Moon, Check, Mars Next with Buzz Aldrin

He hails from the third rock from the sun, has walked on the moon, and has most recently appeared on 30 Rock, but Buzz Aldrin is still hitting the road. He travels the country trying to interest others in further space travel, particularly to Mars. Aldrin doesn't just want to see men walk the face of the red planet, though-he wants to see them put down roots there. It's a matter of national security, he says, the "colonization" of space, the next phase in what was once called the Cold War. If that gives you visions of Dr. Strangelove, keep them to yourself, because Aldrin strapped himself to the top of a skyscraper-sized missile back when you were in diapers just to escape Earth's orbit.



conduit: What do you think about further manned space exploration? Say, to Mars?

buzz aldrin: You know, 45 years ago I discovered a cycle of orbit that made transporting people from Earth to Mars much simpler strategically and viable economically, but it wasn't until about ten years ago that I started convincing people that we could settle there permanently. I want people to realize that the first humans who set foot on Mars are not coming back. They're going to settle there, they're going to be colonists. And that's the way it needs to be and that's what I'm convinced it will be. The Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower didn't wait around Plymouth Rock for the return trip.

conduit: Why do you think we need to be settling Mars?

aldrin: We had a civil war that sorted out who we are and then we dealt with other nations in World War I and World War II and finally we were put in a position of confrontation in the Cold War where we learned that supremacy in science and technology is very important. We gained an understanding of what we should really do and the Soviet Union understood that it could not match us in building a defense against missiles. So it capitulated. Nobody thought they were going to capitulate. Now what's that got to do with space flight? Well, we are not as high in rankings of science, technology, engineering and math as we were after the Apollo experience. People wanted to continue in that direction and there was a desire to be a leader in the world, but the government abandoned it. We have to take our mission seriously because few civilizations have continued to retain a position of world supremacy once they've risen to the leadership position. I think we can see how the way our government operates threatens that, how it is unable to economically measure up against lower-wage places with higher populations. Certainly if we engage in the wrong kind of competition, like going back to the moon again only to be welcomed by the Chinese, that wouldn't be a wise decision. Because while we're spending money doing that, I'm convinced the Russians will be landing on Mars. And so why do we go to Mars? Well, we go to Mars because it's there, it's to be done, and it contributes to the survival of the human species, whereas the big rock that could obliterate Earth could also obliterate a budding civilization on the surface of Mars. So, we take our chances in this game of life.

conduit: So, it's really less about the poetry of space exploration than a kind of practical need to maintain a certain dominance in world affairs.

aldrin: Well, there will always be the poetry, the beauty of the moonrise and the majesty of comets displaying things and re-entering the atmosphere in a blaze of fire. There will always be the fascination and the concern that humans have. I mean, earlier today a three-ton telescope was launched that's going to be entering the atmosphere before the end of the year. Well, that's something. But as a society grows in its ability to expand its realm of operations, I think it has a responsibility to look at preserving what has been invested to build it.

conduit: Why do you think we haven't gone to Mars or beyond?

aldrin: Part of it's technical, but an awful lot it is political. We're not investing in the future but in profiting right now.