Advice from the original moonwalker

Advice from the original moonwalker

Buzz Aldrin on visiting the moon and conquering Mars.

Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon, is not raring to reprise the 1969 trip on board the Apollo 11.

Aldrin, now 80, can make better use of his time on earth, he tells CIO during a recent trip to Auckland.

Aldrin, whose full name is Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr, is busy with a range of activities around space exploration, including ShareSpace Foundation, a not for profit group that advances space education, exploration and affordable space flight.

This month, he is meeting with US President Barack Obama to discuss how NASA can start the course of “flexible research” in the next 10 years. He also competed in this year’s series of Dancing with the Stars, with the New York Times printing this elegy from a reader: “Despite his age, he’s an early favourite. He did perfect the moonwalk.”

As keynote speaker at the Planet 2010 conference in Auckland that was organised by the Telecommunications Industry Group, Aldrin, recounted the historic event more than 40 years ago that he was a part of with fellow astronauts Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins.

Aldrin’s message at the Auckland conference was also about teamwork, resiliency, inspiration and long-term planning.

“You may have obstacles and face significant business challenges, but with your team in hand, you can achieve great things.”

Aldrin says what got them to the moon was a nationwide effort of around 400,000 people – from the rocket scientists of NASA, to the seamstresses who painstakingly worked on the space suits.

Aldrin points out the computer system utilised in the 1969 moon landing had less memory than a Blackberry or iPhone.

“They have more relative computing power than the spaceships that sent us to the moon,” he says, as he retrieves both devices from his pockets.

“But my Blackberry can’t land me on the moon. I am in the process of developing a Buzz Adrin app with the iPhone, so maybe in the future you would be able to learn everything you every wanted to know about space.”

Magnificent desolation

Aldrin recalls the “fine talcum lunar dust” on the moon and the first words that came to his mind which were, “magnificent desolation”.

Yet, more than the moon rocks they brought back,he says the “true value of [the landing] is the amazing teamwork and national determination that went on overcoming all obstacles to reach the moon”.

“Everybody likes to tell me where they were when we walked on the moon,” he says. He is also asked whether he experienced fear as an astronaut. For Aldrin, who flew combat missions during the war in Korea, “There is no comparison to the fear you face in direct combat and the enemy who comes at you from all angles trying to shoot you down.”

As for the greatest lessons from his days at the US space agency NASA, that he is applying to his career and personal life, Aldrin says, “Management needs to be able to project ahead to look at smooth transitions on whatever it is we are involved in today and what we want to do because the transitions seem to always get us into trouble.”

He says a crucial point in regards to the space programme was that, “We transitioned from nothing. Before Sputnik, there was nothing and from that point on until getting to the moon we did not know how to get there, we adjusted as we learned,” he says, referring to the satellite the Russians launched into space ahead of the US, which led to the creation of NASA in 1958. “Flexibility is key.”

Aldrin has been active in a programme that would eventually allow humans to settle in Mars. “We can hypothesise and say, sooner or later whatever wiped out the dinosaurs is liable to come again, just like earthquakes and tsunamis, it might really destroy humanity and all the progress we made.” This scenario, he says, can be met, “if we are able to ensure the survival of the human species by establishing a growing settlement somewhere.”

Aldrin wrote a science fiction story on this theme of space settlement. The story revolved around residents of Alpha Centauri system visiting the earth after their world was totally wiped out. “They had to go somewhere,” says Aldrin.

A message of his that resonates with New Zealand is in the area of education. “Satisfying an inspirational drive and imagination of the quest of curiosity … that inspires people to do things that measures their own contribution, that is what we need to develop in our education systems,” he says.

His experience bears this out. Aldrin graduated with a BSc in mechanical engineering from the US Military Academy at Westpoint. After his tour of duty in the military, he decided to continue his education, enrolling at the astronauts’ programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his father had also received a doctorate in the 1920s. “My educational pursuits and MIT opened a new door,” he says as NASA, became interested in his concept of a “rendezvous in space”, which was the topic of his doctoral thesis. Some of the techniques in his thesis were applied to the space programme.

He also used his knowledge as a scuba diver to raise the opportunity to be the first astronaut to train underwater – as part of an astronaut’s ability to work in a weightless environment.

He is pushing for a programme, which he calls STEM, for “Science, Technology, Engineering and Math”.

One way, he says, is to ask retired teachers to act as “space science education ambassadors”.

“And if you guys want to start that in New Zealand, I will come down here and we will learn how to make it work.”

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Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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