Publisher and Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Buzz Aldrin, photo courtesy of SXSW

Buzz Aldrin, one of the first two men to set foot on the moon, thinks that should be a stop on the journey to Mars and the U.S. should occupy the red planet.

Aldrin participated in a featured session at South by Southwest Film on Tuesday with Time Magazine Editor-at-large Jeffrey Kluger, who just completed writing the book, Apollo 8, on the first manned mission to reach the moon, orbit it and return to earth safely.

Cycling Pathways to Mars, courtesy photo.

Aldrin, astronaut on Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 missions, was at the festival to premiere with 8i, a holographic technology company, and Time’s Life VR “Buzz Aldrin: Cycling Pathways to Mars, a virtual realty film featuring Aldrin’s hologram on a journey through space.

He wanted to do the project to share his plans with the world to create a human settlement on Mars. During the panel, they showed a trailer for the VR project, which features a photorealistic 3D hologram of Aldrin. It will be distributed across multiple VR platforms on Friday.

During the rest of the talk, Kluger asked Aldrin about his plans for space exploration and colonizing Mars and his experience as an astronaut and space pioneer.

Kluger asked Aldrin why he is critical of what he calls the “flags and footprints” model of exploring space and what are its limitations.

“It means that as a nation, we don’t care too much about the science, or the geology or how long you’re going to stay or what you’re going to eat, we just want you to go there and put a flag down,” Aldrin said. “It symbolizes an expedition. That’s not the way we want to venture outward at all. It’s kind of a degrading term. We don’t want any more of this flags and footprints.”

Instead, the plan is to go to Mars and stay there for five, seven or ten years and to continually occupy the planet and build a permanent settlement there, Aldrin said.

“The moon enables us to go to Mars,” Aldrin said. “It’s essential. It’s almost mandatory in my way of thinking. The base we want at Mars. We will design and place it on the moon.”

The moon will become a landing and refueling stop on the way to Mars as part of a multiple-step approach, Aldrin said. A spaceship would also continuously travel back and forth from Mars to Earth. The U.S. would design the moon station with participation from Europe, Russia, Japan and China, Aldrin said. He is already talking about these plans with the Chinese and Russians at the Buzz Aldrin Institute at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida. He also serves as chancellor of the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.

During the talk, Aldrin recounted how the first person to propose going to Mars was President John F. Kennedy in April of 1961. He met with NASA officials at NASA headquarters and told them “we got to really boost our technology. I think we should go to Mars.” NASA officials told him that was beyond their capabilities but that maybe they could get to the moon in 15 years. They beat that goal and did it in a decade, Aldrin said.

On July 20th, 2019, it will be the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing and that would be a good time for the President to announce plans for the U.S. in two decades to lead international crews to occupy Mars, Aldrin said.

“Our purpose I believe is to settle the planet Mars,” he said. “And I think that should be our objective. We’re not going to sell the American people, certainly we’re not going to sell the government on that right away. But if we occupy, then we’ve got several years to fine tune that.”

Twelve years ago, NASA landed Spirit and Opportunity rovers on opposite sides of Mars. Spirit quit after five years and Opportunity is still working, Aldrin said.

“In five years, with both of them moving around, what they accomplished could have been done in one week if we had human intelligence around Mars,” he said.

The permanently shaded regions of Mars are where the ice is and that is where the source of hydrogen and oxygen is and NASA can use that to refuel spacecraft, Aldrin said.

Today, NASA’s budget is just shy of $20 billion, which is as much as it has been in several years, Kluger said.

“The budget in 1965, before we correct for inflation, was $7.5 billion, which would be just shy of $60 billion in today’s dollars,” he said. “NASA represented four percent of the U.S. budget in the sixties. It is now .04 percent. Do we have the wisdom to spend the money it takes to become a two-planet species?”

“The wisdom to spend the money,” Aldrin said. “That’s the first time I’ve heard that. It takes fiscal wisdom to do with the taxpayers’ money what we should be doing.”

The peak of NASA’s budget was the peak of the early Apollo missions, it was already on the decline by the time Aldrin and Astronaut Neil Armstrong went to the moon, he said.

For 10 to 15 years, it’s been a half a percent, Aldrin said.

NASA simply doesn’t get enough money to do what it needs to do, Aldrin said. The shuttle stopped flying in 2011 and the Orion spacecraft was supposed to take over. But it wasn’t ready.

“How do we get to our $100 billion space station?” Aldrin asked. “In a Russian space craft. And the price, as you expect, keeps going up.”

Commercial spacecraft and rockets felt they could replace the rocket that was not ready, Aldrin said.

SpaceX and Orbital Science have been delivering cargo. Within a year, SpaceX and Boeing are expected to deliver crew, Aldrin said.

“Without delivering crew to earth’s orbit, we’re not going anywhere,” he said. “That’s really worse than we were in April of 1961.”

“One of the reasons that we go to space is simply because we go because that’s what we as an idiosyncratic species do,” Kluger said. “It’s the same reason we write symphonies and we dance. None of that stuff keeps us alive but it’s all reasons we want to be alive in the first place. Do you feel there is a safe space for that sentiment or must it always be this is how we can benefit pragmatically, financially, technologically?”

“I had a speech writer help me out. He said We Explore or We Expire,” Aldrin said.

Aldrin also recounted a few stories from his time in space like when Astronaut Neil Armstrong left the capsule first feet first and then Aldrin. But he had to turn around and partially close the door to the capsule. He couldn’t close it all the way because there wasn’t a handle on the outside of the door and there would be no way to get back inside.

He also said when they were ready to return to earth, he had an “absurd” conversation with the mission command center in Houston.

They told him “Tranquility Base You’re cleared for takeoff.”

He answered: “Roger Houston, we’re number one on the runway.”

“Absurd,” Aldrin said. “We’re the only people up here. There’s no runway.”

Aldrin also advised the audience to train their brain to think outside the box.

“You have to expand your way of thinking, into not absurdities, not risky things, but better ways of doing things,” he said.