MAN ON THE MOON
September 13, 2009
By ROBERT BIESELIN
Being the second human to step foot on the chalky gray dust of the moon made Buzz Aldrin a celebrity.
If he had it his way, though, the feat would just make him one in 6 billion.
As the Montclair native reaffirms in his new autobiography ("Magnificent Desolation") and children's book ("Look to the Stars"), the "giant leap" he and Neil Armstrong took will regress back to a "small step" without further progress to make space travel (and tourism) a renewed reality.
We caught up with the 79-year-old doctor/moonwalker/Tweeter prior to today's book signing at Bookends to chat about space colonization, global cooperation and some of the steps necessary to transform his moonwalk from a novelty to a norm.
Q. In both of your new books you discuss the next manned trip to the moon and eventual colonies on the moon or Mars. Do you have a time frame when you think that could conceivably happen?
Well, let me cut right to the issue: I think it's going to depend upon the international community to make manned visits to the moon. We have to expend our resources to gradually develop a full capability for low-Earth orbit transportation following the shuttle.
We'll have to robotically support international partners in their quest to land their astronauts for furthering exploration while we concentrate on development following that exploration.
Then we can start flying by comets as early as 2018/2019, then by 2020 we can station-keep for 30 days with an asteroid, then do that again in 2021. Then we can begin to put exploration modules at [the Martian moon] Phobos. And we can occupy [Mars] in 2025, 2027, 2029 and then land people from Earth as early as 2031.
Q. These would be NASA-funded, not space tourism ventures, right?
Yes, but it develops the building blocks of space tourism, including potentially the spacecrafts that can bring people up to low-Earth orbit and bring them back, landing on a runway.
It all depends how much the cost of that can be brought down to in the future, but all of these actions pave the way for space adventure opportunities.
Q. Do you think this domestic progress in this kind of program would help America's status and diplomacy the same way the first manned moon landing did in the 1960s?
It certainly will. Everything I'm saying is built upon increased international cooperation at the space station.
It goes back to [the Apollo slogan "Peace for all mankind"]. I think that was very symbolic of all those missions. They were all about furthering civil space activities and not defense or offensive build-ups.
Q. Your 1996 novel, "Encounter With Tiber," dealt with communications between humans and aliens. Do you think there'll ever be definitive proof here or elsewhere of extra-terrestrial life?
I may have been doing a disservice by suggesting that intelligent life could be on the very closest stars. I'm just not familiar enough with the total evidence on any of the nearby stars to know what's there. I just wanted people to think about things being quite a bit different than they are here and to throw in an interaction between societies in the near future in a realistic way.
Q. Science fiction often deals with technology coming into conflict with humans. Do you think the consciousness of computers or technology is something that will eventually have to be contended with in space or on Earth for that matter?
Well, I wouldn't worry about that. We first need to get them to think and use even the crudest logic and come to conclusions and then actually initiate action before we have to worry. I'm sure we will develop a pretty strong conscience of do's and don'ts as we develop more intelligent robots.
People talk about Hal (from "2001: A Space Odyssey"), but you have to see that he wasn't adequately instructed that his job was to protect the humans in his close proximity and not take any action on his own.
Q. As someone who's seen the Earth from outer space, how do you think life on this planet will end?
It could be any number of ways.
I personally don't think it's ever too soon to begin dealing with the possibilities. ... We purchase insurance for potential hazards that we hope won't happen. This isn't much different.
I think it's in our best interest [to start planning] and we'll learn tremendous things in the process of building preventive measures to combat catastrophic events.
You don't want to be facing an asteroid asking, "Why didn't we start this earlier?"
Q. What is the most compelling reason for colonization?
I think the overall reason is U.S. leadership that means inspiration, education, a high-tech workforce.
All of those things come when you have an attractive, inspiring projection of human presence outward in the solar system.
Copyright 2009 Bergen Record Corp. All rights reserved.