Interview: Buzz Aldrin wants an international moon base… and it should be led by the United States

  • Apollo 11 hero thinks lunar base would be a stepping stone to the solar system
  • NASA’s current goal for manned exploration is wrong
  • Mars a realistic target by 2035

On 20 July 1969, Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin’s life changed for ever. Following his friend and fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong onto the lunar surface, Aldrin was instantly immortalised as the second man on the Moon, and one of only 12 to have ever set foot there. In the decades since, Aldrin has become a vocal proponent for manned exploration, keen to share his views with the world – something he continues to do to this day. We asked his thoughts on the state of space exploration today, with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission approaching in 2019, and found him keen to give his opinion on where he thinks we stand…

“With the ISS I think we have learned that, even though it maybe wasn’t perfect, we did bring nations together,” says Aldrin. “There are other things that we’ve co-operated on in space, but I feel that we need an international lunar base development so that activity on the Moon – robotic or human – can be overseen by a single international organisation, and it should be instigated and led by the United States.”

“We don’t have to build big rockets and big landers…”

Indeed, Aldrin feels that a lunar base could be a vital stepping stone to other corners of the Solar System. “In the conservation of our resources in the US, we should prepare a lunar base for other people to use including testing spacecraft and later interplanetary travel,” explains Aldrin. “That way we don’t have to build the big rockets and big landers that we’re not well equipped to do.”

Barack Obama with the Apollo 11 crew in the Oval Office 2009


Aldrin, of course, is referring to NASA’s much-maligned Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System [SLS], which he feels are stagnating under misdirection. President Obama was responsible for cancelling the Constellation programme, which would have landed astronauts back on the Moon, but Aldrin feels it was a step that needed to be taken. “He was following the unsuccessful implementation of President Bush’s plan,” says Aldrin. “Obama made the right decision in cancelling Constellation.”

“Orion and SLS are not the right direction for NASA,”

But even with the deadweight of Constellation cast off, Aldrin still feels NASA’s current goal for manned exploration is wrong. “Orion and SLS are not the right direction for NASA,” he says. “I think we’re so far along with Orion that we need to complete it as an Earth-landing system, but I think Orion needs to have a second-generation spacecraft that does not re-enter the atmosphere, and I don’t believe we need to develop a big rocket that will be very expensive and won’t fly very often.”

“I think these are attractive times to make a commitment to permanence at Mars within two decades.”

The problem, Aldrin says, is with the Senate. “Senate law mandates NASA to use ‘heritage components’,” he explains. “That, to me, means old stuff. Not innovative future thinking that is commemorative of a great leading nation. If this is continued, it will not bode well for US leadership in space. We should be landing astronauts on the Moon, and we’ve got plenty of time to develop a more cost-effective system than using ‘heritage components’.”

Amstrong, Collins and Aldrin talk with President Nixon after their return from the Moon

While the US government might be heading in the wrong direction in Aldrin’s eyes, the privatisation of space is something to be hopeful for. “I’m encouraged by commercial space initiatives,” he says. “Their success will move the country towards landing man on Mars, and not returning to what we did 40 or 50 years ago [on the Moon]. For a while I have felt that the public attention being drawn to the 50th anniversaries of the landings on the Moon from July 2019 to December 2022 – that’s the landing of Apollo 11 through 17 – might inspire such a mission. I think those are attractive times to make a commitment to permanence at Mars within two decades.”

As we head into this new era of private space travel, the man who was on that seminal mission to the Moon clearly feels that now is the time to, once again, reach for the stars just as we did in the Sixties and Seventies. And does Aldrin think Mars is a realistic target by 2035? “Yes, I do,” he concludes.

Plus take a look at:

Cosmonauts – How Russia gave birth to the space age

Nasa’s Apollo 11: How the Moon Lander Worked

Are Buzz Aldrin’s footprints still on the Moon?

(Interview originally appeared in All About Space issue 11, by Jonny O’Callaghan)