Bold Missions

Explorations at home and in space.



Roberto Gonzalez

Reflections on the Final Frontier, and matters closer to home:

• It was fascinating to hear Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, talk about space exploration during his recent visit to Central Florida as part of the observance of the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. Aldrin made an appearance at The Mall at Millenia’s OMEGA store (he’s a brand ambassador for the Swiss watchmaker) and at a dinner at Kennedy Space Center. He and fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong wore OMEGA Speedmaster watches to the moon. Unfortunately, Aldrin’s was lost or pilfered in transit to the Smithsonian.

Certainly the main focus during Aldrin’s visit was on the historic mission, but the 84-year-old astronaut had more on his mind; namely, Mars. He’s all in favor of exploring the red planet, with this twist: whoever goes to Mars stays on Mars—permanently. “If we send six people to stay a year and a half, and then bring them back, the world has spent billions of dollars,’’ Aldrin told me. “What possibly can they do that would be of more value to the world than staying on Mars?’’

He hopes the opportunity to establish a settlement on the planet will motivate a president to secure that legacy. “That would be a lot bigger than Kennedy,’’ Aldrin said, referring to JFK’s commitment in 1961 to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade. On the moon, “all we did was kick up a little dust and come back.’’

Trivia break: The maiden name of Aldrin’s mother was, you guessed it, Moon.

• Speaking of bold missions, the local Rethink Homelessness project is turning heads, particularly because of a series of videos that challenge stereotypes about the homeless. The videos are the work of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, and one, “Cardboard Stories,’’ has gone viral, drawing nearly 1.7 million views on YouTube in its first 13 days. Various homeless people were asked to write a fact about themselves that people who simply walked past them wouldn’t know. As the camera rolls, the writers hold up the signs, relaying messages that are jarring and poignant at the same time. Some examples:

“I once was a personal trainer.’’

“I was a figure skater.’’

“I am homeless and I DO have a job.’’

Perhaps the saddest: “I surrendered my kids to save them from homelessness.’’

“The main stereotype is that the homeless choose to be on the street, and they’re there because they make bad decisions,’’ says Andrae Bailey, the homelessness commission’s CEO. But research shows that many of the local long-term homeless have mental or physical disorders, including a large number of veterans. “Most of these people have experienced a tragedy that we could hardly imagine based on circumstances beyond their control,’’ Bailey says.

His group and local leaders are poised to take bold steps, including a project to provide permanent housing to the chronically homeless. In the meantime, check out the powerful videos at rethinkhomelessness.org and prepare to have the misconceptions blown away.

• Did that rabbit on the cover get your attention? We here at Pet Contest Central thought readers—who vote for their favorite online among finalists selected by the editors—would never pick anything but a dog for the cover. But Cooper certainly turned that notion on its head. Enjoy reading about him and the other contestants, who were perfect ladies and gentlemen during their photo shoots. Also, check out our Top Vets list, as well as stories on therapy dogs and pet obesity. Elsewhere, Joseph Hayes profiles five chefs on the rise, while Greg Dawson laments Orlando’s lack of walkability.

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