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Buzz Aldrin Does A reddit AMA: Happy Anniversary, Apollo 11 Moon Landing!

By Jodi Smith | Miscellaneous | July 8, 2014 |


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Buzz Aldrin, engineer, astronaut, and second person to walk on the moon, took to the reddits to talk about the 45th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing on July 20th. Aldrin is also hoping to become a Lunar Ambassador and shared a YouTube Channel where you can talk about how the Apollo mission affected you.

Is there any experience on Earth that even compares slightly to having been on the Moon?

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.

Do the pictures of space do any justice to the real thing?

Yes, they do. They recall (for me) the actual experience of myself in space - not by words, not by print, but visual reminders, it brings back a very in-depth appreciation. They can be used very well for communicating in speeches, talks, and more to other people who can actually see what i saw and what the camera saw.

Col Aldrin, what went through your head when you first looked back and saw the 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.

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Hello Mr. Aldrin! Is there anything you regret not getting to do while in space?

On the Gemini mission in space, on my doctoral thesis at MIT, those techniques were used by Gemini, Apollo and even the space shuttle. But I was very disappointed when it looked like I wouldn’t even have a chance to fly in the two-man Gemini program! I was not scheduled to be anything other than the back up crew. A tragedy changed that, and I was a backup pilot on Gemini 9, and then I would be on the primary crew for Gemini 12, the final mission. The #1 air force experiment was on Gemini 9 and 12, but its use was unsuccessful on Gemini 9, and so I became the first astronaut to train underwater in neutral buoyancy. I had been a scuba diver 10 years earlier, and knew that training underwater would be very very effective, and I felt very confident of carrying out the difficult procedures to be able to free-maneuver outside the spacecraft with the equipment (this is what George Clooney’s character was doing with the jetpack in Gravity) - unfortunately NASA cancelled that experiment.

Our nation and our world have been waiting for another monumental achievement by humanity ever since you were a pioneer in the space race and set foot on the Moon. For lack of any serious government effort, I’m rooting for Elon Musk to accomplish this by sending man to Mars. What advice would you give Elon to achieve the ultimate objective of permanence on Mars?

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.

Dr. Aldrin - My 2 year old son absolutely loves space, and last October we took him to your presentation and book signing at the Air and Space museum.

Afterwards you were kind enough to sign his copy of “Look to The Stars”, and to this day when I’m reading to him before bed, almost every night he tells me about the time he “Met Buzz Aldrin”, how you signed his book, and how he wants to “read about rockets and NASA”.

I just wanted to say thank you for all you’ve done for the world - not only by pushing the boundaries of exploration, but also by inspiring the next generation to dream to do the same.

My question - what is the best way to continue to foster my son’s interest in science and space exploration, as he grows up and his interests are inevitably pulled in many different directions?

Back in the 60’s and 70’s when we were achieving in competition with the Soviet Union, but also to stimulate the United States to improve its technologies and science, we (the United States) won clearly the race (if you want to call it that) to the Moon. And I believe that that demonstration of the perseverance, the dedication, the depth of the industrial capacity of the United States went a long ways to convince Premier Gorbachev that the Soviet Union could not match - the announcement by President Reagan that we would develop a strategic defense initiative, branded by the media in a detrimental way, as “Star Wars” - it, I believe, was a major factor in the ending of the Cold War and the separation of the Satellite Nations around the U.S.S.R. It gave us peace. It reduced the Nuclear Weapon threat worldwide.
So we are now very interested in science, technology, engineering and math. When we went to the moon and thereafter shortly, we were number one, and I think that there are many children’s books - I have written 2 so far, and I have another one that is well underway on National Geographic that follows my adult book, Mission to Mars and my vision for space exploration. I think that reading to children will help inspire that interest in aerospace, and many other supporting career fields. Not everyone can be an astronaut and go into space, some people with sufficient resources can purchase and fly sub-orbitally thanks to various companies and for more money (considerably) fly into orbit. For a million dollars, the Russians would take two people, a million apiece, around the moon and back. However, stories, videos that come from the space station, and other people, are a great inspiration to young people for an exciting career field.

Mr. Aldrin, do you watch movies about people going to space, if so, which one is your favourite?

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.”

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Sir, I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you for your push for Mars. You and the crew of 11 have, and continue to be an inspiration for all of us. As for a question: what can we, the American public, do to help push the powers that be into legitimate funding for new manned missions to back to the moon or to Mars? Thank you again!

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.

What advice can you give to current undergrad aerospace engineering students?

Drive over to the nearest airport, and enroll in flight classes. You will experience the joy of freedom in the air above, as you study the mechanics of how this is made possible by understanding the construction, the laws of motion, the air that can provide lift when it is moved by propulsion through the air, and stay above the gravity pulling the airplane back down to earth.

Mr. Dr. Col. Aldrin, Is there anything about the Apollo missions that is not often talked about but nevertheless very interesting that you can tell us? Perhaps a not-often-told story?

I always thought the “seat belt rock” they recovered on Apollo 15 was funny.
Every Apollo mission was planned down to the minute, the planners even accounted for “gawping time” to let Astronauts just stare out into the abyss and appreciate where they were.
During Apollo 15 David Scott and James Irwin were driving around the Lunar Rover from crater to crater doing what science they could and taking a few samples. On their way back to the Lunar Module Scott spied an impressive basalt sample (it was large and can only be formed from Magma cooling at or near the surface of a planet or moon), he stopped the Rover and to account for the stop said he was experiencing a seat belt malfunction.
Irwin played along and distracted Mission Control by describing the craters. Scott got out of the rover grabbed the rock and then they hauled ass back to the Lunar Module.
Mission Control didn’t know about this sample until after they had returned to Earth.
If you want to check out the transcripts they’re all here.
If you like this kinda story, you should check out Mary Roach’s book Packing For Mars. She’s got a lot of other anecdotes in it.

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How do you feel about people who claim you faked the moon landing?

Can you describe how the moon felt to you? (Was it an adrenaline rush when your feet hit the surface? Was it soft or hard? Could you feel temperature through the suit at all?)

Funniest moment during the mission to the moon and back?

I personally don’t waste very much of my time on what is so obvious to a really thinking person, of all the evidence - we talked about Carl Sagan recently, who made a very prophetic observation. He said that “extraordinary observations require extraordinary evidence to make them believable.” There is not extraordinary evidence of (as far as I know) all the claims that have been made that we did NOT go to the Moon. There are photographs from lunar reconnaissance orbiter satellites, going around the moon, that clearly show all of the experiments that we described when we came back from the moon, and they are evidence that we were there, telling the truth, you can even see a trail of Neil Armstrong’s trek (not footprints really but the stirred up dust in walking or jogging behind him) to see the west Crater that we had flown over, that Neil was concerned about landing close to that - and he took photos of that and then he went back to the spacecraft. I was back inside the spacecraft at this time, but looking at the photos of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiters, you can clearly see the evidence of Neil’s trek. And he took photographs, and all the signs are still there. Our flag in Apollo 11 was, without the doubt, the best looking flag that was stuck on the moon. But it was close to the spacecraft, so when we lifted off, Neil observed that the rocket exhaust caused the flag to strike the ground, to fall over. And by this time, I’m sure the radiation in space has deteriorated every piece of cloth on the flags, whether they are flying on the surface or standing up. We perhaps in the future will have very accurate rovers that can approach the different landing sites, and perhaps make available to people back on earth the ability to control a video scan, get out elevations, with floodlights to illuminate during the 14 days of darkness - I believe this will be very inspiring to people back here on earth, if we have the funds to do that, it would be great to do that.
The space suit had a soft interior to the shoes, and when the boots got put over the shoes, there is much cushioning effect, and the light weight due to the reduced gravity and the thickness of the dust, made it difficult to sense the feel of the surface. it was so remarkable, the way the bootprints were left, with such strong definition of the soil underneath, like moist talcum powder I guess, it keeps its shape, so I photographed before and after, pictures of the surface, and then I thought that looked a little lonely, so I put another bootprint down, and moved my foot a little bit so you could see my foot and the bootprint.
I have since been told by a comic, by a humorist, what humor really is - but just as we were leaving the moon, I had given some thought to this, and I was able to create two achievements of humor in one sentence.
When Mission Control said, to us, as we were about to leave “Tranquility bass, you are cleared for liftoff,” I responded by saying to them “Roger, Houston, we are number one on the runway.”
There wasn’t anybody else for us to be 2, 3, 4 to! But there wasn’t any runway up there either!
It’s a phrase most pilots hear many times - “Roger Tower, acknowledge we are number 3 for takeoff on the runway” Because there are people waiting before us in an airplane to start take off. Pilots always get it. We are not going to roll ahead with increasing speed, we were going to lift off straight UP the way we left the earth!.

What’s the most frightening moment that you have ever experienced 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)

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