There is a lot to love about Buzz Aldrin.
He was the second man to walk on the moon and punched a conspiracy theorist in the face for accusing him of lying about it (this is just about the only violence I completely condone). His nickname at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was “Dr. Rendezvous,” which I find delightful for reasons I can’t quite explain. He’s made cameo appearances in movies and TV shows, and he voiced a stargazer in one of the best video games ever, 2012’s Mass Effect 3.
But the 87-year-old retired astronaut stepped up into national treasure status this month after many years of awesomeness during one of President Donald Trump’s press events.
The actual event was a little lame. Trump signed an executive order June 30 to reinstitute the National Space Council, which is supposed to be an executive committee to help guide space programming, but doesn’t really seem to do anything concrete.
The acting NASA administrator, Robert Lightfoot, called the re-creation of the group a “demonstration of the Trump Administration’s deep interest in our work.” However, because Trump still hasn’t bothered to actually appoint a permanent administrator, continues to imply NASA’s lying about what its climate data means and spent the press event talking about privatizing space exploration, I feel like Lightfoot might be exaggerating things a bit.
Nonetheless, Buzz Aldrin, my favorite astronaut and all-around decent guy by all accounts, showed up to grace the national stage with his presence.
Much ado has been made over Aldrin’s barely-contained disdain and disbelief as he listened to Trump’s rambling speech. He makes the now-familiar puzzled and irritated look of anyone trying to make sense of the president’s remarks thrown into whatever his speech writers gave him.
My personal favorite quote from Trump’s speech is: “The human soul yearns for discovery by unlocking the mysteries of the universe. We have unlocked truths within ourselves. That’s true. Our journey into space will not only make us stronger and more prosperous, but will unite us behind grand ambitions and bring us all closer together. Wouldn’t that be nice? Can you believe that space is going to do that?”
It’s so completely obvious which words are his and which are not that I can’t help but giggle. Aldrin, on the other hand, just gives a wry smile as he raises his eyebrows in true adorable old man fashion.
I’m not here to talk about that, however. What truly makes Aldrin a treasure is that, despite 10 minutes of listening to truly ridiculous claims, absorbing Trump’s wisdom such as it is, he was still willing to help the president out of an awkward moment.
As Trump opened the folder containing the order and prepared to sign, he started in on meaningless babble about space, saying, “There’s a lot of room out there, right?”
I can’t be the only one who cringed, though a few people in the crowd behind him gave some forced chuckles. In an apparent effort to smooth things over, Aldrin quoted his Pixar namesake Buzz Lightyear, quipping, “To infinity and beyond.”
The remark drew some genuine smiles and laughs from everyone except the president, who clearly did not get the reference and wasn’t about to let that be that.
Guys, if you don’t get a reference joke when you’re in a large group of people who do, the polite thing to do is nod and smile and let the moment pass without sticking your foot in your mouth — and then ask someone later what it was about. Instead, Trump, who seems to be incapable of picking up on social cues, responded, “This is infinity here. It could be infinity. We don’t really know. But it could be. It has to be something, but it could be infinity, right?”
The remark sucked all the laughter and smiles from the room as everyone struggled to comprehend its absurdity.
Look, space is infinite. It’s kind of known for it, in fact. That’s why we call it “space.” While, judging by Aldrin’s face, he expected the president to be familiar with that, I’m completely unsurprised Trump hadn’t the slightest idea that space goes on forever.
But to not know “Toy Story” is baffling to me. Trump has kids and grandkids. How has he not seen the modern classic? I feel like he could learn a lot about the importance of setting your ego aside and working together with unlikely allies to save the day.
Clearly, I’m not the only one who was baffled, but Aldrin joined the rest of the room in letting it go and merely applauding.
Because he’s a national treasure.