Buzz Aldrin: A global statesman for space

By: 
Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

Renowned astronaut and moonwalker Buzz Aldrin believes a coordinated international effort must be made to send astronauts to Mars within the next two decades to push the boundaries of human innovation.

Aldrin spoke at Mississippi State's Global Lecture Series to an at-capacity crowd at Bettersworth Auditorium in Lee Hall on Tuesday.

"Why Mars?" Aldrin asked. "We venture into space to improve life on Earth, from scientific innovation and research to technology we use in our daily lives. These innovations—and our goals—would not be possible without NASA."

He touched on the legacy of the Apollo program, his experience as pilot of the Apollo 11 moon landing and his drive to improve humanity following his fateful moonwalk in 1969.

Following his service as a combat pilot during the Korean War, Aldrin studied at MIT and applied for the newly established space program in 1961. He was eventually selected with the third group of NASA astronauts in 1963.

Through his work at MIT, Aldrin pioneered the two-man orbital rendezvous plan—a blueprint he adapted from his experience as a combat pilot—and the aerospace technique proved to be an integral part in coordinating the NASA moon landing, while improving the NASA Gemini program.

"I was given the nickname Dr. Rendezvous," Aldrin joked. "I then was part of Gemini 12."

With Gemini, Aldrin took part in then-record breaking spacewalks, circling the globe every 90 minutes and hurtling through space at 17,000 miles per hour. After intense training, the Apollo 11 crew—Neil Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins—made the final approach to land on the lunar surface 46 years ago.

"As I stepped out into the talcum powder-like lunar dust, two words came to mind," Aldrin said. "Magnificent desolation."

The entire Apollo crew realized their achievement stood for all of humanity and not just the U.S., he said. Aldrin is pictured in the famous "Visor Photo," taken by Armstrong that reflects the Lunar Module and the barren moonscape. He also snapped the widely recognized lunar bootprint photo.

"The achievement of the Apollo missions was the amazing innovation and teamwork," Aldrin said. "It took over 400,000 people in a unified effort to reach the moon."

After returning to Earth, Aldrin struggled with depression and alcoholism, he said. Through publishing works recalling the fateful Apollo 11 mission, Aldrin focused on his passion for space. The 86 year-old spacewalker has been proudly sober for 37 years, he said to roaring applause.

"I am 86 and my life is better than ever," Aldrin said.

A self-proclaimed, "global statesman for space," Aldrin has been active in developing plans to contribute to the effort to send humans to Mars.

In August 2015, Aldrin partnered with Florida Tech to establish the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute. The space activist will soon put together a think tank group to address past governmental failures that led to the slowdown of space exploration and public interest in space. The group will present its work to Congress within the coming years, he said.

The BASI will help support commercial and international development of lunar resources to support an eventual permanent Martian settlement. His concept, the "Cycling Pathways to Occupy Mars," establishes a series of progressive missions to the moon, asteroids, Phobos—a Martian moon—and eventually the surface of Mars by 2040.

MIT and Purdue University have also contributed to the coordinated effort. The space cycling system would include public missions—like NASA's Orion—and possible private development missions—like SpaceX's Dragon series to prepare for Martian occupation.

"I finally have a team to develop these concepts with," Aldrin said.

He touched on the importance of coordinating an international effort—led by the U.S.—to send astronauts to Mars. He noted the power of combining private and public aerospace programs as key factors in reaching Mars.

"Humanity needs to explore beyond our limits, just like we did in 1969," Aldrin said. "The impossible can be done again."

For more information on his Martian plans, visit buzzaldrin.com.

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