Editor's note: Buzz Aldrin's name was corrected in this story from Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. Aldrin had his first name legally changed to Buzz.
Buzz Aldrin, now the last living member of the first moon landing, encouraged students Monday at the Schaumburg elementary school named after him that it isn't too late for America to eclipse even the achievements of Apollo 11.
“I'm just so happy to be here again at my namesake school,” he told an assembly of all approximately 670 students at Aldrin Elementary School.
He recounted for the first- through sixth-graders the history of 20th-century aviation and how unlikely a goal it was when President John F. Kennedy committed in 1961 to landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
Aldrin said the story really began when the Wright Brothers first successfully flew an airplane in 1903, the year his mother — Marion Moon — was born.
“Sixty-six years later, Neil (Armstrong) and I stepped on the moon, fulfilling the dreams of millions,” Aldrin said.
He emphasized how the Apollo space missions were a team effort that required a lot of individual effort and coordination from every member. Aldrin told of his own intensive technological and flying training and how he was passed over as an astronaut the first time he applied.
But when the mission came together and he sat expectantly in the cockpit of the Apollo 11 rocket, he was able to reflect on how all the choices and hard work of his life had come together.
“I had a chance, looking out over the waves of Cocoa Beach, to think how wonderful my life had been,” Aldrin said. “I had really been in the right place at the right time. I hope in your lives you will be in the right place at the right time to do wonderful things.”
He told his audience that he actively advocates for something he calls STEAM power — a re-emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics in American education.
With today's children taking up these disciplines, he believes there can be a continuous expanding human presence in space with the U.S. providing the global leadership.
His own company right now is working on a lunar base that can be used as a testing ground for a permanent colony on Mars.
“So when people go down to land on Mars, they're not coming back — they're settlers!” Aldrin said.
He told students he wishes for them the same excitement of discovery his generation — as well as he himself — has known.
“We can do these things, again,” he said. “I know, because I'm living proof of being involved in great things.”
Aldrin spoke about the experience of being on the moon with Armstrong — who passed away last month — but wouldn't comment on whether Armstrong stepped out first because he was the mission commander or simply because he was closest to the door.
He also acknowledged the historic photo of himself on the moon with the reflection of his shadow, Armstrong and the lunar module in his visor, and told students the “three reasons” it was so important.
“Location, location, location,” he grinned.
“You don't get that,” he apologized to the youngsters. “Your teachers will explain it to you.”
Despite attending a school named after Aldrin, students said they learned a lot more about him and what he'd accomplished from his visit.
“I learned that he always loved to fly, and how he never gave up,” said 9-year-old Yosli Escobedo. She added that these were things even fourth-graders can understand and aspire to.
Her classmate, Alex Masouridis, 9, said he'd been inspired to look at a book on Aldrin in anticipation of the visit. But he learned even more about the former astronaut from his presentation Monday.
Aldrin told adult members of the audience on his way out how he hopes for a president to one day have the political will to embark on a mission to Mars. Such a president would ensure a place in the history books for him or herself, as well as for all those who will participate in the mission, Aldrin said.
“Let me tell you, that's a big deal!” he said.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.