A meteor expert shares career lessons inspired by the moon landing

Fifty years ago, this week (July 20, 1969), American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans to land on the moon. Six hours later Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon and famously said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Darryl Pitt, who perhaps has the coolest job title on the planet – Chair Meteorite Division – of the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum, spoke with Ladders about some of the cooler things to be learned from the Apollo moon landing.

Know your niche

Pitt says the museum’s founder, Dr. Larry Stifler, asked him to become involved to create the meteorite component. “I am fortunate to count many of the best meteorite hunters in the world as friends,” Pitt said. He was charged with attempting to assemble the greatest collection of lunar meteorites on Earth. “The fact that the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum has more of the Moon than the 10 largest natural history museums in the world combined is extraordinary.”

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Lunar lesson learned: Even if your dream job seems out of your stratosphere, you have a better chance of succeeding if you have an ally or two nearby. And depending on your goals, your shared talents might actually allow you to overtake even the fiercest competition.

Explore new possibilities

Whether it’s deep space or a new career, “exploration of any kind is critical to our growth as individuals and as a species,” Pitt said. “The appeal in the exploration of Interplanetary space is in part due to its existential qualities. However, while gazing at the night sky can be magical and transport us out of our routines, one should not explore new possibilities without making certain one takes care of where we are — whether in a relationship or on the planet in which we live.”

Lunar lesson learned: If you’re not happy where you are, you should probably explore other opportunities. But be realistic. Don’t cut immediately all ties at your current job or aim so high that you end up falling flat.

Take another look

Sometimes the newness of an opportunity seems dazzling that you lose sight of crucial aspects. “One thing that grounds me is the exercise of confining myself to a space to explore the possibilities previously unseen,” Pitt said. In some way, limiting himself allows him to see and experience more. “There are always more possibilities than what we first see, and we need to take the time to look closely as we also explore the unknown. I personally believe the greatest service space exploration provides is in igniting young people’s desires to explore whatever it is for which they have a passion.”

Lunar lesson learned: Sometimes you need permission to dream big. Other times you might need a nudge or reminder to have another look at what’s already right in front of you.

You’ll need to prepare

If you look at space exploration as a metaphor, dreaming about reaching Mars almost seems like hoping for that next big promotion. “The colonization of Mars will happen, it’s inevitable, but we better learn to take better care of our planet more quickly than the colonization of others,” offers Pitt. Additionally, “Going to a planet whose environment is hostile to human life is not like the Pilgrims coming to America. Simply expressed, civilization on another world without air will not be life as we know it.”

Lunar lesson learned: This is a tough one, especially if you’ve been dreaming about the next career bump. But before you ask for that promotion, try to understand what’s really involved in the next level and make sure you’re ready for it. More than that, make sure your ducks are all in a row at your current job. The last thing you need is to leave a mess behind.

Keep a sense of wonder

Why is it that we’re so excited with whatever is brand new and then move onto the next thing? “We take for granted that with which we’re familiar,” Pitt said, before adding this completely mind-blowing fact. “I have handled quite a bit of the Moon — actually, there are very few people that have handled more — and I periodically have to do an internal reset to appreciate that which I initially found to be so extraordinary.” But sometimes Pitt needs to do a full reset. “As it regards the Moon, what helps to remind me of how extraordinary and powerful a piece of Moon can be is by witnessing the thrill it provides to others when I place a piece of the Moon in their hands.  More people need to be able to touch the Moon.  It’s an experience one does not forget.  I’ve inadvertently created traffic jams at TSA when I explain the rock with which I am traveling is a piece of the Moon.”

Lunar lesson learned: Allow yourself to be both amazed and amazing at times. When eight of the remaining Apollo astronauts gathered for an anniversary photograph, the majority dressed in classic tuxedos. Eighty-nine-year-old Buzz Aldrin – the second man to walk on the moon – wore a silver suit with a rocket ship pattern, American flag socks, four gold rings, and two watches.