The Dark Side Of The Moon: And, Buzz Aldrin’s Clarion Call For A Manned Mission To Mars
Jeanne Marie Laskas, has a thoroughly engrossing article in the January 2015 edition of GQ, on the 1969 moon landing, it’s aftermath, and Buzz Aldrin — The Second Man to Walk On The Moon.. I have provided lengthy excerpts below; but, you can access the full article at GQ.com.
Ms. Laskas starts by noting, “he was a war-hero fighter pilot. He was an MIT rocket scientist. He was a lot of impressive things, and then Buzz Aldrin went to the moon — which is maybe all you know about one of the most famous men on Earth –0 a guy who’s been frozen, like a footprint in [the] lunar dust, in America’s mind for forty-five years now. But, the thing about Buzz,” Ms. Laskas writes is, “he still wants way more than the moon.”
Astronaut Aldrin, who turns 85 this month, “went to the moon when he was 39yrs. old,” Ms. Laskas notes. “And all of a sudden, here’s a rocket,’ he says, “his voice low and gravely, as he tries to make plain what landing on the moon can do for a man’s life.” “And, you’re gonna get on top it and go somewhere. People are interested. People want to be able to put down in writing something about how you were feeling,” Ms. Laskas says. “Aldrin “gesticulates when he talks, the bracelets cluttering.” “Look, we didn’t know what we were feeling. We weren’t feeling,” he says.
“He doesn’t know how he feels,” Ms. Laskas says. “He’s been feeling this way ever since he came back, fell spectacularly out of the sky in July 1969, splashed into the Pacific in an airtight capsule with his Apollo 11 crewmates, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins. He talks in very long paragraphs about rocket science. Orbits and going to Mars, and the “Aldrin Mars Cycler.” “He holds three patents for things like the modular space station, and he started a foundation devoted to advancing space education,” Ms. Laskas adds. “But, this is not what you want to talk about, he thankfully says, and so you say let’s get back to the day you went to the moon. It was a moment for the world, a particular historic moment, when scientific, military, and nationalistic interests — intersected perfectly — and him and Neil, and Mike blasting off atop a Saturn V, as if in celebration of that perfect union. And, he doesn’t have perspective on that? A way of thinking about that?”
“It’s something we did,” Aldrin said, “now it’s time to do something else.”
“He’s a relic of the 20th century, a snapshot of American glory — of human achievement — living right here in your same life span. He’ a picture in every history book, in every language, in every country in the world, and every single human being who even thinks about him — has the same question — “How was it? How was…the moon? What did it feel like to go to the moon?” Ms. Laskas asks.
“He came back burdened,” Ms. Laskas writes. “By what he did, and what he didn’t do. Significantly burdened. Suicidal. His grandfather [put] a bullet through his brain. His mom swallowed pills. Moon, or no moon, that’s in his blood.” “There was some genetic association,” he says. “My grandfather had committed suicide, and then my mother did right before I went to the moon,”Aldrin said.
“Abruptly, Aldrin switches subjects,” Ms. Laskas notes. and “talks rockets and boosters. His comfort zone.” “And now, Obama says he wants to send a human to an asteroid. Why would he say that,” asks Ms. Laskas. “I’ll tell you why he said that,” Aldrin says. “To satisfy the public. To show progress. But, that’s not going to the moon. That’s not going to Mars. That’s playing around with a Mikey Mouse rock. We’ve got to get rid of that. I’m the creator of a new way to get to Mars.”
“The melancholy of all things done,” is the way Aldrin once described his mental breakdown after returning from the moon. Booze, a couple of divorces. A psyche ward. Broke. At one point, he started selling cars,” Ms. Laskas writes.
“Neither Neil Armstrong, nor Michael Collins had a breakdown after returning from the moon. The public pressure was never great; on Mike, he was up orbiting the moon in the command module, while Neil and Buzz, puttered off in the Eagle; and then, gently touched down in the Sea of Tranquility. Neil of course,” Ms. Laskas notes, “was the first to open the hatch, the first man to walk on the moon. He would go on to retire from space with dignity, people said. He turned into a bottom-up academic, and then a businessman, honorably testifying before Congress about space exploration — when called, and turning down just about every media request coming his way, even turning down biography offers from people like James Michener. He sued Hallmark Cards, for using his name and recording of his “one small step,” quote for a Christmas ornament.”
“Buzz was of course,” Ms. Laskas observed, “the second man on the moon. Number two.”
“When Neil died in 2012, the White House issued a statement saying he was “among the greatest of American heroes — not just of his time, but of all time.”
“Buzz made a rap video, “Rocket Experience,” with Snoop Dogg He did the cha-cha and the fox-trot, and was eliminated in the second round of season ten of Dancing With The Stars. He has appeared on WWE Monday Night Raw, The Price Is Right, Space Ghost Coast To Coast, 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, Futurama, Top Chef, and dozens of other shows and movies as himself. He has written eight books, mostly about his own exploits in space, including four memoirs, two science fiction books, and a children’s books. He sells “Get Your Ass To Mars T-Shirts on his website, along with $600 Buzz Aldrin “first step,” lithographs.”
“He is a man who studies and invents,” Ms. Laskas writes. He has always been that way. He got his nickname Buzz, when he was a kid, from his sister who called him “Buzzer,’ because she couldn’t pronounce brother.”
“After the moon, Buzz cracked up. There was nothing left to do. The media frenzy was worldwide; twenty-four counties in forty-five days — and, that was just the beginning. NASA clearly had no further use for him in space;” Ms. Laskas says, “now he was supposed to just be some kind of PR flak. He resigned from NASA in 1971; and, returned to the Air Force. It didn’t seem like the Air Force knew what to do with someone who had been to the moon. He was an outsider. An egghead from academia, who’d just tumbled off the speaker’s circuit. He drank a lot. His marriage to the mother of his three children, fell apart, and he retired from the Air Force. He went to rehab. He got married again; but, that [only] lasted a year. He drank a lot more, fell in love a lot more. His Air Force pension wasn’t much. That was when he started a Cadillac dealership. He sucked at selling cars. Rehab was the first time he ever really talked about his feelings. It turned out, he had so many feelings. It turned out he had so many feelings. An emptiness so deep. He discovered the melancholy of all things done,” Ms. Laskas wrote.
“He was in his forties, a conqueror with nothing left to conquer — but, his own demons. The second man to walk on the moon. Number two.”
“His father never accepted the fact that Buzz was not number one. Grasping, his father waged an unsuccessful, one-man campaign to the U.S. Postal Service to change its Neil Armstrong “First Man On The Moon,” commemorative stamp to one that said “First Men On The Moon,” so it could include Buzz. As for Buzz’s mental breakdown, his depression and alcoholism, his father never accepted that either. Or, if he did, he blamed the moon, the absence of gravity, the unknown physical properties of space. The moon must have ruined Buzz.”
“It is hard to even remember when space flight was part of pop culture,” Ms. Laskas observes. “If there’s an appetite to the moon, or push on to Mars, it’s not in the 21st century vernacular. NASA retired the space shuttle program in 2011. The so-called Constellation Program, to get back on the moon in 2020 — a Bush administration plan — was canceled. In 2010, Obama called for missions that go beyond low Earth orbit, including the asteroid mission by 2025; and, a manned mission to Mars before 2040.” “Our goal is no longer just a destination to reach,” POTUS Obama said. “Our goal is the capacity for people to work, learn, operate, and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time.” “But.” as Ms. Laskas notes, “an entire presidential term-and-a-half has gone by with virtually no mention of Mars.”
“The inaction, the lack of motivation, is what bothers Buzz,” Ms. Laskas writes. “Let’s go to Mars.” “To him, it’s as primal as scuba diving, his one and only hobby besides space — and women (this per Christina his long-time assistant). An infant learning to crawl knows that exploration is the driving force behind the whole gig. Primal.”
“The Buzz Aldrin Unified Space vision — is Buzz’s plan to get human beings to Mars by the year 2032. When a spacecraft approaches a planet, it can zip around the planet and fling off in another direction. In 1985, Buzz proposed a beautiful equation to the scientific community that showed how we could slingshot our way to Mars, as if on a highway, except you don’t need the fuel, because you’re flinging in and out of orbits. Scientists calculated and confirmed it. Buzz called it the Aldrin Cycler.”
“So, why was Buzz the second man to walk on the moon?” Ms. Laskas asks. “Why didn’t he get to be the first man to walk on the moon? Urban legend has it that NASA planned for Buzz to go first, but at some point decided it would be Neil Armstrong instead, because — a less excitable guy would be able to handle the fame better. People who subscribe to that theory point out that NASA got it right, look how much better Neil handled his life,” Ms. Laskas notes.
“But, then again,” she writes, “we never got to find out how Neil would have ended up if he were Number Two.”
“A more likely explanation,” she says, “begins with the fact that Buzz was supposed to be the first man to walk on the moon. That’s how they practiced it, because that’s how NASA did things back then: the commander drove and pilot did the space walk. Neil, the senior officer, was the commander; and so naturally, he would stay in the driver’s seat, while Buzz — the pilot — opened the hatch and got out.”
“But, there was a hitch in the plan. The hatch itself. It was in front of the astronauts, on the floor. It hinged inward, so you had to pull it open. The hinges were on Buzz’s side, so it swung toward him, blocking him. Neil had a clear path out, not Buzz. And no, you couldn’t trade positions; the lunar module was about the size of a pup tent, and the walls as thin as Reynolds wrap, so you had to be careful not to…lean on it. Once Neil was out, Buzz had to close the hatch, move over to Neil’s side, and then reopen it and get out.”
“To the rest of the world, it didn’t seem to matter much who was number one and who was number two, certainly not in the beginning. A half-billion people watched Neil and Buzz watch Neil and Buzz walk on the moon, the world’s largest television audience in history, [at that time]; and afterwards, there were parades around the world to welcome Neil and Buzz, and Mike, back to the planet.”
“Buzz’s mom probably killed herself, because she couldn’t take the media glare. That’s the way Buzz figured it,” Ms. Laskas writes. “The frenzied attention had started long before blastoff. Her son was picked to walk on the moon! She had long been suffering from depression, and lived in seclusion. She had tried with pills before. This time, the pills worked. Buzz’s father denied the suicide. He persuaded the coroner to say she died of a heart attack.”
Some Observations, and Other Thoughts
Very interesting article by Ms. Laskas. Astronaut Aldrin’s troubles and difficulty handling the rest of his life — after the moon walk — are not surprising — I think to most of us. What was he going to do for an encore? In some ways, and I am not comparing the two — it makes me wonder about Rob O’Neil who claims to have been the one to kill Osama bin Laden. Perhaps in a way, Mr. O’Neil is suffering or having similar difficulties that Aldrin experienced — in that — what would Mr. O’Neil do for an encore — after killing the world’s most wanted man?
As for being Number 2 and the ‘burden’ that imposed, I immediately thought of Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealand mountaineer and his Nepalese Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, who were the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest in May, 1953. Hillary went on to great fame; and. to a degree, so did Tenzing Norgay; but, I do not think Sherpa Norgay ever achieved the reverence and acclaim that Sir Edmund Hillary did — at least in Western circles — for a lengthy period of time.
Getting On With Getting To Mars: America Must Lead The Next Phase Of Space Exploration; ‘To Boldly Go Where No Human Has Gone Before
Aldrin had had an Op-Ed in the November 24, 2014 Washington Times, with the title above. “Forty-five years ago last summer,” Mr. Aldrin begins, “Neil Armstrong and I walked on the moon. Our Apollo 11 lander touched down in the moon’s “Sea of Tranquility,” and three days later, we were home. We splashed down and came safely aboard the US Hornet. In that moment, America fulfilled a promise — to herself and to the World. Together, we resolved to lead in space, convey men to the moon; and, come home safely. as Americans, one nation, we resolved to do it, and we did it. The time has come to find that kind of resolve again. As a nation, now is the time to see in the stars a longer term destiny, to make new commitments, and to lead in space — as we have done before,” he writes.
“Nothing,” Mr. Aldrin says, “reminds us of our potential like an anniversary. We have one upon us. Four months after Neil and I walked on the moon, America did it again. Apollo 12 carried astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean to the moon’s surface. These two men walked on the “Ocean of Storms.” “Now, at the 45th anniversary of that seminal Apollo 12 landing, America should examine our goals in space — and, recommit to the ones that make the most sense.”
“Sustaining our advantage in low earth orbit (including support for the International Space Station), while promoting international cooperation at all points between the earth and the moon make sense as goals. Still, there is more to life than sustainment. America’s must look higher in the sky, deeper into space; and, into ourselves. America sent seven crews to the moon; 12 Americans walked safely on the moon’s surface. Now, it is time to assess who we are, and make a new promise to ourselves, the world, and the future — going and staying on Mars.”
“As the Apollo 12 anniversary passes by, the time is right for POTUS Obama, our Commander-in-Chief, to look beyond the present; and, into the future. His legacy — and ours — depends on new commitments. When better to make a real, ambitious and meaningful commitment to the future, with both leadership and cooperation, than now? If not, this anniversary, then the next one. The 45th anniversary of Apollo 13s extraordinary story arrives next April.”
“A renewed American commitment to leadership in space could place American feet on Mars within a matter of years, while strong American cooperation in space with other nations, including China, India, and even Russia, could help all parties see a common future, gain perspective beyond the present conflicts, and map a common presence on the moon.”
“History does not make itself,” Mr. Aldrin emphasizes. “It is made by actions and inaction. Americans will either set the course in space again…and, make history, or simply watch while others do so. This appeal is to the POTUS, and to all leaders to see that we are at an inflection point in human and American history — once again. We can look up and gather strength from vision and commitment to worthy goals beyond ourselves…and beyond the here and now, or we can sink back into what Theodore Roosevelt once called the “gray twilight,” of never trying.”
“On many themes and issues, POTUS Theodore Roosevelt, as well as Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and those who followed, might not have agreed. But, on American leadership they would all have concurred. Nowhere is that more urgent and rewarding, necessary, and timely, than in space. So, as these anniversaries arrive, let us not only think about them and reflect on who we were in that time; but, let us draw inspiration from them, and launch ourselves on a new day in space,” Mr. Aldrin urges.
Mr. Aldrin concludes, “Let us look to establishing a permanent American presence, proud and daring humans who call themselves both Americans and interplanetary citizens, on the surface of Mars. Let us start converting today’s dreams — just as walking on the moon once was a dream — into reality. No one can do that more decisively, and with a greater legacy than POTUS Obama. For myself, I an ready to help him — and to help America — make this new dream a reality, with all the associated work and risk, commitment and resolve this will require.”
‘Space Is The Final Frontier’: To Seek Out New Life, ‘To Explore Strange New Worlds: Let Us Go Boldly Where No Man Has Gone Before’
Those were the inspirational, and aspirational words that opened each episode of Gene Rodenberry’s sci-fi classic series, Star Trek, which aired from 1966 – 1969. Whether it is Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbing Mt. Everest in 1953, to the highest point on earth — 29,029 feet; or, filmmaker James Cameron piloting his DeepSea Challenger to the bottom of the Mariana Trench (March 26, 2012) some 10,908 meters, or 35, 787 feet below the surface of the ocean, it is ingrained in our DNA to explore the unknown; and, truly go where no human has ever gone before.
I remember, I was fourteen years old when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon; and, I, like millions of others — young and old — around the world were glued to our TV sets, with a sense of wonder and excitement that was palpable. Exploration of the ‘heavens’ seemed to be in our grasp. Sadly, in the 45yrs hence, we have taken some baby steps with the launch of the Hubble telescope, the Voyager, the International Space Station, and most recently — the landing of the Philae space probe on a comet 320M miles from Earth. But, if we put a thimble in the Pacific Ocean and filled that thimble with water — that’s about the extent of what we have explored or our universe — and the rest of the Pacific Ocean — is what’s left unexplored.
Paul Davies, a professor, and author of “The Erie Silence: Renewing Our Search For Alien Intelligence,” wrote in the November 18, 2013 New York Times, “last year, , astronomers announced there could be as many as 40B habitable planets in our galaxy alone.” Geoffrey W. Marcy, of the University of California, Berkeley, an experienced planet hunter, and co-author of the study that generated the finding, said that “it represents one great leap toward the possibility of life, including intelligent life in the universe.”
Finding Our Place In The Stars
“When I was a student in the 1960s,” Professor Davies writes, “the prevailing view among scientists was that life on Earth was a freak phenomenon, the result of a sequence of chemical accidents so rare that they would unlikely to have happened twice in the observable universe.” “Man at last knows he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he has emerged only by chance,” wrote biologist Jacques Monod. “Today,” Professor Davies writes, “the pendulum has swung dramatically, and many distinguished scientists claim that life will almost inevitably arise in Earthlike conditions. Yet this decisive shift in view,” he says, “is based little more on a hunch, rather than an improved understanding of life’s origin.”
This past summer, a panel of NASA scientists announced they were convinced that “we are not alone in the universe;” and, they added, “that sometime within the next twenty years (by 2034) we will find out that we are not alone,” said Kevin Hand, a NASA astronomer. “Astronomers think it is very likely that every single star in our Milky Way galaxy, has at least one planet,” said Sara Seager, Professor of Planetary Science and Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, during that conference.
Sara Gates, writing in the July 15, 2014 edition of The Huffington Post, noted that the search for extraterrestrial life and Earth-like planets — “will get a [huge] boost with NASA’s expected launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 — which is designed to study infrared light, making it easier to spot extrasolar planets.”
“But, to actually find evidence of [extraterrestrial] life, is going to take another generation of telescopes,” said Matt Mountain Director of the Space Telescope Institute. “And, to do that, we’re going to need new rockets, new approaches to large telescopes — and, highly advanced optical systems.”
Buzz Aldrin’s Clarion Call For A Mission To Mars Is a Noble And Worthy One; And, Is Part Of An Irresistible Urge Mankind Has — To Go Where No Human Has Gone Before
In his September 12, 1962, Moon Speech, POTUS John F. Kennedy quoted William Bradford, speaking at the 1630 founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, who said, “all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties; and, both must be enterprized and overcome with answerable courage.” POTUS Kennedy added, “if this capsule of history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined — and, cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time; and, no nation, which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”
Aerospace engineer, author, and President and Founder of The Mars Society Robert Zurbin, when discussing why we should go to Mars, put it this way: “I think civilizations are like individuals. We grow when we’re challenged. We stagnate when we’re not. And, a human-to-Mars program would be an embracing challenge for our society, particularly, our youth. It would say to every young person: learn your science and you can be an explorer, or pioneer of new worlds.”
Buzz Aldrin is right; but, he has the wrong POTUS. The presidential candidate who said he would unite us, has instead presided over the most partisan and toxic atmosphere in Washington — since probably the Civil War. And, yes, it isn’t all his fault; but, he has added to the toxicity — not sought to diminish it. This POTUS appears to lack the capacity to foster an inspirational and aspirational vision for space — that the country could and would likely embrace.
Buzz Aldrin’s goal is the right one. But, sadly, we don’t have the POTUS we need, or want to undertake such an ambitious and aspirational endeavor — it is the POTUS we have. This bold initiative which is in the rich tradition of the American character and spirit — will sadly…have to wait for a POTUS that has…..the right stuff. V/R, RCP