Apollo 11 anniversary: Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin once landed at Deer Valley
Editor’s note: The following article emerged from an interview with Buzz Aldrin when he was in Park City in 2004 for a celebrity skiing event. It was originally printed in the Dec. 8-10, 2004 edition of The Park Record. We are republishing it to mark Saturday’s 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
Buzz Aldrin these days seems much more interested in talking about the future of space travel than its past, a past that Aldrin helped shape as one of the original Apollo astronauts and the second human to set foot on the moon.
And the future of the space program, he says, depends on the enthusiasm of everyday Americans, especially the younger generation.
Aldrin, who is 74 years old, is now an ambassador for space exploration, saying he wants Americans again interested and the way to spur those feelings is to introduce them to what the space program offers.
“We need to increase the enthusiasm for this exploration. That leads science. And we do that by getting people interested in things. Space camp, zero-gravity rides and now sub-orbital flights to be followed by commercial passenger rides into Earth orbit,” Aldrin said in an interview with The Park Record last weekend.
Aldrin visited Park City to participate in the Merrill Lynch Celebrity Ski Classic races at Deer Valley Resort, an annual gathering that launches the resort’s season. Aldrin joined actors and athletes competing in the challenge.
Aldrin, though, stands out among the group of celebrities given the minuscule fraternity of moonwalkers to which he belongs. Aldrin followed fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong to the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, marking what many see as man’s greatest technological triumph.
He does not want America to falter or let other countries take the lead in technology and space exploration as kids in this country choose instead to listen to music.
“If they’re looking for satisfaction at the moment, then they can get their MP3 players, plug it into their ears and walk up and down the streets and the nation will gradually fall behind,” he said.
Aldrin said he is now spending lots of time working with the private sector in an effort to eventually launch regular people into orbit and design spaceships that could eventually be used in return missions to the moon.
Such a mission requires a change in strategy at NASA, which Aldrin notes has focused on Earth orbiters, such as the space shuttles and space station, since the 1970s instead of further exploration of the moon.
He sees America eventually embarking on a mission much more ambitious than the moon landings — a trip to Mars. He said more rovers are needed on the Red Planet to chart possible landing spots and to collect samples of the Martian surface. More practical goals for the space program are returning the fleet of shuttles to flight in the aftermath of the Columbia disaster and finishing the International Space Station, perhaps by 2010, he said.
“Mars is the most habitable planet other than the Earth that we know of and I think we know quite a bit about what’s out there,” he said. “But I sure don’t want to mislead anyone in thinking Mars is around the corner.”
He understands some of the political challenges as well and acknowledges that Congress must make budget decisions that impact the space program.
“It’s expected that I will always defend human space flight having been there and I do … but I’m also a military person from West Point,” he said. “And I know we are at war now and probably the most complicated threatening situation we’ve had because it indeed threatens our homeland for the first time since we threatened it ourselves in the Civil War.”
Aldrin grew up the son of an aviator and the future astronaut always wanted to fly fighter jets. In the Korean War, Aldrin was a fighter pilot, mentioning that he downed two enemy planes. His education led him toward the space program and he says that being involved was humbling.
“You have a sense that you’re sharing something that few people have done,” he said.
He says astronauts are sometimes put in the position of American hero but that the mission to the moon disrupted his own life. He eventually divorced and he is a recovered alcoholic who has been sober for 26 years.
“That was the most challenging part — coming back. Being the person on the pedestal, explaining to people continually, ‘What is it like to be on the moon?’ ‘What did you feel like?’ What perspective did you change looking back on the Earth?” he said.
He now says his personal journey is more significant to him than the moon landing.
“My purpose is to serve my country. I just grew up that way. I know that’s not foremost in the minds of many people,” he said. “Their pursuit is what’s in it for me. How can I acquire the most wealth in the shortest period of time.”
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The artist from Vineyard who created the mural traveled to Park City again last weekend to repair it, tweak the image and leave a message for the community on the street.