O N JULY 20, 1969, BUZZ ALDRIN AND NEIL ARMSTRONG BECAME THE FIRST MEN TO WALK ON THE MOON.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11, Aldrin wrote about his experience for the July 1994 issue of POPULAR MECHANICS. Who better to write about the historic moon landing than someone who can say, “Been there, done that.”
When PM asked Aldrin to contribute a story, he was still on a mission, a quarter-century later—to establish a practical and permanent human presence in outer space. He had received a patent in 1993 for a permanent space station design.
Aldrin’s PM article, “Why I Walked On The Moon,” describes the “luck and timing and the labor of a hundred thousand colleagues” that made him and Armstrong the first humans on the moon.
But mostly, it’s about a larger mission that was clear to him long before that July 1969 stroll around Tranquility Base. As a West Point graduate and fighter pilot with 66 missions during the Korean conflict, becoming a test pilot would have been a natural next step for him. But Aldrin was interested in continuing his education. “I wanted to combine my background as a fighter pilot—an occupation of short-term reaction—with my desire to bring some imagination to the bigger, long-term picture,” Aldrin wrote for PM.
Aldrin earned a doctorate in astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963. His thesis was guidance for manned orbital rendezvous in space flight.
THE FIRST TIME ALDRIN APPLIED TO BE AN ASTRONAUT. NASA TURNED HIM DOWN. But he persisted, and in 1963 he was accepted as one of 14 astronauts for the Gemini phase of the space program. Coincidentally, refining rendezvous and docking techniques was among the Gemini goals prior to the Apollo moon landing program. After his Gemini flight and the historic walk on the moon, Aldrin went on to become Commander of the Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California, where the space shuttle was being tested. Aldrin had helped evaluate some of the early shuttle proposals while still at NASA—his new résumé seemed likely to make him a key player in the aircraft’s development.
The intense push to go to the moon before 1970 was driven by President Kennedy’s 1961 challenge and inflamed by the race against the Soviet Union to get there first. However, as Aldrin told PM readers, “When you do something under a tight schedule ... you don’t necessarily invest in it for long-term sustain-ability.”
Aldrin disagreed with some of the final decisions made on the shuttle plan. As he explained in PM, “Yes, it’s a great technical achievement, but it really wasn’t built for operational simplicity, economy or reusability.” Aldrin went on to suggest a number of ways NASA might avoid similar problems in developing the Inter-national Space Station (ISS), always keeping in mind the hard realities of cost and political pressure.
An active proponent of space exploration, Aldrin also talked to PM readers about the benefits of returning to the moon. “A return to the Moon offers a way for us to leverage an evolutionary expansion of our capability in space—a way that’s more likely to sustain itself than to drift in an ebb and flow,” Aldrin wrote.
Sustainability and practical space initiatives are continuing themes for Aldrin. To that end, he founded a rocket design company, Starcraft Boosters, and the Share-Space Foundation, which promotes space tourism for all, not just specially trained astronauts. He is also an adviser to LunaCorp, which among other things helps private companies gain access to the ISS. Aldrin recently served as President George W. Bush’s appointee on the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aero-space Industry.
In the May 2003 issue of Popular Mechanics, Aldrin wrote about the direction he thought America’s space program should take. In the wake of the Columbia accident, Aldrin stressed making crew-escape enhancement NASA’s first priority. He continued to advocate establishing a space station on the moon as a base for space exploration, such as missions to Mars, but also envisioned establishing a temporary base on an asteroid to test the “capabilities of operating on another planet.” He also saw this as a critical period in the future of the space program itself. Whether all future space exploration takes the form of asteroid colonies. multi-module space stations, or some other form we have not yet imagined, Aldrin will always be able to say, “Been there, done that.”
The full article by Buzz Aldrin is
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