It’s been 40 years since Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. became the second human in history to set foot on the moon. Though he retired from NASA not long after the Apollo 11 mission, he’s still awfully vocal about how important space remains, and why we need to explore it.
ADVENTURE: It took less than a decade for us to figure out how to get to the moon. Shouldn’t we have gone to Mars by now?
Buzz Aldrin: We really aren’t ready to do that. I think it’s a problem of will. I don’t think we’ve inspired ourselves. We haven’t been moving in a direction that clearly evolves toward exploration.
A: Why is that?
BA: The funding went down. A president came in who was not so friendly as the president that committed us to go to the moon, yet he took credit for reaching the moon and oversaw the disabling of that system. And then we embarked on something that didn’t succeed really at all: the shuttle system.
A: Was the shuttle really that big a failure? It did what it was tasked with doing, which was getting astronauts into low-earth orbit…
BA: We stumbled into the shuttle system. We did so marvelously well early on and then we made a system that relied on less performance. Early on, were given an opportunity to look at a space system of solar power satellites, and NASA really looked strongly at that, but the inefficiency of the shuttle system doomed that solar power system at that time. It was too inefficient.
A: What about all the advances in space exploration coming not from NASA and government funding, but from the private sector?
BA: That’s gotten spurred on because the government has really not been able to do what they hoped they’d be able to. We can’t go to Mars because we’re still living with the fact that we have not inspired the public with our space program, so we’ve started to rely on the private sector to fill the gap.
A: Is that such a bad idea?
BA: It’s one that needs much more assistance than it’s going to get.
A: How so?
BA: There needs to be more financial assistance and more competition. There is clearly some remarkable potential from a system that’s being financed by one person who’s been very clever about getting the military and other people to want to put their payloads in his system.
A: Is that someone in particular?
- Nat Geo Expeditions
BA: Yeah, SpaceX, the new low-orbit launch vehicle that Elon Musk is pursuing.
A: What do we need to do to get people inspired by space again?
BA: There was a great simplicity to our goal [in the Apollo program], and a unity to the mission. And it was a pioneering effort in a new industry. The teamwork we had assembled, that was a marvelous team.
A: What’s the best course of action for this?
BA: Clearly we could get bogged down with a permanent base on the moon by committing resources that should be held in reserve to go to Mars. All these problems beset us right now. We don’t have a coherent, continuous capability. We jump from one program to another and we leave a big gap in between. If we have a setback in one system we have nothing to follow it up with. That dilemma is just entirely inconsistent with the fact that 6 out of 7 times we tried to land on the moon and did. We were so capable then. We need that unanimity of purpose and pioneering effort. All our activities in low earth orbit right now should be only supportive of going to the moon.