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Masters of Scifi – Astronaut Buzz Aldrin Describes How SciFi Can Get Real


In July of 1969, Buzz Aldrin became the second man to walk on the moon. Now 78, he returns to the days of Apollo 11 with a special appearance in the 3D animated film, Fly Me to the Moon, the tale of three flies who hitch a ride on the historic landing. Aldrin spoke with his hopes for the film, NASA’s future, and Battlestar Galactica‘s big flaw.

Q: How did you get involved with Fly Me to the Moon?

A: Well, everything has a promoter, and, of course, I’ve been a highly visible moonwalker. But the movie fit in very well with my approaching, supporting and stimulating the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. The idea is to present the American people with why we should be doing exploration in the future by reminding them of the benefits that we got in the past, and to reintroduce the people who flew in those mission. To me, this is more education than entertainment.

Q: You recently said that America is losing the space race again when it comes to future exploration.

A: As the result of Sputnik and the American people being surprised by the advanced technology in the Soviet Union, we were clearly going to respond and initiate activities in space. Going from Mercury with one guy in a capsule to Apollo with three, we had to have a gap filler. And we came up with a very appropriate Gemini program that had major achievements — like computer guided re-entry and rendezvous. Contrast that with when terminated Apollo: We did not have a gap-filling program and we did not have the flexibility to define exactly what we should be doing. We stuck with one design of the Space Shuttle, which was a mistake I didn’t object to strongly enough, and we ended up with a big gap and inflexibility.

Q: But now we have the Orion spacecraft to take us to the moon and Mars.

A: Well, the Columbia accident forced our hand. Otherwise we were going to fly the shuttle maybe until 2020 or 2025, heaven forbid. Orion is a capsule, and it’s probably an appropriate design. The problem is, from Sputnik on, we’ve had only one way to get Americans into orbit, and we’ve suffered as a result. We should have funded and subsidized an appropriate runway lander that NASA now wants to ignore in support of capsules. So, is the implementation of the vision of space exploration as good as it should have been? Some people have questions about that.

Q: Is privatizing space the answer?

A: I have great admiration for the industrial approach. But when people in corporations like Boeing come up with good ideas, they organize them and they run them up the line of the corporation for approval. And when they get to the top, there’s only one thing that’s on the mind of that person: Shareholder value. Is that system going to lead to leadership in innovation and development of ideas in 2050 and beyond? I really wonder. There just isn’t way that a backyard person is going to put up Battlestar Galactica, despite what Hollywood wants to make people think.

Q: Do you really think modern science fiction creates false hope about what is possible?

A: You bet. I spent a year and a half writing the most ideal science fiction space book that I think has ever been written – Encounter With Tiber. Arthur Clarke felt that way too and said as much in the forward. It makes use of Shuttle and station, and it gives the reader conditions under which you would be motivated to travel from one star to the other — like the extinction of your species. You have to mix reality with well-educated fictional projection. I would have called science fiction “technology projection.”

Q: Where does Fly Me to the Moon fit in?

A: I guess my part is to straighten out the facts. We had a clean room up there, so there were no flies in the spacecraft — just the guys who were supposed to be there. But the technicality of whether it’s practical or not — forget about it. That’s not the question. The question is, does this excite young kids? And the 3D really gets them excited and dreaming. They’re going to remember this.

Q: What is going to re-energize the public’s interest in the space program?

A: We have something and it is not inspiring people. It’s not really leading to U.S. leadership, and to me, the most important thing is to capitalize the investment we made in the ’60s and ’70s to establish U.S. leadership. What’s going to inspire people? Well, I hope it isn’t a show like Big Brother — watching everything the guy does in the spacecraft. I like my privacy when I’m doing things like that, and I think most explorers would like that also.

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