally, this shared moment of frustration and immobility is a moment for pondering our future – a time in which we can affect by planning what we make of it.  This may involve big and small plans.  In some ways, that too was part of what Apollo astronauts did in their confinement. 

Most interesting, in this time of global reflection, at least one Apollo astronaut is using his inexhaustible energies to raise money for charity, not letting one precious second pass unused. 

Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin, now 90, has stepped out again – as he did on the moon and at a recent State of the Union, this time to raise money for the Salvation Army by signing photos of Apollo 11’s crew in “quarantine” on USS Hornet – just after America’s first manned moon mission. 

From social media and public reports, he signed, numbered and dated 100 photos for the purpose of helping those affected by the crisis.  As one website reads:  “To help victims of COVID-19… Aldrin, Col USAF Ret. is donating all the sale proceeds of 100 autographed, limited-edition, numbered, Apollo 11 Crew Quarantine Prints, to the Salvation Army, to aid them in preparing and responding to community needs brought on by COVID-19.”

Others well known to the public are undertaking similar charitable activity, and it does lead to further thinking about who we Americans are.  We are cloistered, yet helping our fellow citizens get through this. We are focused on those battling this disease on the front lines. 


In these examples we are again learning – as the Apollo 11, 12 and 14 crews did – that slowing down can be positive.  By looking back, around and forward with circumspection, we are rediscovering how good and compassionate America is.  That may not speed the end to this crisis, or return us to prior normal, but the fact does offer consolation.  Americans are applying history and know-how to the present.   Wonders never cease!

Kent D. Johnson is a former F-15E Strike Eagle and A-10 Warthog fighter pilot, and a political-military adviser on the staff of the Secretary of the Air Force and senior US adviser to the commandant of the Royal Air Force think tank.  He is currently a defense studies adjunct at North Central Texas College.

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