Buzz Aldrin was the second person to set foot on the moon, and Friday he went toe-to-toe with Alaska middle, high school and college students, encouraging them to doggedly follow their dreams through the pursuit of science.
They even outlined Aldrin's feet on the floor of the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program building at the University of Alaska Anchorage before Aldrin answered questions from the students -- who had gathered in Anchorage from Fairbanks, the Matanuska Valley and even Bethel.
While Aldrin spoke of the need for determination to succeed, questions from the students -- who ranged from middle school up to university level -- still focused on Aldrin's moon mission, showing that almost 50 years later the desire to explore remains strong. Aldrin, the lunar module pilot on the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, followed commander Neil Armstrong onto the lunar surface.
What are moon rocks like? Rough. Did he see a UFO? Probably not. Does he look at the moon differently now? A little bit, but he's not quite exactly sure where the Apollo mission landed by just viewing the moon.
Aldrin also took questions on how his mechanical engineering background helped shape him as an astronaut. Aldrin said it offered him perspective on the mechanics on flight, an important element in manning a spacecraft.
"I understood all mechanical things that needed to happen," Aldrin told the crowd. "Otherwise, it could get kind of messy."
Talking engineering was fitting, given the venue. Michael Bourdukofsky, Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program chief operations officer, said that the program, which focuses on science and engineering education for Alaska Native students, has grown from one student in 1995 to more than 1,000 middle, high school, college and alumni students today.
Bourdukofsky said having someone like Adrin speak to students offers a real-life perspective on how students who follow their dreams can succeed.
"It really helps reassure them in pursuing an engineering goal," he said.
Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com