Buzz Aldrin, the Moon, Mars, and Beyond

Very few speakers who come to Purdue (indeed, very few speakers in general) are capable of drawing the audience seen in the Purdue Memorial Union this last Wednesday night. Very few speakers can create a crowd as excited as this one was hours before they even appear on stage. Very few speakers can command the attention of everyone in the room, seemingly without even trying. Of course, very few speakers are Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.

Buzz Aldrin is most famous for being the second person to set foot on the moon, alongside Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11 Lunar Mission in 1969. Even this basic background is largely unnecessary though, especially for the audience listening to his words. As Aldrin said himself in the opening of his talk,

People are always asking me to talk about the past. The past is fine, but I prefer to talk about the future. I’m a forward thinker.

A forward thinker he most certainly is. The majority of his presentation was not concerned with what he and other astronauts had accomplished in the past, but with what the future’s engineers and world leaders can accomplish in their own time. He spoke about the future of human spaceflight with a breadth and depth of knowledge truly befitting an icon of the space race. The fact that Aldrin has maintained such a strong passion and close personal association with the space program for over forty years is a testament to his one unshakable belief: that humanity has a destiny among the stars.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the night was the personableness Aldrin exuded from his podium. Members of the audience got a very close understanding of how he got here and why he is so passionate about what he does. During his talk, Aldrin made it clear that the main forces that drive him are a curiosity of the unknown, a love for his country, and a desire to see humans working together to accomplish more than they ever could alone.

Indeed, one of the overarching themes of the presentation was the need for international cooperation on spaceflight. Aldrin doesn’t mince words on this, and has plenty of opinions to share about the political side of the space program. This was especially interesting, considering his experiences with the space race and the Cold War. Listening to Aldrin speak about his history with past administrations and the political climate necessary to make the Apollo Program happen offered a fascinating comparison to the subjects he’s tackling today. One may at first mistake Aldrin for a remnant of a bygone era, but one evening with him shows that he is just as current as ever.

Which brings up one of Aldrin’s favorite topics: a manned mission to Mars. Much of the night’s talk was concerned with his vision of humanity’s journey to the Red Planet. He exhibited a great degree of practical and technical knowledge, laying out a highly detailed path getting us from today to permanent colony on Mars by 2040. This project is the focus of his new book, Mission to Mars, copies of which Aldrin signed after the talk.

Unsurprisingly, the crowd waiting in line for his book signing was even larger than the crowd waiting for his speech. Many people waited hours just for a chance to speak with him, and it isn’t any wonder why. Buzz Aldrin serves as an inspiration to countless people, not just because of his accomplishments as an Apollo astronaut, but because of his championing of space exploration in general. His work represents the achievements that can be reached by cooperation, the human spirit, and a yearning for discovery. As Aldrin said himself,

What I realized is that the crowds after we came back from the moon weren’t cheering for us three guys. They were cheering for what we represented. They were cheering for the accomplishment that humanity had made, and that we would make again.