23 May Buzz Aldrin: Why NASA is ‘wrong,’ why English-speaking nations must lead, and why we need to go to Mars
Buzz Aldrin – amateur boxer, amateur dancer, inspiration for the Buzz Lightyear character and most importantly the world’s most famous astronaut — is nothing if not opinionated.
I recently had the chance to speak with Aldrin, 83, as part of a promotion for his new book, Mission to Mars. During the wide-ranging, 45-minute interview, Aldrin and I spoke a lot about how to build both political support for, and to pay for an ambitious plan to establish a permanent colony on Mars.
Which is the goal of the second man to walk on the Moon.
The key, Aldrin said, is international cooperation. But he recognizes that in the 21st century we’re not quite the interstellar federal polity that Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets is in the 23rd century.
Aldrin lives in the real world.
Through NASA, the United States presently works with a former enemy, Russia, as well as many European partners, Japan and Canada in a successful international partnership aboard the International Space Station. But that partnership does not include burgeoning space-faring nations such as China and India. Nor, despite NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s controversial comments about the space agency reaching out to Muslims, does it include any Middle Eastern nations, which have deep pockets and ambitions too.
When he flew to the moon, Aldrin saw the United States lead in space as other nations fell behind. More recently he’s seen funding for spaceflight fall behind many other priorities. Now he’s seeing America fall behind in space and doesn’t like it, nor the politics that have led to it.
If America is to succeed in space, it and its closest allies must get their stuff together on Earth, he says. Here, then, is Aldrin speaking about why English-speaking nations should lead the way in space:
“The United States must lead cooperation in Earth orbit and above, emphasizing the English speaking nations — U.S., Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and especially India — so that they are a bit more cohesive in their balance to the China-Russia coalition which seems to thwart the United States in many ways. English is the technical language, not German; English is the diplomatic language, we need peace and cooperation above the atmosphere. Openness that will hopefully filter down. There will always be human rights violations, piracy, hacking, stealing things, territorial aggression and I have failed to say that the English nations most likely will be the nations that protect the world against jihadism. Now that’s a sensitive subject for your paper and me. I don’t mind saying that, I’m a private citizen. I grew up as a Protestant. I took communion on the moon. But I’m a little wider in what Einstein would call a cosmic religious understanding.”
Clearly, then Aldrin sees a connection between terrestrial policy and success in space.
A bit later in the interview he discussed his concerns about NASA’s current approach to space (the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System) and his concerns that while NASA is trying to rope a small asteroid and maybe bringing it into lunar orbit, China will pass us by.
“Obama didn’t cancel the space program. Now I’m a conservative, and always have been. But I’ve worked with whoever is overseeing the space program. Unfortunately Orion, renamed the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, is wrong. (Wernher) Von Braun’s big big big lander was multi-purpose crew vehicle in Apollo and we segmented the mission into a command module and a service module. At the moon we had to have a descent and an ascent stage. We really stripped the weight off. Von Braun’s vehicle required two Saturn V rockets. The plan we used required one Saturn V. The big fact is that we went to the moon with one rocket, not two, because we didn’t use a multi-purpose crew vehicle. Orion doesn’t even have enough propulsion to put itself and a lander into a lunar orbit. It puts the United States at a distinct disadvantage even in going to the moon. We’ve got to do more than just Apollo 11 or Apollo 17. All the Chinese have to do is land one Taikonaut, take a few pictures out the window, and launch. And they’ve beat the United States.”
Aldrin isn’t saying NASA should race China back to the moon. Instead, he’s saying we need to get our national and geopolitics together, forget about flying to lunar orbit to look at a space rock, and push forward an ambitious program to go to Mars. Not to visit. To stay there.
Buzz, by the way, will be in Houston next month to sign copies of his new book. But I suggest not accusing him of faking the moon landings. I imagine he can still throw a punch.