The second man on the moon participated in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) question and answer session on Reddit yesterday, and the answers were just as insightful and fascinating as you’d expect. Buzz Aldrin wrote about everything from the “magnificent desolation” of the moon to Elon Musk, SpaceX and the push to go to Mars. The whole AMA can be read here, but here are some of the most impactful responses (punctuation has been left unedited):
“My first words of my impression of being on the surface of the Moon that just came to my mind was “Magnificent desolation.” The magnificence of human beings, humanity, Planet Earth, maturing the technologies, imagination and courage to expand our capabilities beyond the next ocean, to dream about being on the Moon, and then taking advantage of increases in technology and carrying out that dream – achieving that is magnificent testimony to humanity. But it is also desolate – there is no place on earth as desolate as what I was viewing in those first moments on the Lunar Surface.
“Because I realized what I was looking at, towards the horizon and in every direction, had not changed in hundreds, thousands of years. Beyond me I could see the moon curving away – no atmosphere, black sky. Cold. Colder than anyone could experience on Earth when the sun is up- but when the sun is up for 14 days, it gets very, very hot. No sign of life whatsoever.
“That is desolate. More desolate than any place on Earth.”
“I have watched many movies from martians coming to Earth in New Jersey in the form of giant snakes – this was a radio program created by Orson Welles, War of the Worlds – and I’ve read many science fiction stories, descriptions, by Isaac Asimov, but my favorite of course is Arthur C. Clarke. So 2001: A Space Odyssey. And then later on, I managed to arrange a cruise ship departing from Sri Lanka where Clarke lived, and I was able to stay with him, talking about many, many things in the past. I wrote a book along with Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, called First on the Moon, and the epilogue was written by Arthur C. Clarke. When I wrote my book of science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke wrote a one page forward that was OUTSTANDING, absolutely, as he praised our ingenuity and imagination. And when we visited, we talked about a treasure he had discovered in the ocean, and we both hoped in the future that he and I could scuba dive and perhaps retrieve some of that treasure. That never happened, unfortunately.
“I thought that the movie Gravity, the depiction of people moving around in zero gravity, was really the best I have seen. The free-falling, the actions that took place between two people, were very, I think, exaggerated, but probably bent the laws of physics. But to a person who’s been in space, we would cringe looking at something that we hoped would NEVER, EVER Happen. It’s very thrilling for the person who’s never been there, because it portrays the hazards, the dangers that could come about if things begin to go wrong, and I think that as I came out of that movie, I said to myself and others, ‘Sandra Bullock deserves an Oscar.’”
On favorite ice cream, and advice for aspiring astrophysicists and engineers:
“COCONUT ICE CREAM.
“Don’t waste your time on beaming people up or down. Instead, consider gravity waves as advanced physics of the universe that could be used to travel interstellar distances. And ENJOY floating in space, rather than being decomposed or recomposed in another location.”
On how he and Neil Armstrong decided who would be first and second on the moon:
“I felt that there was an obligation on my part to put forth the reasons why a commander who had been burdened down with an enormous amount of responsibility and training for activities (and because of that, in all previous missions, if someone, a crew member, was to spacewalk, it was always the junior person, not the space commander who would stay inside). We knew this would be different because 2 people would be going out. There was a group at NASA who felt the junior person (me) should go out first, but many people felt the great symbology of the commander from past expeditions or arrivals at a destination. The decision that was made was absolutely correct as far as who went out first, symbolically. However who was in charge of the what happened after both people are outside, I believe, could have been done differently. I was not the commander, I was a junior person, so once both were outside, I followed my leader, because we (NASA) had not put together detailed jobs of people outside. I believe it could have been improved. But it was very successful for what it was. And the decision wasn’t up to me, or Neil, it was up to people much higher up in NASA.”
The first thought he had when looking back at Earth from space:
“Where are the billions and billions and billions of people, on what I’m looking at? We’re the only 3 that are not back there.’
“And we didn’t get to celebrate. Because we were out of town.”
His most terrifying moment in space:
“I believe it was after leaving the surface of the moon and completing a successful rendezvous with Mike Collins in the command module, as we approached connecting / docking, the procedures in the checklist said one thing, and I thought maybe doing it a slightly different way, rolling and pitching instead of something else, and I thought that was better on the spur of the moment! It turns out that it was not a good thing to do, because it caused the platform to become locked, and we were not able to use the primary thrusters, the primary guidance, to control the spacecraft, to its final few feet to dock and join the other spacecraft. That was my mistake. I suggested to my commander that we do it differently, and it was his mistake to assume that i knew what I was talking about. So we both made mistakes – brought about by me! We recovered successfully on the “abort guidance” system.
“(I don’t admit that to many people.)
“(but I’m sure the mission controllers in Houston, while it was happening or certainly afterwards, they certainly knew what had happened, but fortunately they didn’t squeal on us.)”
On going to Mars:
“We in the United States cannot come close to the return to leadership that the United States had 45 years ago, and shortly thereafter. The lack of funding that supported missions to the Moon and return, a pioneering effort for humanity, required 4% of the national budget of the United States. Now we are at 1/2 of 1% and have been that way for quite some while. To those of us that feel that America is a leader, it was, we helped win WWI, WWII, the Cold War, and we can lead the other nations in peace, just the way that the plaque on the moon that Neil and I left, “We came in peace for all Mankind” – I believe that that is so American, to do things, and share with other nations of the world. That’s how we should go back to the Moon, not by competing with other nations, like China, to land our people – we’ve done that. The robotics, the operation of rovers and such at a great distance, has improved tremendously in the last 45 years. I don’t believe the human mind has increased that much at all. So let the other nations of the world put their citizens on the surface of the moon for prestige – that is a major reason why nations put their people on the Moon. But we’ve done that, we can help the other nations, and we can help other nations use our facilities, and then we can deploy a radio telescope on Mars via balloon and design a strong suggestion for what the lunar base should be, on the near side & the far side, we can help in the construction of those elements, and we can bring those elements that are landed by other countries (because they are heavy, expensive) – we can bring them together and then the interface between elements that will come together in a complicated way because this is in a gravity field with uneven terrain, it’s not as simple as the space shuttle docking with the space station, or any spacecraft, and zero gravity, it’s much much more difficult, it requires (from a distance) bringing them sufficiently close and aligning them so that the two interfaces from adjacent cylinders (that may be 20 feet in diameter, 30 feet long, vertically part of the the shared space onboard the base) and from each one of these 3 can emanate 2 different nations for a total of 6 different individual nations growing outward for their habitation and laboratories and to control robots on the surface, to establish a distinct presence and yet sharing with the other people who have their personnel and their astronauts or the front or back side. But that is the great contribution of the United States, technically, but it’s not a contribution that requires great investment of money for big rockets, and sustaining people on the surface.
“Returning to the Moon with NASA astronauts is not the best usage of our resources. Because OUR resources should be directed to outward, beyond-the-moon, to establishing habitation and laboratories on the surface of Mars that can be built, assembled, from the close-by moons of Mars. With very little time delay – a second or less. Much better than controlling things on the Moon from the Earth. So when NASA funding comes up for review, please call your lawmakers to support it.”
More on mars and if Elon Musk can accomplish getting a person there:
“There is very little doubt, in my mind, that what the next monumental achievement of humanity will be the first landing by an Earthling, a human being, on the planet Mars. And I expect that within 2 decades of the 5th anniversary of the first landing on the moon, that within 2 decades America will lead an international presence on Planet Mars. Some people may be rooting for Elon – I think he could, with his SpaceX, contribute considerably, enormously, to an international activity not only at the moon but also on Mars. I have considered whether a landing on Mars could be done by the private sector. It conflicts with my very strong idea, concept, conviction, that the first human beings to land on Mars should not come back to Earth. They should be the beginning of a build-up of a colony / settlement, I call it a “permanence.” A settlement you can visit once or twice, come back, and then decide you want to settle. Same with a colony. But you want it to be permanent from the get-go, from the very first. I know that many people don’t feel that that should be done. Some people even consider it distinctly a suicide mission. Not me! Not at all. Because we will plan, we will construct from the moon of Mars, over a period of 6-7 years, the landing of different objects at the landing site that will be brought together to form a complete Mars habitat and laboratory, similar to what has been done at the Moon. Tourism trips to Mars and back are just not the appropriate way for human beings from Earth – to have an individual company, no matter how smart, send people to mars and bring them back, it is VERY very expensive. It delays the obtaining of permanence, internationally. Your question referred to a monumental achievement by humanity - that should not be one private company at all, it should be a collection of the best from all the countries on Earth, and the leader of the nation or the groups who makes a commitment to do that in 2 decades will be remembered throughout history, hundreds and thousands of years in the future of the history of humanity, beginning, commencing, a human occupation of the solar system.”