We interviewed astronaut and author Buzz Aldrin at Buca di Beppo restaurant in Manhattan recently. He latest book, "Mission to Mars," was one of the best books we ever read.
How is your relationship with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins?
My relationship with both my crew members was the smoothest that I think it could be. Mike Collins, of course, was an Air Force pilot, and I had occasion to meet him somewhat before. Neil Armstrong was a Navy pilot on carriers, and then he became a NASA test pilot of great, great skill.
He and I were paired together on the backup crew to the first flight that went and orbited the moon. I'd say that we got along, as a crew, very closely. We were probably not the most talkative crew. We were rather serious about what we were doing.
How do you feel about going to other solar systems, because in the book you only talk about Mars?
We have to learn to walk before we could run, and if you're trying to run at the speed of light, that takes a lot of walking to learn how to do that. A solar system is a group of planets around the sun, and the closest one to us is Alpha Centauri, and it's a little over 4 light years away. Do you know how long it takes light to go from the sun to the Earth? Do you know?
Why do you choose Mars as your second home?
It's the most attractive to send humans to be able to live there. The moon is not very attractive. The sunlight lasts for 14 days to go from sunrise to sunset. It gets very, very hot, and then the sun sets and it's dark for 14 days, and then it gets very, very cold.
There's no air, and the water is kind of frozen in crystals. Mars has ice on the two poles. It has an atmosphere, not very much, not oxygen like we breathe, but it's carbon dioxide. And it has seasons, winter, spring, fall, summer. And it turns like the Earth does.
The Earth turns in 24 hours, Mars turns in about 241/2. So there are a lot of things that are similar in Mars. The gravity is a little bit more than the moon. If we send people to the moon like we did, you can turn around and bring them back easily. So there's no need to leave people there for a long time. But at Mars, it's difficult to get them there.
And it's much more difficult, much more costly to bring them back. And our purpose of sending them there is to build up people there. And build that up with permanence. Until we're ready to do that, we should prepare more and more until we are ready.
How did you feel when you first stepped on the moon?
I had looked out the window when Neil went down, and I saw him walk around and gather up a sample; in case something happened, at least we would have a small sample of the moon.
So if something happened with my coming back early in the activities before we put the rocks into the big rock boxes, we'd at least have those samples. And he moved around very easily.
And so when I went down to the bottom of the ladder; I knew that it was going to be rather easy. I had done a spacewalk on my first flight. I had trained for that underwater in a swimming pool with a space suit on. So I felt competent in what we were going to be able to do.
Who was your role model growing up?
My father was an aviator before I was born. He was flying planes. And I guess if I had a role model other than somebody flying an airplane, like my father, it would have been somebody about the same age who was given the task after we were attacked in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii that led the first bombing raid on Tokyo shortly after the beginning [of World War II]. His name was Doolittle. Gen. [James] Doolittle. So maybe he was a role model for me.
What is your life motto?
We have a motto where we went to school of "duty, honor, country." Now what I am today, I learned that it was made possible by education. At your age, then middle school, then high school, and then college.
I went into the military for a very good training, and then I flew airplanes for the Air Force, then I went back to school and I got qualified to become an astronaut. Then I did that for awhile.
Now, I'm writing books about what we can and should do within the future to maintain the greatest of America in space.
How does it feel to be a U.S. Army pilot compared to being named a NASA astronaut?
I went to West Point. There wasn't an Air Force Academy then. Twenty-five percent from the Naval Academy and from West Point went into the Air Force. I preferred being an Air Force pilot because the runways are a little longer and I got on an aircraft carrier that makes you seasick and I don't like to get seasick.
So I learned how to fly, shoot gunnery and the timing was just so that the Korean War was beginning and I was sent over to South Korea to carry on the conflict between North Korea and South Korea. So I flew combat missions there. I didn't choose to want go through test pilot training.
I felt that there were some very very good pilots that I met that were just natural. It took me awhile to sort of get used to an airplane and I felt very comfortable.
But to have my whole career being somebody who tests airplanes, I really wanted to do things in space and that's why when I went to graduate training I specialized in space activities rendezvous.
I wasn't qualified as an astronaut the first time, but I guess they paid attention to what I was doing and they decided the next year to not require people to have test pilot training but more education and more expertise in other things. So you can never tell when you try something that you might get somebody to change the rules if you're persistent.
What would civilization be like on another planet? For example, would there be cars, schools, will people live in houses and how many years will it take for people to populate their planet?
It won't be cars right away. We live in habitats, what we call living quarters on land. Maybe some of them may be inflatable like a balloon. They start compact, then inflate them and they're connected together. That's what we have to do to connect together things before people go there. So it should be such that we can grow food there with water from below the surface.
We have water, we have sunlight, we grow plants to eat and we explore Mars with the different parts of it and maybe in the 1,000 years we can change Mars to be a little bit more like the Earth's atmosphere and temperatures. It may have been that way, there may have been oceans on Mars many, many years ago.
But if something goes wrong here on Earth -- say a disease begins to wipe out people, or maybe there's a nuclear conflict or maybe there's a big asteroid comes and we can't do anything about it and it snuffs out life here on Earth.
It's nice to kind of have human beings somewhere else that can survive. And we learn by going just like "Star Trek" to go where man has not been before. There's a lot of interesting things, a lot of fundamental things that we could change in the world.
We don't have to accept everything just the way it is. We have to find out what's wrong, what we need to change, what we can change without making things worse somewhere else. That's the job for you guys to do.