Buzz Aldrin at the International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem, October 12, 2015.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Apollo 11’s shuttle door determined astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s place in history as the second, rather than the first, man to walk on the moon in the summer of 1969.
“The reason Neil [Armstrong] went out first was because he was closest to the door,” quipped Aldrin as he regaled the audience at the 66th International Aeronautical Congress in Jerusalem on Monday with tales from his time in space.
The mischievously self-proclaimed first man to urinate on the moon spoke at the four-day event at the International Convention Center attended by hundreds of delegates from around the world.
At age 85, Aldrin is effusive and humorous. He noted that his fate was already set in the stars by the nature of his mother’s maiden name ‘Marian Moon.’ When a South Korean journalist asked if he was aware that the moon landing destroyed the belief that a goddess lived there, Aldrin’s said “Well, I didn’t see any goddesses.”
While his life is devoted to expanding humankind’s horizons through high-level technology, he explained that old fashion tools can still provide the best solutions to complex situations.
In 1969 after spending two hours on the moon, Aldrin boarded the spacecraft only to find that the circuit breaker required to lift off and return to Earth was on the floor and needed somehow to be refitted.
Faced with a life or death situation, Aldrin revealed his somewhat simple solution: “We didn’t know what the heck to do. I couldn’t put my little finger in there because of electricity. I got a ballpoint pen, but that didn’t work. I then found my favorite felt tip pen, pushed the circuit breaker in, and away we went!” Born Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr. in Montclair, New Jersey, on January 20, 1930, Aldrin attended West Point military academy in New York, graduating in 1951. He flew 66 combat missions in Korea, before being selected by NASA to be part of their astronaut program in 1963.
Since retiring from NASA in 1971, Aldrin continues to be involved in all things space-related, writing several books.
These include his 2013 outline for the colonization of Mars, Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration.
After Aldrin’s visit to the Negev on Sunday, his manager tweeted that it was “Mars in the Middle East.”
A fervent believer in settling Mars to preserve human existence on Earth, Aldrin has authored with students at Purdue University, Indiana, an extensive study about colonizing the red planet. He said his “plan of intermediate space exploration objectives leading to permanence on Mars, or for short, cycling pathways to occupy Mars,” will make way for the first permanent colony there by 2040 at the latest.
The United States, he said, must regain its leadership position in the space industry – a pointed reference to the Obama administration’s lack of interest in space exploration. Aldrin also discussed in detail initial NASA endeavors to recreate space’s lack of gravity through deep sea diving, a passion he continues to engage in, having visited Eilat only last week to scuba dive.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post about his impression of the Israeli space industry, Aldrin said “things are moving along nicely” and that he was impressed by the efforts of the Israeli Space Agency as well as the non-profit organization SpaceIL, which is to launch an automated spacecraft to land on the moon as part of Google’s Lunar XPRIZE.
Aldrin’s knowledge of SpaceIL stems in part from his close ties with the Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn, a public board member of SpaceIL.
The impressive steps being made across the space industry was evident throughout the IAC, most notably the event’s sheer size and scope. Attending the conference were national agencies and companies from countries as far and wide as South Africa, Japan, and Romania exhibiting in what is the largest event of its kind in the world.
Exhibitors at the IAC don’t just include space agencies. Also attending was the International Space University, the only educational establishment in the world specializing in space studies.
Though they do not guarantee all their graduates will become the next generation of astronauts, they will run a two-month Space Studies Program next year at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa between July and September.
Before his news conference, Aldrin was presented with a replica of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Ido Shariv, director-general of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space, as gift to a man “who had reached the highest of heights.”
Commenting on the event, Daniel Barok of the Israel Space Agency stated that IAC’s taking place in Jerusalem this year, after an intense selection process in 2012 among 10 other cities, is an “acknowledgment of the important role that the Israel Space Agency plays in the world.”
Barok said it was “extremely heart warming to see that, even in the face of the current violence, people are still willing to come together in Israel to advance the aims the worldwide space community.”