Buzz “Lightspeed” Aldrin: Rocket Hero

19 09 2010

Buzz Aldrin's commercial brand. (Credit: Buzz Aldrin/StarBuzz, LLC)

If there’s one guy that isn’t slowing down with age, it’s legendary Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin.  Shortly after I returned to town last weekend, my wife discovered that he was doing a book signing at the Luxor Hotel here for his new memoir/autobiography, Magnificent Desolation.

And let me tell you, a new book only scratches the surface of what the Second Man on the Moon has been doing with his spare time in recent years.  Aside from starting a new company (StarBuzz, LLC), a secondary non-profit, and a new licensing brand of “Rocket Hero” merchandise, he is now one of the most vocal champions of the private space initiative.

At 80, that ain’t bad.

Me meeting Buzz Aldrin at a signing at the Luxor Hotel. (Credit: Jordan McGee -my awesome wife!)

So, as soon as my wife tracked down the details (she’s awesome!), we headed downtown.  To our great fortune, word hadn’t yet gotten out and we were amongst the first in line.  Now, I know there aren’t ordinarily opportunities for conversations at book-signings – it’s a cattle herding ordeal.

As a long-shot, I decided to wear my UND Aerospace t-shirt, (where I’m currently attending grad school,) knowing that Buzz was instrumental in creating the program.  It paid off, triggering a brief but lively exchange about the program, including a rivalry with Embry-Riddle I wasn’t aware of(!).

The man actually stood on another world.  Meeting him in person makes my ambitions feel all the more real, and consequently, all the more attainable.

So, here’s to Buzz, Rocket Hero, an inspiration to all of us starry-eyed NewSpace hopefuls and an example that age doesn’t have to mean slowing down!

Astrowright Academy, t-minus 30 days

17 07 2010

The UND Constellation spaceflight simulator. Credit:

Well, it’s official.  I’m accepted, registered, and signed up to begin the University of North Dakota’s Master’s of Science in Space Studies program this fall.  The program is the first of its kind in the country, starting in the 1980s with state-of-the-art facilities, simulators, and a breadth of interdisciplinary course offerings, from orbital dynamics to the management of space organizations.

An overview of the history of the program can be found here.

I’m hoping to find a way to unify my geology and planetary science background with my current professional experience in radiation physics to make a mean astronaut cocktail – which sounds frankly like an untapped synergy in the current astronaut-hopeful pool.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I’ve been waiting to be a part of a program like this my entire life.  =)

Destination: Space (w/ layover in North Dakota?)

21 04 2010

I (finally) submitted my application to the University of North Dakota’s Space Studies program yesterday after nearly a semester of delays in doing so, for largely personal reasons.  (It’s amazing how life can rear its head and sap precious time…)

In any event, I imagine that one of the most obvious questions at this point is, “Why North Dakota?”  Well, this is an all-too-familiar question and situation to me, so let me back up a step.  I earned my bachelor’s degree at the University of Wyoming.  I often get, “Why Wyoming?” …

Wyoming Infrared Observatory, where I recorded volcanic eruptions on Jupiter's Moon Io w/ Dr. Robert Howell in 2000.

The year is 1999.  I’ve just graduated high school and am Cambridge-bound.  Then came the crushing rejection letter from MIT, (which I was assured by my counselors, etc., was all but an impossibility.)  After some frantic soul-searching, I found the University of Wyoming, which was one of the few universities in the country to offer an undergraduate astrophysics option with a wicked infrared observatory.  Added to it was the promise of cold winters (I was sick of the desert,) cross-country skiing, (which would become a hobby of mine,) fresh air, trees – everything a nature-inclined desert rat could want out of a place.  It also happened to be in a western college network that would essentially trim admission down to what my scholarships would already cover.  A substantial savings over MIT.  –And, as fate would have it, UW has one of the nation’s premier geology programs as well, which would turn out to be a coup when I would switch to planetary geology.  Because UW was a smaller institution, the opportunities for involvement in research (e.g., BGP, AI Study) were unparalleled.  And, had I gone to MIT, I would have been tens if not over a hundred thousand dollars in the hole before I figured I wanted to switch majors.  Even though I didn’t realize it at first, Wyoming was exactly the right place for me at the right time.

Well, that brings us to now.  I’ve had my eye on the University of Arizona’s School of Earth and Space Exploration ever since I attended/presented at the “Dust Devils on Earth and Mars” astrogeology workshop there in 2005, but the simple reality is I can’t leave my job/bills/house/life to attend school in Arizona.  -At least for the immediate future, I’m a Vegas resident – so I’ve been biding my time with side research and professional experience.  Suddenly, I discovered just months ago that the University of North Dakota (and I can’t believe I didn’t discover them sooner – I suppose I was hyperfocused on Arizona…) has an amazing distance masters of science program in Space Studies that I could actually complete from here.  The program is also affordable, to boot.  So, UND is in part a choice driven by convenience and necessity, but it also may actually be more ideal for me in the long run.  While I always imagined that strict Planetary Geology would be my ideal major, I’m beginning to think that the interdisciplinary approach is more beneficial and useful – I’ve had my eye on the private space industry for a while, and exposure to space law, policy, and corporate management issues can only be an advantage compared to a “strict scientist,” so-to-speak. 

Deja vu?  Even though I haven’t suspected it until now, have I found myself in exactly the right place at the right time once again?

Here’s hoping.

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