Having the opportunity to speak with and learn from some of the greatest leaders of our time is just one of the perks Lliam and I enjoy at our quarterly IT services industry meetings in Nashville. Their insight and observations are truly inspiring and in the case of Buzz Aldrin’s – out of this world. OK, that was a pun and probably not even a good one, but his insight was nonetheless thought-provoking so I want to share what we learned.
A Little History
Aldrin has always considered himself somewhat of an explorer and innovator. At age 2 he flew in a Lockheed Vega single-engine plane with his pilot father, an engineer and aviation pioneer who also happened to be friends with notable trailblazers such as Charles Lindbergh, Howard Hughes and Orville Wright. As a young adult, Aldrin served in the U.S. Air Force as a fighter pilot flying combat missions in the Korean War, and was later stationed in Germany flying F100s during the Cold War. His early exposure to and love of aviation set him on the path to becoming one of the first humans to land on the moon and the second to actually walk on the moon during the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. Oh, and his mother’s name was Marion Moon. You could say pioneering was his destiny.
Aldrin returned to the states shortly after Dwight D. Eisenhower established NASA, and Aldrin was determined to be a part of the space program. He enrolled in Massachusetts Institute of Technology earning a Doctorate in Astronautics. For his thesis, he drew upon his experience as a fighter pilot intercepting enemy aircraft to write about an intercept trajectory he devised to bring two spacecraft together in space. At the time, he had no idea how critical that work on a manned orbital rendezvous concept was going to be in one day facilitating a landing on the moon. Upon completion of his doctoral studies, Aldrin applied for but was rejected from NASA’s space program. Undeterred, he applied again and because there was great interest in his rendezvous concept, NASA accepted him into the Gemini program and later the Apollo program.
Together, People Can Accomplish the Impossible
“Apollo could never have happened without the cooperation and efforts of many people working toward a shared goal,” said Aldrin. “Mankind has dreamed for centuries of reaching space but it wasn’t until the 20th century that man took to the air.”
He explained that John F. Kennedy, a huge proponent of the space program, actually wanted to shoot for Mars and tasked engineers at NASA to come up with a way to get there. After extensive calculations it was determined that Mars was a little out of reach at that time but the moon was more realistic. So in 1961, just three weeks after Alan Shepherd returned from space on the first manned Project Mercury flight, President Kennedy challenged America to commit to the goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
“At that time, the technology didn’t exist,” said Aldrin. “The rockets and spacecraft that were needed to go beyond earth’s orbit didn’t exist. Many thought the challenge was impossible. We didn’t have the know-how. But we did have a leader with the vision, the determination, the courage and the confidence that we could get there. And by publicly stating our goal and putting a specific time period on a very specific achievement, President Kennedy gave us no way out.”
4 Takeaways From Our Discussion with Buzz Aldrin
Share the Dream. As business owners, it is up to us to steer our ships to new frontiers. We too have to have the determination, courage and confidence to do the impossible. It is our responsibility to paint the picture for our team members and share the vision. For without vision, we will surely fail.
Stay the Course. Refuse to accept excuses and mediocrity even in the face of obstacles and setbacks. There was no escape hatch in President Kennedy’s requisition to win the space race and get to the moon before the Russians. With an eagle eye on the goal, business owners can help their team stay focused and never give up.
Set Milestones and Deadlines. Setting a realistic timeline by when certain projects should be completed and goals achieved will help your team stay on track.
Teamwork and Accountability. Aldrin emphasized the point that it took a team of thousands of people working toward the same goal and dream to make Apollo 11 possible. Apollo was the story of an entire country coming together for a common goal. “We were welcomed back as heroes,” he said. “But people weren’t cheering for three guys. Instead, they were cheering for what we represented – a nation and the world coming together to accomplish the impossible.” Likewise, each person needs to own a part of your company’s dream to see it to fruition. And to accomplish great things, we can’t do it alone – it takes a cohesive, committed team to do the impossible.
At 86, Buzz Aldrin is still dreaming big and has no plans to slow down or stop exploring. He recently journeyed to the Antarctica making him the oldest person ever to reach the South Pole. Through the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute at Florida Institute of Technology and his work with researchers and engineers at Purdue University, Aldrin is developing concepts that will help to one day colonize the red planet. “Why do we need to go to Mars? Why do we need a space program?” he asked. “Because by venturing into space, we improve life for everyone here on earth. Scientific advancements that come from space-based research creates many of the products that we use in our daily lives, such as cell phones, TVs, GPS, medical advancements. Many of these would not have been possible without the investment in space. Humanity needs to explore to push beyond our current limits just the way we did in 1969.”