Buzz Aldrin Interview Space, God & The Future
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin one of few human beings to ever venture into space and set foot on the surface of the Moon spoke to a lucky crowd of people at Omega House, the exclusive venue of official Olympic timekeepers Omega.
Answering questions he spoke about the future of space exploration, Missions to Mars, how to inspire the next generation an how his own adventures have impacted his belief and relationship with God.
Read our the full transcript of the fascinating interview with one of the most extraordinary figures in human history below:
It’s been an honor and inspiration to hear you talk with passion and eloquence about the value of space exploration, what do you consider the greatest gift that it has brought mankind so far and where do you like to dream it may one day take us as we continue that adventure out beyond the reaches of our solar system?
Well I can see you’re a futurist also. I think it gives us hope it gives us a challenge, something to really strive for. Kennedy said we were going to go to the Moon within a decade and I hope that a president can say on the 5oth anniversary of us landing on the Moon it’s taking two decades to get to Mars. That means that we’ll get there before 2040, depending on who the president is. I intend to point out to him that he should say something like that on the 50th anniversary in 2019.
Actually I’ve written a science fiction story about going to the stars. About going to Alpha Centori the closest star. Rather than outline all the advances we have to do to be able to go there. It’s much easier for the alien civilisation that’s already there to come here and give us the knowledge to be able to go there. That will be coming out in a series of episodes soon.
What impact has space travel had on your belief in and relationship with god?
Well I thought about doing things for demonstration, I’m a role model I’m not a teacher. I can’t speak to every kindergarten kid in the world but I do things on television maybe that reach them. I write a lot of books. I took communion on the Moon. I think that I’ve moved a bit beyond that and Einstein called it a cosmic spiritual sense of the origin of the universe. The majesty that’s there and who we are in this little sphere there’s got to be something intelligence behind that.
There are certain constants, certain numbers that re-occur in the description of the laws of nature. If those constants were different from what they are then it wouldn’t work. So those constants are fundamental to what we do, there’s an intelligence behind that. In the meantime we look for things that maybe cause danger so we have a God of fear, then we move into morals and ethics and most of the people are kind of there right now, but they’re human concepts.
A number of people, I imagine Steven Hawking and Einstein get to think a little bit beyond because they’re involved in how did it all begin, the big bang.
Where there ever any moments of doubt during you many amazing missions, where you ever scared?
We fly jet airplanes and the engine can quit just as you get to the end of the runway. So you face unforeseen events, espically in combat. You learn to suppress concern about that. Sure there are things to be worried about but the worry doesn’t help until it happens, then you need to do something about it, whatever it is. So don’t bother worrying about it before something goes wrong.
What made you choose to wear your Omega watch when you landed on the surface of the moon?
The watches that we have, I felt were personal gifts form the government. NASA feels little differently about things like that now. I felt it was a good thing to wear what I had as part of your culture out on the moon. Despite the fact it was probably about the most useless thing you have on the surface of the moon to know what time it was in Houston Texas.
Do you think that we should postpone missions to Mars to explore planets of Moons which we think may be habitable?
I rode on Air Force one down to Florida and I was kind of quoted by President Obama as saying “been there, done that”. That’s not what I would say if I was President, I would be a little more explicit. If we spent the money to go back to the moon we know by analysis of what it takes we would probably be greeted by the Chinese who were there, so now we’re second in being second to go back to the Moon. While were doing that the Russians may get to Mars. I may just be supposing, but they don’t really care about building up a permanent base, they care about being first.
That’s what makes the difference to a lot of the people of the world. That they’re sacrifices and hardships, whether it’s in China or Russia, are worth it because they’re the leader in the world. Mars is the most earth like object. The Moon has no atmosphere it’s a vacuum, it’s very hot or very cold. We can go there and bring someone back in a couple of days if we want. So that’s the way we’ll deal with the Moon, when we decide it is time to go back to the Moon.
We have large credits in the United States about the Moon, more than any other country; therefore we should be the leader of the international lunar development authority or corporation. That way we should pick where the main base should be and we can help assemble it robotically from a stable place not to far away from the Moon where we’ll go to. Where we can eventually have refuelling depots and do the things that will help us in the stepping stones that will get us to Mars. That’s what I’ve been dedicated to doing.
I discovered the possibility 27 years ago in 1985 by first looking at the Moon in repeating cycling orbits. I was disappointed when it was pointed out to me that that it’s not necessary to build a big ship to do that. We can do just what we did with Apollo. This idea of winging around one object and another would be great for tourism. You don’t have to keep putting up the cycler you just hook up to it as it swings past the earth. It goes round the Moon and comes back, it goes out again a second time and the Moon isn’t there but if it goes out a third time I will be. So we can reuse what can become a commercial business.
It was pointed out to me at that time, why don’t you look at Mars? So I looked at Mars and it turns out that low and behold it isn’t that far. If we really look at the basics to get something that swings by the earth and five months later swings by Mars. Just 21 days later it would swing by the earth. It could keep doing that. It takes 26 months for the Earth and Mars to be in the right place to leave one and get to the other. That’s a big deal. That’s important to me that I was the first one to discover that.
That and ways like that are the ways we’re going to go to Mars. I won’t be around to see that but I’ll help in the planning of the mission that will be able to take us there. Probably we’ll get there hopefully before 2040.
In August there will be and Austrian man jumping out of a plane at 120,000 feet with a parachute what do you think of that?
He’s crazy! What altitude? 120,000 with a balloon? Why would he want to do that? It’s like jumping out a perfectly good plane. Humans will always want to set a record; here we are at the Olympics people are out there trying to set a record about something or other. I remember when I was a youngster there was a world’s fair in New York in 1939. My father took me there and there was a parachute ride where you were pulled up and then dropped down on wires. You didn’t actually fall. I rode up there with a guy who had gone up in a balloon to 70,000 feet and he was smart enough not to jump out of it.
Why do you like coming to the Olympics so much?
Well I was at the Vancouver Olympics and I was asked to President of Omega to present an Omega watch to the figure skating champion. About a year later the two of us were on dancing with the stars. With his sense of rhythm he did much better than me.
How important do you feel a focus on science in education is?
Apollo put us and the USA at the top in those subjects of Science, Engineering, technology and Maths. But we don’t stand there any more, we’re quite a ways down in comparison to the other nations in the world and we somehow need to stimulate the youth of the nation to be a bit more interested in those subjects because those subjects determine the future of a nation. The economy and entrepreneurship, innovation means you aim for more than being in a rock band.
The children of nations like China and Japan at least are dedicated students; they come to our universities and learn and go back. But they don’t have to do that anymore, they don’t need to come to MIT because they have their own MIT back in China now. We’ve got someone from MIT who speaks Russian who’s helping Russian set up an MIT that’s Moscow Institute technology. We’re gonna lose this game some time if we don’t get our act together. That’s the economy, jobs and short term political things. But as a nation we have to look beyond to the future and that’s why to me going back to the Moon is nothing, it’s a waste of Money but going to Mars is very important.
How do you think our priorities have changed?
We’ve moved and changed, I’m not sure it’s to the better in those subjects that we’ve declined our performance relative to other people in the world. We want it now, we’re very short term politically, culturally and whatever it is people want it now you can’t get it now all the time, you have to think ahead. The nations that think ahead are going to be planning for ahead and it takes a while to develop things. Culturally I can’t carry a tune and I can’t dance too well either. But what I know how to do it back of the envelope seethes of orbits and what kind of spacecraft do we need to do certain missions and that’s my life really. I do this occasionally so I can eat and drive a convertible.
How do you think the advance of technology is helping or hindering our advancement?
Computers allow us to squeeze the most out of everything. Like Google letting us look up things, I guess that does make us a little lazy when it comes to reading books and doing things the hard way. Understanding how the hell those things work, put your finger on it all sorts of things happen, but how do they happen? Pretty soon we won’t know. They’ll just be a few people who do. Cars are becoming so complicated when you lift the hood up you can’t tell where the oil is or how to change the fluid!
How do you think we inspire the next generation?
You have to start young. Then you have to keep it moving along with parental inspiration. My father was an aviation pioneer and knew a lot of the leading people in aviation. So as a teenager I really followed closely world war two and the strategy behind things that were happening, particularly airplanes and what they could do. So that was where I wanted to start. Then beep beep beep, sputnik goes up other and now I wanted to learn how to do that, to be part of that. It was a pretty small group and it’s going to be a small group of people that go to Mars.
It’s not going to be tomorrow it will be a number of years. So a lot of people are going to get weary and tired, so we have to know what the stepping stones are. When I submitted a plan for the future we needed to send a spacecraft out and come back a year later. There’s a very easy orbit that will do that. It’s a free return. If the engine stops halfway through then you just make a bigger circle. But make it fascinating I said let’s take this orbit and make it fly by a comet.
Plan on flying by the comet and people on the earth will see the tail of the comet and as we approach it to fly by we’ll have the upper stage of the rocket crash into the comet. Well take pictures of it and send it back in 3D for people to see that. When we go to the stable refuelling base close to the Moon, why not do a couple of cycling orbits first and then stop there. You’ll excite the people about what you’re doing. We have to do that at least once a year or more frequently if we can.
Do you have a favourite technological innovation to come from the space programme?
I’ve got an IPhone here and it has a battery. That’s the kind of thing that came out of the space programme. But don’t think they just came from NASA. Most of those things came from miniaturisation of the components needed by the air force for missiles. Then what worked well was tested by NASA who used those things. The underwear that we wore had little tubes that circulated cold water, but deep sea divers have a much better suite that have much more tubes even going down to their finger to keep them warm. So not everything comes from NASA we bring things that entrepreneurs develop and look at what we need to use the things that really enhance the mission. Of course there’s a lot of competitive that goes on to try and do a mission. Of course there is a competition in trying to do a certain mission.
There is co-operation in space at the space station but it’s tough co-operation between the European Nation, they need to get approval every so often from the ministries of all the nations come together to decide who’s going to contribute and how much. Then depending who contributes how much they get some work to do on the space station. It’s very cumbersome and you really need national leadership to do co-operative things.
We thought that the space station that President Reagan announced was going to be ready in 8 years for 8 people and cost about 8 billion dollars. We only have 6 people up there and we can’t even get there in our rockets and it cost 100 billion dollars. So we don’t always estimate correctly but the lunar programme came in on time and on budget but it really can be done with strong leadership and a strong co-operative venture where everyone is working on the end result.
Is co-operation or competition more useful as a driving factor for space exploration?
To get where we are today. My book that I’m writing now is about that, we did pretty well until the Apollo programme. We recovered well from the fire that killed the three astronauts. It looked like maybe Russia would send one astronaut around the Moon for one orbit and then come back, splashing down in the ocean. So we changed our mission to expedite it, the second time we flew on the big rocket and people got on the Apollo capsule we went to the Moon and orbited the Moon without landing. That really inspired people at the time in 1968. So you can do things for a variety of reasons. Some are co-operative and some are competitive. It would be nice to compete on the basics internationally. Then pick the best and co-operate on the best.