A member of the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, Buzz Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon. In the years since, he has become an advocate for space exploration and technology, calling for renewed U.S. investment in the space program. In Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration, Aldrin lays out a detailed, multi-stage plan for journeying to the red planet that would culminate in the first permanent human settlement beyond the Earth.
It’s been more than four decades since you landed on the moon. What’s your assessment of the U.S. space program since then?
The United States has had periods of ambition, but it has not financed them appropriately. Interest waned after the first Apollo landing on the moon. There was the conflict in Vietnam that attracted attention and financing and U.S. government support, and then a general disinterest by the American people in American leadership and technology. Our standing in education in the world, in science, technology, engineering and math, began to go up because of Apollo and then back down again. I’m trying to fix a lot of that.
The space shuttle has been the most high-profile program in the years since Apollo. Do you think it was a success?
It killed two crews, it was way over budget, and it hasn’t really accomplished what it set out to do. Of course we pioneered international cooperation and zero gravity experiments and we gained medical knowledge about long-term habitation in space. But the experiments were disappointing for the results of a national laboratory. We had to rely on Russian contributions to build the space station. And now the United States is financing the Russian space program in order to keep our people, in America, at our $100 billion space station, because we had to retire the shuttle.
NASA ended the space shuttle program in 2011. Do you think that was premature?
No, the program needed cancelling, but NASA and the U.S. had seven years between the beginning of 2004 and the end of 2010 to come up with a replacement for the shuttle, which it failed to do.
You’ve worried about the U.S. falling behind. Do you see other government space agencies doing better work? The Russians, for example, or the European Space Agency?
Well, they’re not well-financed either. But they continue to be able to transport crews to the $100 billion International Space Station. And the Chinese have advanced, with Russian assistance, to potentially surpass the United States.
During the Apollo program we were in a so-called “space race” with the Soviet Union. Do you think that it’s important for the U.S. to lead the world in space exploration, or should it be more of a partnership between nations?