Tag Archives: Explorers Club

Richard Wiese, Michael Collins, And The Men On The Moon

The death of Michael Collins this week brought new appreciation for the “third man” of Apollo 11. The Air Force colonel who piloted the spacecraft Columbia 60 miles high while fellow astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon was remembered for his unique role, his grace and kindness, and the eloquence with which he described his singular mission.

News of Collins’ death brought warm memories for Richard Wiese.

The Weston resident — whose Westport-based “Born to Explore” television programs have won many Emmy and other awards — served 2 stints as president of the Explorers Club. Since 1904 the New York organization has promoted scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space. Club members have been first to the North Pole, South Pole, the summit of Mount Everest, the deepest point in the ocean, and (you guessed it) the surface of the moon.

In 2019, Wiese wanted the Explorers Club to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in a memorable way. Armstrong died in 2012, but he assembled 8 astronauts from various Apollo missions, and several shuttle astronauts, including Katherine Sullivan — the first woman to walk in space.

The night before the big event with 1,500 guests, Wiese hosted a small dinner for those explorers and a few family members. He knew a few of them, but had never met Collins.

From left: Rusty Schweickart (Apollo 9), Ann Passer (former Explorer Club vice president), Michael Collins, Richard Wiese, Fred Haise (Apollo 13). (Photo/Felix Kunze)

The Columbia commander, a widower, brought 2 daughters. (Kate Collins is an actress best known for “All My Children.”)

“They all talked shop,” Wiese recalls. “Being a fly on the wall was sensational.”

After dinner they headed to the Explorers Club headquarters, for a new members’ reception. It was held in the newly renovated “Apollo Room.”

“When those 8 Apollo astronauts walked in, the seas parted,” Wiese says. “In the pantheon of explorers, they were it.”

Dedication of the Apollo room at Explorers Club headquarters. Michael Collins is 2nd from right; Richard Wiese is to the left.

He recalls Collins as “easy-going, gentle, a beautiful soul.” He told Wiese, “Everyone always says I was the lonely guy up there in space. I was fine. I wasn’t worried about myself. I just worried that if something happened to them, I’d have to return alone.”

“Five hundred years from now, when the 20th century is long gone, people will still remember the first time we left earth to walk on a celestial body,” Wiese says. “Michael Collins was a huge part of that.”

After he returned, Wiese adds, “He had a wonderful life. It was definitely well lived.”

8 Apollo astronauts gathered for an Explorers Club discussion.

As for Wiese: He’s traveled the world, exploring the land and sea. The Brown University graduate has cross country skied to the North Pole and lived with pygmies in Uganda and aboriginals in Australia; he even helped discover 202 forms of new life in the 1st microbial survey of Central Park. When he was 11 years old, Wiese climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with his father.

Yet even before that, he dreamed of space.

In 1969, a week before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon — and Michael Collins flew above it — Wiese turned 10 years old. He had just gotten a telescope.

“I looked at the moon, hoping to see them on it,” he remembers. “I never, ever imagined that one day I’d be able to meet men who went there.”

Astronauts met with the children and grandchildren of Explorers Club members. Michael Collins is nearest to them. The last of the 12 men to have walked on the moon returned to earth decades before these youngsters were born.

As They Say In Bengali: ধন্যবাদ

Richard Wiese has spent his career bridging cultural gaps.

Traveling to all 7 continents, he’s tagged jaguars in the Yucatan jungles, led expeditions to the Northern Territory of Australia, joined the largest medical expedition ever conducted on Mt. Everest, discovered 29 new life forms on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and cross-country skied to the North Pole.

The Weston resident is host and executive producer of “Born to Explore,” the award-winning PBS television series produced on Main Street. He’s also in his 3rd term as president of the Explorers Club, a 116-year-old international organization dedicated to the 4 corners of the earth — plus oceans and outer space.

Richard Wiese in Borneo, with a wild orangutan.

Yet on Tuesday, Wiese created an important cross-cultural connection with just one person: the woman sitting next to him on a plane, stuck on the tarmac in Oslo.

Via Bangladesh.

The woman was brought on the Norwegian Air flight in a wheelchair. When she was seated, a flight attendant spoke to her in English. It was clear to Wiese that no matter how slowly she talked, his seatmate did not understand a word.

The woman fumbled with her phone. Wiese was able to figure out she was from Bangladesh.

He typed, “Can I help you?” — and then used Google Translate to ask the question in Bengali.

Flying the friendly skies: Richard Wiese and his seatmate.

The woman wanted her son to know she was on the flight, as they waited out a delay.

Wiese contacted her son — in Bangladesh.

Weise then learned she was lactose-intolerant. “That was an unusual translation,” he says. He told a flight attendant, who found a special meal for her.

Wiese texted the woman’s son when they landed, and made sure she got off the plane okay.

A screenshot of Richard’s texts.

“JFK is not the friendliest place in the world,” he notes. It was nice she had someone who cared — even if he “spoke” Bengali only with a smartphone.

“It felt good to help someone,” Wiese adds. “It was as easy for me to do that as it was to answer emails. And it’s nice to know you can use your phone for something other than that, and games.”

Richard Wiese: Truly Born To Explore

Richard Wiese has eaten rotten shark in Iceland. (“It’s putrid — the worst food I’ve ever had.”)

He’s gone to sea with the only commercial fisherwoman in Chile. (“She was so subdued at first. Out on the water, she turned into Meryl Streep.”)

He’s slopped through dung-filled dye pits in Morocco. (“Places no one would go.”)

He’s traveled all over the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. With a tiny crew — 2 cameramen, a sound guy and a producer — he films astonishing stories of unheralded people and places.

After each trip — up to a half dozen a year — Wiese heads home to Westport. There — in a small warren of offices on the 2nd floor next to Bobby Q’s restaurant — he and a staff of 4 turn the footage into 26 annual episodes of “Born to Explore.” The fascinating Saturday morning TV show is entering its 5th season on ABC.

A world map inspires Richard Wiese in his Westport office.

A world map inspires Richard Wiese in his Westport office.

Most Westporters have no idea that the show is planned, organized and edited right here in Westport.

Those who do may not realize how successful it is. “Born to Explore” has been nominated for 11 Daytime Emmys. According to Wiese, only Ellen DeGeneres has more for syndicated shows.

And she’s got more folks doing her hair than Wiese has trotting the globe.

“Born to Explore” is an apt title. Wiese’s father — a Pan Am pilot — was the 1st man to solo the Pacific Ocean in a plane.

Wiese himself climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with his father at 11 years old. In 2002 he became the youngest president ever of the Explorers Club. He’s been on the go — cross country skiing to the North Pole, living with pygmies in Uganda and aboriginals in Australia, even helping discover 202 forms of new life in the 1st microbial survey of New York’s Central Park — after graduating from Brown University.

Richard Wiese first climbed Kilimanjaro at age 11. He's been back, as this poster in his office attests.

Richard Wiese first climbed Kilimanjaro at age 11. He’s been back, as this poster in his office attests.

“Born to Explore” followed the publication of Wiese’s guidebook of the same name. He’d watched a lot of “exploring” TV shows. They all seemed sensationalized, or “lacking authenticity.” His goal was to show not only scenery and convey discovery, but to offer an understanding of the rich diversity of people around the world.

Litton Entertainment was looking for exactly that kind of programming. A strong partnership was formed (though Wiese retains full editorial control).

Since “Born to Explore” debuted, Wiese says, the cultural component has grown even more important. “We think we’re helping change perceptions of the Arab world, Africa” and other misunderstood places, he notes.

Last fall, during a Turkish crisis with Syria, Wiese was filming in Turkey. “The people were so warm and non-threatening,” he says. In Africa, he met a wonderfully intelligent 11-year-old Zulu girl. Wiese would “put her against anyone at Staples High School.”

With 3 young children at home in Weston, Wiese says, his shows also reflect “an appreciation for mothers everywhere.”

Richard Wiese respects everyone -- and connects with people everywhere. This photo was taken in South Africa.

Richard Wiese respects everyone — and connects with people everywhere. This photo was taken in South Africa.

“Born to Explore” is filmed from Belize to Botswana, Iceland to Indonesia. But many of the ideas are generated at 42 Main Street, simply by looking at a large map of the world.

Another idea came from Jim Fowler, of “Wild Kingdom,” “Today” and “Tonight” show fame. Visiting the Westport office, he suggested a show about the northernmost alligator on the planet.

Developing an idea is one thing. Then comes the hard part: finding guides, getting permits, figuring out how to reach interior Africa or South America.

Handling horses in snow is one of Richard Wiese's many talents.

Handling horses in snow is one of Richard Wiese’s many talents.

But Wiese and his staff are creative — before and during each shoot. There is no script. “We make on-the-spot decisions, and proceed,” Wiese says with pride.

The approach works. “We see the world in such a different way than if we were tourists,” he explains. “We meet such salt-of-the-earth people.”

They may not speak a common language. But Wiese, his crew and the men, women and children they film communicate through food, music, art and nature. “If you share a meal with someone, you understand them,” he says.

On most exploring shows, Wiese says, “the host is a superhero who survives everything. Well, that person doesn’t exist.” Although Wiese comes close to being superhuman.

So what’s it like — after traveling the world — to come back to Westport?

Wiese — who grew up across the Sound, on Long Island — loves it. “Life is about seeing the world, wherever you are.”

One of his favorite spots — anywhere — is Compo Cove. The other night, he and his son fished in Sherwood Mill Pond.

Sounds as if — like his father and grandfather — the young boy is born to explore.

"Born to Explore," on a Moroccan sand dune.

“Born to Explore,” on a Moroccan sand dune.