Buzz Aldrin Talks Science Education at UAA
Science and engineering students gather to hear former astronaut speak
ANCHORAGE - In the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program building at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, an excited crowd gathered Friday to meet a living legend.
Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo 11 astronaut and the second man to ever walk on the moon, visited the UAA campus Friday to promote science education.
Aldrin was asked the usual questions about walking on the moon, and what it was like to have moon dust on his space suit. And in advocating for science education, he talked about how modern technology can help students reach the stars.
“If you want to control something mechanically, on the moon or on Mars, like a robot, you better get human intelligence fairly close to it, to beam it,” Aldrin said. “All of that kind of stuff is what kids learn early on.” Building a simple robot can happen at an early age, Aldrin said, while learning the intricacies of making earth-to-moon communication work can come later.
It’s that kind of application of science and engineering to real-world issues that created ANSEP at UAA.
“The engineering degrees and science degrees are really teaching those students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers,” said Michael Bourdukofsky, the chief operations officer at ANSEP.
He hoped students majoring in any area of science—even if that science doesn’t “necessarily directly relate to astrophysics”—could draw inspiration from the astronaut.
“The experiences Buzz has had, that he can share with these students, I hope will motivate and encourage and inspire them to set high goals for themselves and do really well in their science and engineering careers.”
“Determination, effort, and approach,” Aldrin repeated to the students as he continued answering their questions. It was an approach he said got him through his education at West Point and MIT, and eventually, to the moon.
But he also encouraged his audience to apply those ideas to what he thinks is the future of space exploration: a combination of efforts from NASA as well as private companies like SpaceX. And that future, Aldrin said, should include developing a new shuttle, eventually a trip to Mars, and something even more audacious, “to land Americans for permanence on the planet Mars.
“And when you think of that, that's a big deal! When I say permanence, I mean humans from the Earth going somewhere else in our solar system and living there.”
As he discussed his post-NASA career, Aldrin also spoke candidly about overcoming depression and alcoholism. It was a message that resonated with sophomore biology major Joanna Semaken from Unalakleet. “That's cool to know,” she said. “You know, a lot of Alaskans, they're not alone in that kind of problem, and with that, he’s a role model to us all, to all Alaskans, that we can overcome those issues and be successful like he is.”
“I know he's done a lot” in his science career, Semaken said. “There's a lot of chemistry and a lot of science in this, and it makes me feel… there are other opportunities for me.”