Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Buzz Aldrin: He’s Still Out There

One of the most powerful autobiographies I read two decades ago was Buzz Aldrin's Return To Earth (1973). Aldrin, the second human to put foot on the moon, candidly talks about the dream, the fulfillment of that dream, the pressures he was under at the time, and his regrets, because here he was, standing on the moon, but with eight hours of tests to conduct in four hours he couldn't just take a deep breath and take it in. A man is not a machine or a robot, but has a soul and heart, and fifteen seconds to stand in awe was not enough.

The pressures didn't let up after the return. These guys, Armstrong and Aldrin, and several others that followed in their footsteps, were paraded around the globe as international heroes, an "in your face" statement that we had achieved the impossible and we had done it first. This was Cold War posturing, and like good little foot soldiers Aldrin & company were expected to play the game. The strain of maintaining a happy face while feeling alienated and inwardly confused proved too much for Aldrin, and a nervous breakdown swept him out of the limelight.

The book is candid, and illuminating because of its candor. One of Aldrin's regrets was that he kept his mouth shut while NASA was making certain bad decisions. As result Aldrin, at age 80, has determined to be more vocal about the direction NASA is going as it pursues a second lunar space race.

The August issue of Popular Mechanics carries a feature story by Buzz Aldrin called "A Bolder Mission." Aldrin states emphatically that the current plan is too timid. Our sights need to be set on Mars.

I know many people who question the space program's viability altogether. Other than prestige, warm fuzzies and a few moon rocks, what do we get? Supporters will point to all the technology advances that emerged from the initial space race.

But Aldrin, who even invented a concept called the Mars Cycler that will get us to Mars more efficiently, is adamant that NASA must reconsider its trajectory over the next 25 years. In a CNN piece he states, "What we truly need is not more Cold War-style competition but a destination in space that offers great rewards for the risks to achieve it. I believe that destination must be homesteading Mars, the first human colony on another world.

"By refocusing our space program on Mars for America's future, we can restore the sense of wonder and adventure in space exploration that we knew in the summer of 1969. We won the moon race; now it's time for us to live and work on Mars, first on its moons and then on its surface."

It's obvious that for many, this is their life passion. This makes them very persuasive. But is this where our tax dollars should go? Actually, Aldrin even has an answer for that. If lunar exploration fails to pay for itself with what it discovers there, then it should be scrapped.

In the meantime, what do you think?

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