Buzz Aldrin Interview: Thoughts on NASA's Mars Water Findings and Colonizing the Red Planet
Image attributed to Buzz Aldrin
Born January 20, 1930, in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., became an astronaut in 1963 and was chosen as a member of the three-person Apollo 11 crew that landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, fulfilling the mandate of President John F. Kennedy to send Americans to the moon before the end of the decade. Aldrin was the second American to set foot on the lunar surface, following mission commander Neil Armstrong. He also established a new record for extravehicular activity, spending five and a half hours outside the spacecraft after he and command pilot James Lovell were launched into space in Gemini 12. In addition, Aldrin lectures throughout the world on his unique perspective of America’s future in space.
In June 2014, Aldrin wrote an opinion that was published in The New York Times, supporting a manned mission to Mars. He is an author of several books including his autobiography entitled Magnificent Desolation and continues to inspire today’s youth with his illustrated children’s books: Reaching for the Moon and Look to the Stars. Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration was published in 2013, and it outlines his plan to get us beyond the moon and on to Mars.
"I’m sorry to say, but it is the public apathy that results in insufficient funding from our government that is interested in short-term interest rather than the fulfilling of the dreams of the young people of today who wish to see a return to the excellence that we had. The United States was a leader, but it is not anymore. We have found other interests in video games, smart phones, television and 'what’s in it for me right now' instead of 'what is the best investment for the future.'”
On September 1, 2015, Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet was published. As a rocket scientist who developed the orbital rendezvous technique critical to America’s moon landings and the Aldrin Mars Cycler, Aldrin plots out, in this children’s book, the path he proposes into an amazing future. Aldrin’s co-author, Marianne Dyson, is an award-winning author and became one of NASA’s first women flight controllers during the early Space Shuttle program.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Dr. Aldrin, it’s an honor and pleasure to speak with you. How are you?
Buzz Aldrin: Very good. I’m in sunny Manasquan, New Jersey, out at the Jersey shore a few days before I take off for South Korea. Where are you?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I live just a couple of hours away from the Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Dr. Wernher von Braun was instrumental in the development of the Center, of course, and In The Huntsville Times on May 15, 1950, the headline read: “Dr. von Braun Says Rocket Flights Possible to Moon.”
Buzz Aldrin: Yes. He helped us with the experience of the V-2 rockets, and he helped the Army missile center there in Huntsville and put together a great team that came up with eventually the Saturn V rocket that was so ably able to get us to the moon.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I was in my early teens in 1969 when my family and I gathered around the television to watch you walk on the moon.
Buzz Aldrin: It’s the ten-year-old, young, energetic people of today who will hopefully be landing on Mars to stay within decades of when Neil and I first landed on the moon. By 2040, hopefully you’ll still be around and watching it all happen.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I hope so. Why were you interested in writing children’s books?
Buzz Aldrin: I felt I needed to take advantage of people who knew how to write much better than I did, so I embarked on an autobiography, and that made it into a movie of the week called Return to Earth. I thought, “Well, this is fairly easy.” Then I moved on to several other books and a couple of children’s books, Reaching for the Moon and Look to the Stars, that were quite artistic in their rendition of attractiveness for elementary school types and wonderfully technically appealing because of the depth yet in understandable language that Marianne has been able to put into the vision that I have. It’s as if Marianne and I are there already, and we’re welcoming these people and telling them what they’re going to see as the early inhabitants of Mars.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I thought the book was well written and understandable for school-age children and above.
Buzz Aldrin: Marianne snuck in a number of things that surprised me like how you get the right things into space or orbit with international cooperation and then venture outwards, learning at the moon the bare essentials and the mechanical things we need to know to set up housing and support people. It may be several years before we even send people to the moons of Mars to make the final assembly and connections so that perhaps they can make a descent and be able to occupy and wait for a number of others to come in shortly afterward.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You spoke in the 1960s about a mission to Mars, so why has it taken so long to seriously discuss it just within the past few years?
Buzz Aldrin: I think our system of elected government brings in a new executive branch every four or eight years, and they need to reappraise what’s happened in the past and put their objectives in force. Of course, developing space activities is not a short-term activity. The Congress, in making a career out of political life, began to learn how to orchestrate back and forth and respond to the desires of their constituency and bring jobs back to their state or district by doing what you’d expect them to do to take care of the constituents in their location.
That doesn’t always provide the best long range plans for the United States because, understandably so, the political leaders are looking at their careers and getting re-elected, leaving a legacy behind. That’s not quite their requirements for a gradually expanding nation, attaining a status of leadership in the world, and then maintaining that status.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What do you think of President Obama cancelling the return-to-the-moon program?
Buzz Aldrin: I think the return-to-the-moon program was somewhat ill conceived right at the beginning. I tried to suggest that might happen as the results of the Shuttle Accident Board, and some of their recommendations that led to an action on the part of the country to make use of rockets that have been used in the space shuttle program and other implements to come up with a launching of the crew on a spacecraft that was being built by a company that had not built human spacecraft before.
The result was that the weight growth of that spacecraft forced a reappraisal of the rockets to put into space, and that those rockets didn’t quite satisfy us. But this is a good bit before the change of leadership, and so the constellation program was rather ineffective as the election of 2008 proceeded. After the election, President Obama looked at some of the disarray that existed in well-meaning efforts by President Bush, but they just didn’t pay out. So in cleaning that up, he made a statement that the moon was not our objective, but Mars was, and that might happen in our lifetime.
He specifically wanted to send a crew to an asteroid in 2025. Well, that’s the sort of thing I had submitted a year earlier as part of a growing plan toward Mars, but NASA, on some advice, decided, “Maybe that’s not the way to do it. Let’s bring a big rock back to the earth’s vicinity.” That resulted in an asteroid re-direct mission which is not looked upon by Congress as a very productive next step, and many of us agree. I came up with a substitute.
Instead of just criticizing something, you should come up with a way to do things better, and that’s been sort of the plan behind my what is now called “Cycling Pathways to Occupy Mars.” It starts in 2018 by putting a readily available inflatable habitat into orbit that can grow to be a new commercial station as the International Space Station ages and is terminated. Then establish stations on either side of the moon and help other nations by assembling habitats as they’ve landed and hooking them together because that’s what we need to know how to do at Mars.
We’ll practice that on the big island of Hawaii and distribution around the different missions to international countries will be well on our way, not competing with people, but bringing them together as only the United States is able to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s the biggest obstacle to overcome in order to colonize Mars?
Buzz Aldrin: I’m sorry to say, but it is the public apathy that results in insufficient funding from our government that is interested in short-term interest rather than the fulfilling of the dreams of the young people of today who wish to see a return to the excellence that we had. The United States was a leader, but it is not anymore. We have found other interests in video games, smart phones, television and “what’s in it for me right now” instead of “what is the best investment for the future.”
The navigation of space was developed in the 60s and 70s by the groundbreaking technology that was explored then, but unfortunately that’s not resulting in a resurgence in human space flight, and human space flight leads to development of science and commercial activities and provides for the security of the nation.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are your comments concerning NASA’s recent confirmation of liquid water flows on Mars?
Buzz Aldrin: While the study does not prove that there is water at lower latitudes, it is certainly a strong indicator. I have long advocated for establishing a permanent human presence. In order to have people on Mars, we will have to have reliable sources of water on Mars. While there are clearly sources of ice on the poles, the presence of water at lower latitudes will make it much easier to establish permanent bases at scientifically and economically important locations at lower latitudes.
In my plan, I envision robotic systems would explore these water sources under the control of astronauts and perhaps taikonauts from a base on Phobos. This would enable us to establish with certainty that there was sufficient water to sustain human presence at specific locations, prior to using Cycling spacecraft to deliver astronauts and perhaps taikonauts to Mars at two-year intervals.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Many Americans in the 60s felt that there was too much money spent on the space program. Do you think that attitude was formed because of an inability to see the big picture?
Buzz Aldrin: Well, I think we did see the big picture, the United States and the Western world anyway. Faced with the threats of the Cold War, mutual assured destruction (MAD), we needed to enhance our technology, and as a result, there was a so-called “race into space” which the United States succeeded in winning and then developed things that could invite the Soviet Union for a U.S. joint mission with the Cosmonauts in 1975. That, of course, developed into years later, the International Space Station, and shared activities.
Unfortunately, we’re the one nation that got in the way of having China be a participant in the International Space Station. I think some of my recent discussions with the first Chinese in space can help lead toward a cooperation, a limited cooperation, with the Chinese in low earth orbit and beyond for human space flight for peaceful purposes. I believe that kind of cooperation can filter down and spread to the many terrestrial differences of objectives that are troubling to us today. We’ve got a whole lot of those with Russia, Chinese activities in the South China Sea and the Jihadism that is evolving in the Middle East.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did your interest in space begin as a child?
Buzz Aldrin: I certainly guess it did in a rather distant way with some of the science fiction stories about Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. My father was an aviation pioneer, and I had my first ride in an aircraft at age two with my father. Aviation was going to be my career. Following World War II as a teenager, I elected to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point and from there into flying at a time when, as an Air Force jet pilot, I was in the Korean War.
That was followed by a period at the new Air Force Academy which began operations in 1955, and I flew in Germany with advanced aircraft on nuclear alert in Europe in 1958-59 just after Sputnik. I followed that with studies at MIT where my father had received his doctor’s degree, and I wrote a thesis on “Manned Orbital Rendezvous” and developed the technique for piloted rendezvous of two spacecraft in orbit. These rendezvous techniques were looked upon favorably by NASA.
The next thing was that after being rejected once, I was accepted into NASA and flew my first mission in 1966. I trained in space walking by neutral buoyancy underwater because I was an avid scuba diver. The successes of that put me in position after the tragic Apollo fire which took the life of my very good friend from West Point, Ed White, and that developed into Neil Armstrong and me backing up Apollo 8, the first flight that went to the moon at the end of 1968.
Fortunately, the lunar module was reduced in weight so that when we were assigned to Apollo 11, it was qualified to make a landing. That is what Neil and I were able to do, with the help of Mike Collins in Columbia, so the Eagle of the United States made the first landing on the moon.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What was your scariest moment in all of your years as an astronaut?
Buzz Aldrin: Well, it was before I was an astronaut when I was in Korea and could’ve been intercepted as I went for home after shooting down my second MiG-15. That was scary because I realized that I was all alone, and other aircraft could’ve easily caught up with me. Fortunately, they didn’t.
There are a number of things that can happen in aircraft and in spacecraft. We learn to be very alert as fighter pilots to not allow fear to become a mentally crippling emotion that would keep us from concentrating on the positive to look for the successful outcomes. We were very conscious of the hazards of immediate liftoff from the earth. The rocket could stray and run into the tower and really make some difficult recovery options right there at the launch site.
Then I guess the failure of engines to put us into the proper orbit could’ve happened. Once in orbit, it was up to the landing craft, and then the computer control if Neil and I were to make the first successful landing. But we did get rather low on fuel. We both did not want to have to abort, so we did successfully land with fifteen seconds of fuel left. I guess that was a tense moment. We congratulated ourselves and went on from there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): A tense moment indeed. I didn’t realize that you had a religious communion on the moon. Why couldn’t you make that public at the time?
Buzz Aldrin: I think the whole world felt that in 1968, referring to the beginnings of the earth as revealed in the versions of the Old Testament in Genesis, was an appropriate thing to do on Christmas Eve with Apollo 8. However, that created some concern. The Eagle of our country carrying the olive branch of peace, approaching a landing on the moon, was our symbol of Apollo 11, but even further, it was the landing on Tranquility Base at the moon and then leaving a plaque that said, “We came in peace for all mankind.”
To anticipate success and to give thanks, I felt that a spiritual symbol of that in my life up to that point, would be celebrating communion. I was advised to make it not controversial and to not talk about it, but to just ask people of the earth to consider the moments of the last couple of hours and give thanks in their own individual way. Later on when I felt that this story was known, I revealed the details of it to Guideposts magazine.
That is the sense that I had in those years of a symbolic “giving thanks.” It would be understood by most of the world, but of course, I was thirty-nine years old then. All of us were born in 1930, but a good number of maturing has taken place in the lives of all of us including me, so I’m not the same person that I was growing up as a younger, a teenager and then as a mature person landing on the moon.
We mature in our thinking considerably, but I’m not at all encouraged to try and spread around my thinking at this point. I’ve got many other things to motivate people for, and that is the engineering, the confidence, the optimism and inspiring nature of venturing outward to include landings on Mars.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you believe that there are living creatures on other worlds in space?
Buzz Aldrin: The probabilities of the conditions that have existed here on earth following a formation of our solar system a little over five billion years ago in a universe that’s thirteen billion years old and with the billions of opportunities and galaxies of stars, it would be foolish to conclude that conditions here on earth evolved in such a special, unique way that intelligence to grow out of that evolution would be singular in the entire universe.
As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” There is no extraordinary evidence of life outside of what we have on earth, but there just must be, according to probabilities. Not little green men probably, but evidence of the early creations of the building blocks of life may exist in our solar system. At Mars, indicating many years ago, there was more life sustaining conditions, but there also may be under the deep, deep ice around other moons around bigger planets.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you know what you’ll be doing on July 20, 2019, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing?
Buzz Aldrin: I thought for a while that I’d be sipping lemonade on some lovely South Pacific island just having been scuba diving, but I think there are some other things that I may do while my son carries on my activities in the organizations I’ve set up. But there are some international countries that I think are getting started in their activities, and I think my creativity, my “out of the box” thinking, just might be helpful to nations like India and South Korea. They’re beginning to develop things that they see are around them by technically advanced nations.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Forty-six years later, are you still amazed that your footprints were actually on the moon?
Buzz Aldrin: Wow. Yes. And it’s so symbolic. When I first saw the distinctness of our boot prints on the regolith or lunar dust, I felt, “Gee, I’ve got to take a picture of that.” And yes indeed, I feel that my life has been very fortunate. My mother, Marion Moon, was born the year the Wright Brothers first flew. With an aviation background and the development of aviation, I just knew I would be flying airplanes in some way. That matured into opportunities to go higher, faster and further.
It opened up the challenge to be a part of, in a contributing way, the human space flight program at just the right time to accomplish the dreams of centuries. Now how fortunate could I be to take my creativity and be planning with that experience and open-mindedness, the potential of humans landing and beginning to occupy Mars after I have passed on?
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