Quarantine Lessons- Learned From An Astronaut!

“Success is part planning, part preparing for the unplanned, part good fortune… Together, we will get through this. Together, we will again look back and marvel at what we have done.” –  Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin– one of the first 2 Humans to walk on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969- has posted this Reflection in Florida Today, pointing out the similarities with Covid-19 Quarantine and his Post Apollo 11 Quarantine-  Many similarities!

“We Americans are resilient, never more than when challenged with something new, a big problem to figure out.  Even in a crisis — this one tied to our health, safety, and economic well-being — we tend to shine. With time on our hands, let’s use it well.

“Time on My Hands” is a famous song title used by Bing Crosby. Today, we have it in spades. The key is using it well, adapting to social isolation, keeping perspective, being content, productive and peaceful, despite the layered stress.

Returning from Apollo 11’s moon mission, Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and I quarantined for three weeks. You may think that was easy, relatively speaking. After all, our quarantine was not open-ended. We knew it would end.  

In containment, we first occupied a trailer, then the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, with room enough to stretch our feet. That was after eight days and three hours in Apollo 11’s capsule, interior space of 210 cubic feet, roughly three big refrigerators.

Remembering post-moon quarantine, the feeling is fresh again of being “so close, yet so far” from socializing — a memory that comes with life lessons learned, and not expected.

We were quarantined, of course, as part of the mission. We voluntarily isolated before flight, so doctors would not attribute an ailment carried into space as a bug caught on the moon. As it turned out, we were healthy going up, healthy afterwards. 

On return, we were isolated to prevent spread of possible lunar bacteria, a remote possibility. Just as we are quarantining today to prevent coronavirus, we were “contained” on return.

At first, downtime was welcome. During flight, we were busy and weightless, focused on action, working checklists, managing jobs in the capsule, lunar module, command module, and on the moon. Once back, we debriefed, got submerged in paperwork, prepared next steps.

Soon, like today, we got bored. We read magazines, played cards, filled in reports, reviewed the mission, talked remotely with family, friends and doctors through glass.  Window visits were boring as now.

Worse, we did not have computers for work or entertainment. We did not have mobile phones, computer games, apps, cable news, sports, education, or entertainment stations.  We had lots of time, and eagerness to get beyond the quarantine.

We also had ourselves — the ability to revisit events together, think through what was transpiring, imagine what lay ahead. We compared our time, offered observations to scientists, reporters and public, then planned for what we might do when released. For much of this time, we did what you are doing now: chilled.

However, from that experience flowed lessons. Some apply today at this unique moment in American and world history.  We are not just back from the moon, although many may feel as displaced as if on the moon. Still, post-moon quarantine was educational.

First, we realized life is not always lived at light speed. Sometimes, bounded by times of excitement, we must slow.  Slowing permits a look back on what have been doing, a chance to calibrate past events, consider how best to move forward.  That kind of pause is seldom voluntarily but can be a well-disguised blessing.

Going out and back to the moon, we knew we had completed an important mission.  We knew we were lucky.  Success is part planning, part preparing for the unplanned, part good fortune. 

We had experienced all three. Quarantine gave us time to reflect on the fact.  Our training served us well.  When the lunar module’s ascent engine’s circuit breaker snapped, we improvised using a simple pen to ignite the engine. That was unplanned, but it worked. 

On moon landing, we had to recalibrate quickly. We landed half a mile from the planned site. Neil’s piloting, crew coordination, and luck got us down — less than 30 seconds of fuel left.  Call it what you wish, but we were fortunate.  In quarantine, we reflected on our blessings.

Second, we got a chance to share perceptions with each other, just among ourselves.  We had the benefit of learning from and appreciating each other being sounding boards, cross-check, and corroboration for shared experiences.

That second advantage of isolation may seem small, weighed against boredom, frustration, and emotions tied to anticipating release, but shared experience offers room for mutual reflection, appreciation and affirmation of events. That, too, is a blessing.

Last, in containment we looked ahead, planning for what came next.  We used time to reflect but also to imagine the future, when doors reopened.  We contemplated returning to freedom to socialize, travel, be part of that world we had left behind just as we do today.

Call these simple observations, but we have a chance with “time on our hands” to appreciate those with whom we are going through this, in some cases helping them do so.  And we can look ahead with purpose.  Small matters, but true all the same.

Last, we should laugh, now and then. Faced with frustration, restraint, stress, adversity, and boredom, laughter helps.  Leaving the moon, I noted we seemed to be “No. 1 on the runway,” a throwaway.  Laughter helps defuse stress.  On return, we looked back, around and forward.  We also laughed, just look at us in those quarantine photos. 

In this vein, my bottom line. Like many of you, I aim to avoid catching and spreading COVID-19, so am self-quarantining. Like you, no moon rocks surround me now.  Unlike when we walked on the moon and the world looked up, today I look up to Americans, pulling together to pull through.  Together, we will return to where we started, safe and grateful for each other and for this great country. 

For now, let’s say we take one small step to produce another giant leap for America. Having taken “social distancing” to practicality at the moon, today’s quarantine seems manageable. 

Together, we will get through this. Together, we will again look back and marvel at what we have done.”

-Buzz Aldrin

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