Kiwi Will Make It To Space

Kiwi Will Make It To Space

The dream of every Kiwi kid who has ever wanted to blast into space got a little boost today from Buzz Aldrin. The second man to set foot on the moon says a Kiwi will one day also be an astronaut. Still looking fit and compact having just turned 80 in January, he is sharp and focused on his latest mission – to get man (and woman) back into space and setting foot on another hunk of rock in the solar system. And he’s confident a Kiwi will be among them.

He and Neil Armstrong made history when they piloted lunar module Apollo 11 to make the first manned moon landing in history on July 20, 1969.
Now is time for man to reach for the stars once more says Aldrin. In, 2004, former US President George W Bush unveiled a plan to return Americans to the moon by 2020 and use the mission as a steppingstone for future manned trips to Mars and beyond. Aldrin is meeting with US President Barack Obama next month to put pressure on the new administration not to back away from that commitment. He worries that fear of failure, however, has eaten away the pioneering spirit that first took America into the space race. Have we got the emotional guts to take the risks needed?

“I think the crews do,” he says. But as for NASA management, the politicians controlling the purse strings and even the people, he’s not so sure.

This is a man who knows what risk is and the costly price of failure in a venture so monumental as hurtling men into space.

“I had a very good friend lose his life in the Apollo fire and we could have said ‘well the President said we were going to go to the moon, but gee, lets forget that.'”

That was in 1967 when Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom and fellow astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee burnt to death on the launching pad in a pre-launch test for Apollo missions.

“A great statement was made by Apollo 13 which had a problem en route – failure is not an option we have got to succeed in getting them back. But if failure is not an option, don’t fly, don’t go into space. Its hazardous,” says Aldrin.

We need to look past risk, and instead focus on the reward, Aldrin believes. Indeed, he wants the revived space programme to be more ambitious. The next manned space flights should be to a moon, but not ours. Instead man should land on one of the two moons circling Mars – Phobos, an ugly, pockmarked chunk of rock which is thought to have ice hidden under the surface.

“Phobos will enable us to have three people for a year and a half assembling material directly,” he says.

They need “to prepare the surface, the habitats, power supply, start growing food. You want to do as much of that as you can so we don’t have to send so many supplies [from earth].”

“If you have three people there who can control directly things checking them out ,operating instead of way back here on earth trying to communicate what the spirit and opportunity have done in five years, those robots [Mars landing probes], could have been done in one week by having someone on Mars.”

The Phobos station would be the stepping stone to permanent colonisation of Mars – perhaps with Kiwis amongst them. As for himself, if given the chance to once more go into space would he take it – “No, why? Anyone would want the experience again, but no, and its not because of the risk, but I can make better use of my time here, get more results not just for me, but for things that I want to see happen.”

So what is it like to be in space, to stand on another piece of rock and look back, seeing our planet?

“Magnificent desolation,” he says, a phrase he has famously used before to describe looking beyond the curved rim of planet Earth, a ball in space, to the immensity of the dark heavens beyond. (For Aldrin fans, yes it is also the name of his 2009 bestseller.)

“We were pretty fortunate people to be given such an opportunity,” he says of himself, Armstrong and the other astronauts to make it to the moon.

As for those conspiracy theorists who claim the moon landings were a hoax – well he has also famously delivered a left hook punch to the face to film maker Bart Sibrel who in 2002 button holed him outside a hotel and accused him of being a liar and a cheat.

“I know what they are all about,” he says of hoax conspiracy promoters. “They out for using people to promote their image for 15 of glories or whatever it is.”

“They are grovelling for attention,” he says. “And unfortunately there are a lot of gullible people … And I don’t know how to stop that, I haven’t figured out how to point out to people don’t be stupid, don’t believe these self serving people.”

While Buzz is of course indelibly immortalised as one of the team who first landed on the moon, he has a pedigree far beyond that moment of celebrity. Its worth a quick recap: A qualified mechanical engineer he flew 66 combat missions in F-86 Sabres over Korea, shooting down two MIGs. He later qualified with a science doctorate and has been active in the science of space, proposing the Aldrin Cycler, a trajectory to get to Mars. He has also suffered alcoholism and depression as he battled to cope with fame and with the experience of first hand appreciating how small and insignificant our world is in the vastness of space.

He is in New Zealand, delivering a speech tomorrow at 9am at Planet 2010, an Auckland conference open to the public, organised by the Telecommunications Industry Group – a lobby group basically trying to encourage people that IT is sexy and useful. Group CEO Rob Spray says they asked Aldrin to attend because he is both a hero of the past glories of technology, but also very focused on the future.

“We want to inspire people. He’s inspirational and he is talking about the future. His vision is the colonisation of Mars, imagine if that happened in yours and my lifetime you know when we are his age talking to our grandchildren, imagine if we were there and how important that is.

And a final postscript to this story: Hi to Buzz. He may be an icon of the past, but he is also connected with the latest technology of the present. He assured me he would checking this story out using the mobile Stuff site on his IPhone.

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