‘To infinity and beyond:’ Buzz Aldrin book offers life lessons

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Buzz Aldrin (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — One small step for man. One giant page-turner for mankind?

Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, is offering advice in the new book  “No Dream is Too High: Life Lessons from a Man Who Walked on the Moon.”

“We need people who can think with some imagination, think out of the box. That’s what I pride myself in,” Aldrin told WTOP, before launching into a joke. “My middle name is ‘Innovation.’ Buzz Innovation Aldrin. Well, I was gonna make it Buzz ‘Lightyear’ Aldrin, but I’d have to get permission [from Pixar and Disney]. Now of course, they didn’t get my permission to use my name.”

It’s true, “Toy Story” (1995) named Tim Allen’s animated astronaut after Aldrin, who loves knowing his legacy will live on beyond the history books with a pop-culture touchstone for a new generation.

“To infinity and beyond,” Aldrin said with pride.

His new book — running 219 pages and published by National Geographic Partners LLC — is co-written by nonfiction author Ken Abraham, who previously co-wrote Aldrin’s memoir “Magnificent Desolation,” as well as collaborations with Bob Dole, Chuck Norris and George Foreman.

In “No Dream is Too High,” each chapter highlights one of Aldrin’s life principles:

  • The sky is not the limit … There are footprints on the Moon!
  • Keep your mind open to possibilities.
  • Show me your friends, and I will show you your future.
  • Second comes right after first.
  • Write your own epitaph.
  • Maintain your spirit of adventure.
  • Failure is always an option.
  • Practice respect for all people.
  • Do what you believe is right even when others choose otherwise.
  • Trust your gut … and your instruments.
  • Laugh … a lot!
  • Keep a young mindset at every age.
  • Help others go beyond where you have gone.

“When I was a boy, some people regarded the statement, ‘The sky is the limit,’ as a positive affirmation, implying that anything is possible,” Aldrin wrote. “The truth is, the sky is not the limit … I know the sky is not the limit, because there are footprints on the moon — and I made some of them — so don’t let anyone denigrate and inhibit your lofty aspirations.”

But lofty aspirations aren’t anything without persistent follow-through.

“Determination, dedication, set an objective, put a time on it and have a plan,” Aldrin said.

Perhaps most fitting is Aldrin’s take on teamwork, saying it doesn’t matter that he was the second man on the moon any more than Neil Armstrong was the first and Michael Collins was the pilot.

“The first man, second man, third man, fourth man, what difference does it make? … We need to work together as a team. Neil and I were a team,” Aldrin said of his late lunar colleague who died in 2012.

While his “second man” order doesn’t matter, he thinks “second place” finishes can teach resiliency.

“You don’t get everything you want the first time around. But don’t walk away with a sad look on your face. Try, try again. If that’s what you really want to do, put [in] your biggest effort,” Aldrin said.

His road to making history wasn’t easy; Aldrin isn’t shy about the obstacles he’s overcome.

“Inherited tendencies for depression led to alcoholism,” Aldrin said. “I have 37 years of sobriety now, and I’ve switched my attention to making space better, making the U.S. position in space better. I took an oath to serve my country. That’s what guided me throughout all my life.”

He says we need to start by stressing math and science more in our nation’s schools. But being an outspoken political conservative, Aldrin remains wary of a “big government” approach.

“We’re not at the top anymore in educating our young people. We don’t want more funding from the federal government to tell us what to do in education. The states should be doing that, the local communities should be doing that. We’ll have standards that people need to make … but how they make them and who they make them with shouldn’t be decided by Washington D.C.,” Aldrin said.

While he remains fiscally conservative overall, he does want more federal funding for NASA.

“A little more than one half a percent,” he said. “But we’ve got a big debt. We’ve made some errors in the past in the space program. We wouldn’t be in the pickle we’re in now, but we’re only given a little bit of money, and actually we’re spending it on the wrong things because that’s all we can afford.”

So if the space program ever does receive a funding increase, how would Aldrin like it spent?

“We need to fund a cycling spaceship as a permanent orbit of one or more gravitational fields, since the design of a cycling spaceship is going to carry us from Earth to Mars … Then we’re going to get the public used to Cycling Pathways to Mars — that’s the name of my program — and it’s continuous, sequential, evolutionary and it gets us where we really want to go,” Aldrin said.

This “cycling pathways” network would consist of rapid-transit cycling spaceships to harness the power of “gravity assist” — a theory you’ve seen in films from “Apollo 13” to “The Martian” — using a slingshot approach to catapult vessels of astronauts and cargo from place to place in space.

Aldrin’s goal is to use this “cycling” system to put a man on Mars by 2040.

“If we use refueling at the moon — which people haven’t been thinking about — we can make other nations able to go to the moon much better than Apollo,” Aldrin said.

Regardless of what the future holds for NASA, Aldrin knows he’s had one incredible life.

“Look at how lucky I have been to be on Earth at this time,” Aldrin said. “My mother was born the year the Wright Brothers flew. My father is an aviation pioneer. I got to fly in combat after witnessing World War II. I was on alert with nuclear weapons in Europe. I got selected because of my scuba diving as somebody to train underwater for space walking. Then, I got to be on the first crew that went to the moon. And what am I doing now? I’m preparing for the next big mission.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Buzz Aldrin (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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