To infinity and beyond

It’s exactly 50 years since humans first set foot on the moon. As the world celebrates this iconic moment in history, we revisit an exclusive interview that second-man-on-the-moon Buzz Aldrin gave to AkzoNobel’s A Magazine back in 2008.

What does it feel like to go into space and land on the moon? It’s the one question former astronaut Buzz Aldrin gets asked the most. It’s also a question many more people could soon be able to answer now that commercial exploration of the so-called final frontier is about to open up the universe to tourists.

Aldrin, the second human to set foot on the moon, remains one of the world’s foremost figures when it comes to promoting man’s further exploration – and eventual habitation – of space. Still highly active and in demand across the globe, he’s long been convinced that excursions to celestial hotels will one day become a reality. He also claims that it’s not the moon which offers the best hope of establishing permanently manned off-world habitats. Because it would make far more sense to put human life on Mars.

It may sound like someone’s seen one episode of Star Trek too many, but the first so-called tourists have already been into orbit, paying mindboggling amounts of money for the privilege of visiting the International Space Station. It quickly becomes apparent, therefore, that Aldrin – who was 39 when he followed Neil Armstrong onto the lunar surface during that historic Apollo XI mission in 1969 – has remained well ahead of the game.

“We’re about to explore further than ever before – to the moon, Mars and beyond,” he says. “My mission now is to invite new generations to share the wonders of space and to foster affordable space travel for all. So I’m very supportive of expanding our access to orbital capabilities around the Earth. Towards and around the moon for example; to near Earth objects such as asteroids; and to a likely second habitat for the people on our planet, which right now seems most likely to be Mars.”

Humans will undoubtedly return to the moon, states Aldrin, but with the express aim of learning how to support excursions to more habitable otherworldly locations. “The surface of Mars is a far better place to establish a growing permanence than the moon,” he continues. “Unless the moon’s occupancy can be justified by the commercial return of some products, whether it’s oxygen, rocket fuel, fusion materials or building materials that enable a profit-making industry. But there are many stepping stones to negotiate before we get there.”

Aldrin, who has logged 4,500 hours of flying time (290 of them in space), adds that the determination to make space more accessible isn’t only being driven by a fascination for adventure and exploration. There’s a growing belief that, one day, it might become a necessity. “We need to start focusing international awareness on the fact that, at some point in the future, the Earth will be in danger from calamities in space,” he warns.

“We also have to face up to the realities of diminishing resources. Some of this could be alleviated by space activities that can capture the sun’s energy and beam it back in convertible energy to electricity. We could even bring certain materials back from the moon, or asteroids which contain minerals that can quite easily supplant the diminishing resources here on Earth. But any extended human presence on the moon should be justified by strict examination of the economics of supporting human habitation there.”

Such fantastical possibilities are light years ahead of Aldrin’s history-making mission, a life-changing event which he is only able to partly recollect. “My memories are kind of spotty,” he admits. “It gets renewed by replaying the films and voice recordings. Looking at the spacecraft and pictures also helps. It’s a great stimulus for the blank, staring memory.” After becoming an instant household name, Aldrin – one of only 12 men to have set foot on the moon – inevitably had to cope with the fame and adulation which followed. Something he wasn’t entirely prepared for.

“I didn’t really relish the thought of being highly visible or subject to a loss of privacy. There were also certain expectations from people for us to perform in certain ways. I then had to deal with my own personal recovery from depression and alcoholism at a crucial time in life. However, having maintained a degree of stability, I now really enjoy the continued opportunities that have been afforded to me by being a visible, successful past achiever.”

Now we’re standing on the edge of a new era of exploration, when space is once again the center of attention. “We have opened up the potential of departing the planet and going elsewhere to neighbouring objects or creating our own islands in space,” says Aldrin. “I think that holds great attraction, inspiration and motivation for young people and new generations. Exploration is about to reach a new frontier.”

The full A Magazine interview with Buzz Aldrin is available here.