Exclusive Interview: Buzz Aldrin
July 12, 2009
As we all know (or should know), July 19, 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" as Neil Armstrong and
Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon. Kicking off the 40th anniversary year last summer was the enchanting 3D animated fantasy film on that infamous mission, FLY ME TO THE MOON, that combined history, complete with NASA technology, blue print drawings, audio and Dr. Buzz Aldrin himself, with a fanciful tale of three adventurous little flies that stowaway on Apollo 11 and share in the magic and wonder of this turning point in history. FLY ME TO THE MOON is now available in 3D on DVD.
Released on DVD last week to coincide with the 40th anniversary is APOLLO 11: A NIGHT TO REMEMBER which provides some rare, recently recovered archival footage from the BBC, showcasing the electrifying drama of the Apollo 11 mission and man’s first footsteps on the moon. Following the astronauts from their pre-flight breakfast on July 26, 1969 to the Pacific splashdown on July 24, 2009, we share in the suspense and drama of the 218,096 mile journey. Interspersing the live coverage is BBC science reporter James Burke who provides demonstrations of spaceflight technology and a tour of the Apollo capsule, as well as answering the question that has plagued school children for the past 40 years, how does an astronaut pee in his space suit. This documentary is one of the finest I’ve seen on the Apollo mission and one that should be in everyone’s personal DVD collection.
For myself, a lifelong space junkie, the highlight of not only my career as a journalist, but one of the highlights of my life, came when I had the chance to interview Dr. Buzz Aldrin in connection with the film, FLY ME TO THE MOON.
Dr. Aldrin is so much more than an "astronaut". Joining NASA in 1963, Buzz Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon after Neil Armstrong, making his long awaited leap on July 20, 1969. It seems as if his destiny was foretold even before his birth. His mother’s maiden name is Marion Moon. His father, Edwin, was an aviation pioneer and student of rocket developer Robert Goddard. Holding a Doctorate in Astronautics from MIT, Dr. Aldrin retired from NASA in 1972 but has done more to promote NASA and space exploration than any other astronaut in the history of the program.
Catering to young and old alike, following the Challenger disaster, Dr. Aldrin appeared on an episode of "Punky Brewster" aimed at helping children cope with the tragedy without giving up on space exploration. In 2001, he was appointed by the president to serve on the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry. He also serves on the board of the National Space Society and is an inductee into the Astronaut Hall of Fame. He even has a crater on the moon named after him - the Aldrin Crater. Transitioning into the 21st Century, Dr. Aldrin has even joined the gaming community with "Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space", a computer strategy game. Aldrin has also developed "The Cyler", a spacecraft system that is designed to make perpetual orbits between the Earth and Mars and he holds a patent for a permanent space station which he designed.
In speaking with him, one thing is clear. Buzz Aldrin is passionate about space exploration, keeping it alive and educating the public about it.
So, with that bit of background, take a peek at my exclusive interview with Dr. Buzz Aldrin, seen here in its entirety for the first time:
DLE: Dr. Aldrin, a pleasure to speak with you. How did you become involved with FLY ME TO THE MOON?
BA: Well, there was a person who was in public affairs who knew that I was quite available and anxious to participate in the public knowing more and more about what the space program is about. He knew that I would probably be responsive to this. So he asked me if I would participate and I said, "Sure I would." So, I learned about the basic plot, and it was very intriguing, so I was very very happy to participate in recording the epilogue.
DLE: You have been, out of the entire space program, probably the one person who has done the most to make the public aware and improve awareness about space exploration. I know you’ve also invented a lot of things. You’ve got your Star Craft Boosters Company. And now you are working with Share Space Foundation; your non-profit. Can you tell me something about Share Space, especially in light of Richard Branson’s unveiling of White Knight?
BA: I was up there when they unveiled White Knight 2, a very very large carrier aircraft for spaceships, that may be unveiled within the next year. It should be able to carry 6 passengers and a crew of 2 up to, let me say, "the fringes of space", 100 km which is the best definition. People should experience about 4 minutes of weightlessness for floating inside the cabin. I think that’s going to be a very intriguing, exciting adventure. It’s a little out of my pocketbook realm.
But I know that the real thing is being in orbit, so 10-15 years ago, I was quite supportive of things that were laughing called "tourists in space." At one time somebody said, why don’t we have a lottery for people. So I have been pursuing that idea for quite a while now and have been supportive of people to experience space in many, many different fashions. Now, why would I want to do that? Well, the more they understand, the more supportive they will be of the things we are trying to do. We need public support for supporting exploration because people are always saying, "Well, look at all that money being spent on space." Well, it makes a big splash. It’s very highly visible. It’s covered by the networks. But it’s not that expensive. At the peak of the Apollo, it was 3 1/2% or 4% [of the federal budget] at the most for a year or two, and right now it’s 6/10ths or 7/10ths of 1% of our national budget. That’s not a whole lot of money.
DLE: I agree. It’s deplorable.
BA: The only thing that excites the public is when something goes wrong. Right now the networks watch the shuttle launch and as soon as the solid rockets are separated, then they switch to something else and the space pod hasn’t even made orbit yet. It’s still pretty hazardous if the engines quit at that time. I’m very interested in supporting the idea of exploration and why we should explore and what did we get from exploration in the past. And to use the 40th anniversary of the Apollo mission to remind the public of why we want to explore in the future and what did we get out of doing this in the past. So that’s being done by Share Space.
DLE: Can you give me an idea of how Share Space works?
BA: Originally, the idea of Share Space was to have somebody be able to purchase a share of space, like a share on the stock market, with dividends being distributed uniformly. They would be distributed by random selection and we limit this to people who have
demonstrated a desire to support space activity by having joined some kind of advocacy group. Well, if they hear about this "lottery", which it really isn’t, and they want to join the group, that’s fine. We will encourage them. And the group will encourage other people to join their advocacy groups like, The Mars Soceity, The Moon Society, The Planetary Society, The National Space Society, The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Professional Education Society, and things of that nature. So we can expand the membership and these organizations can also collect the investment of a share, $100.00 (yes, only One Hundred Dollars). Then they take their commission and forward it to a central organization and then we’ll get all the legal approval and we’ll announce ahead of time what the guaranteed prizes are going to be so there’s no scam. And if you win a prize, you can’t transfer it. You use it or lose it. So it’s not gambling. You can’t sell it on eBay. Then if we have winners of suborbital flights, we’ll get great publicity for Richard Branson or any of those people that offer suborbital flights and what we’ll do is take some of those winners and have a really, really spectacular drawing of non-guaranteed opportunities - - a low probability chance of winning a trip with the Russians or somebody else up to the space station for 8 or 10 days. An even more exciting trip would be go to the Space Station, leave the Space Station and join up with a propulsion unit that can take you around the moon and back. And that’s available right now through an organization called Space Adventures for $100 million dollars.
BA: So, for $100 bucks you can have a small minuscule chance.
DLE: I’m in!
BA: Well, we have a ways to go, but we want to take advantage of the enthusiasm that begins to grow as Space Ship 2 and White Knight 2 go through their testing processes and the initial people go up into suborbital space 100 km or so, 4 minutes of weightlessness. When that enthusiasm begins to grow we hope to have this up and running with cooperation of the Xprise people and the Google people and the organizations of these different advocacy groups. Space Exploration Alliance.
DLE: I’m sure you have thoughts on this issue. What do you think happened to the American public to become so apathetic about space exploration?
BA: It’s the rapid pace of our lives and the fact that people just assume the government is going to do something for them. So, the government went to the moon. Okay, what’s next? What’s in it for me? And if they see people kicking up dust on the moon for awhile, there’s nothing new about that. I’d rather see my soap opera. So when that kind of an attitude begins to take place. . . . As evidenced by the fact that the failed mission to the moon, Apollo 13, was going to have a press conference, but none of the networks were interested in carrying it until they had an explosion on board. Then you couldn’t keep them [the networks] away. Everyone was interested because there was a potential catastrophe. That’s what the information industry, the communications industry, wants. It wants to find something wrong and then fix it immediately. So if we live that way by fixing something that’s wrong immediately, we’re never going to find long term options. If our country is driven by shareholder values, we won’t invest in things that the shareholders won’t care about. We won’t invest in the future. Shareholders are interested in making a profit now.
DLE: That’s the unfortunate part.
BA: It is but that’s the way it is until a few people realize that we need to modify to that kind of patience of Asia, as it’s those countries that are going to succeed. They will sit and invest in long term things that don’t have any immediate returns.
DLE: We’re talking now in light of the release of the 3D animated film "Fly Me To The Moon." So, how do you think that this film may impact space exploration with a whole new generation?
BA: I told you two things that Share Space Foundation does. One, is the 40th anniversary of Apollo, trying to excite people. The other is a lottery type opportunities. And the third is education. We try to make accountable the education that is offered in grades K through 12. We aren’t trying to dictate what the curriculum is, whatever is set out as the policy by the State, by the Federal government, but we want to have science education ambassadors who are retired science teachers in a district, relay back and forth between the parents who are voters and the Assemblymen, the State Senators, the Congresspersons. They don’t work for that politician but they are an ambassador between the people and that entity, trying to see that policies are carried out correctly and that they are standardized by some standardizing of points of view and mission statements and objectives. They represent some kind of a cohesive effort which, obviously is going to raise the ire, I suspect, of the teachers’ unions. But it’s not trying to organize teachers for their benefit. We’re trying to represent the parents. Trying to represent the policies set out by the State governments and the Federal governments.
DLE: Do you see us going back to the moon in the near future?
BA: Well, President Bush at the beginning of a very terse re-election, second term, well, he took the boldness after the Columbia accident kind of forced him to do something, and said, ‘we’re gonna go to the moon’ and he used the year of 2020 as when we’d like to do that. Now that’s 50 years plus 1 year from the time that we landed on the moon in 1969.
DLE: Right. But nobody’s created any hubbub or anything about it.
BA: Well, it’s not high on our politician’s desire for reelection.
DLE: And that’s unfortunate.
BA: It is but I’m trying to be a catalyst by trying to get a transition advisory team to make the transition from space shuttle/space station to exploration the way President Bush set our objective. Because I think that objective is very good for the nation. And we need to interface those choices, those options, for staying the course, sticking with what we decided to do, or maybe something much less than that or maybe something in between. We’d like to try those options for consideration among the two 2008 candidates for the Presidency. And then refine them a little bit. You know, we’re not going to talk to the candidates themselves. We’re going to talk to the reporters and some of their science advisors and space advisors. Then after the election we’ll be able to follow through with the winner and try and preclude things from going too far to be altered or modified.
DLE: Over the years you have created various techniques and designs that have been
implemented in most of the NASA missions. Is there one design or one technique, something that you personally with your astronautic experience have created, that you believe has been the most impactful on the space program.
BA: Well, yes. I wrote my doctoral thesis on manned orbital rendezvous. The basic
techniques that I evolved there were refined, worked over, with lots of people with my help, and they became the method by which we executed our rendezvous efforts in the Gemini program, Apollo and so on. It’s this building block approach. I’ve taken that knowledge and that experience to define a strategy for going from Earth to Mars whenever we began to really think about serious planning. That’s called Cycling
Spaceships and they make use of Aldrin Orbit. I’m also working on evolutionary lander concepts for use at the Moon and Mars. And in addition to the innovative marketing things, like Shared Space and Lottery, I’m also trying to help the training for suborbital flights to make the most out of their weightless training. There are a number of things from my experience and my ability to see something and then try and make it better. I don’t want to waste that time. I want to make that useful whether it makes me any money or not.
DLE: It’s very humbling speaking with you. You truly are a gift not just to this country but to the space program.
BA: Well, make sure that people go see "Fly Me To The Moon." Three flies that stowaway on Apollo 11. It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen put together that combines the reality of history with the fantasy that’s so enjoyable and thrilling to youngsters.
DLE: Oh, trust me. I have been talking this up to everyone. I’ve got some young nephews they are just dying for this film to come out. They are already asking can they stowaway on a space craft.
BA: No. Absolutely not. No stowaways.
DLE: There’s a lot of buzz being generated out there about the film. I think the film is very well done. Your contribution is amazing and I think it’s a direction that the new direction needs to take. Hopefully this will be a catalyst to the youngsters.
BA: I sure hope so because we need to train those K through 12 people.
DLE: That’s it. They don’t have the luxury that I had of actually having actual films and getting up every morning when there was a lift off and watching it. It’s sad. Thank you so much Dr. Aldrin.
BA: Thank you, Debbie. It’s been a pleasure.