Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, is a leading proponent of space tourism. We interviewed Aldrin in New York, where he spoke at a symposium on the future of travel.
Q: Any reaction to the Rochester Institute of Technology's recent launch of a course on Space Tourism?
A: I'm heartened. I suspect that someone's been listening to me, because I've been trying to stress the reality of space tourism.
Q: Who will win the race to send tourists into space, America or Russia?
A: Based on government decisions, they would win. They would take tourists and we would not. Our government is not particularly interested in supporting the evolution of the space tourism business.
Q: If you were appointed space tourism czar, what steps would you take to support this nascent industry?
A: The first strong recommendation I would make is that we fly a journalist in the space shuttle as soon as possible. . . . There has been a decision that all people who fly in the shuttle will be trained astronauts. I think that decision must be altered in favor of the evolution of new adventure travel industry. We would also be laying the groundwork for the future means of [passenger] selection, which I don't think should be based on price. We should develop a lottery-like selection process where we afford a very wide variety of people a chance to participate in space flight.
Q: Are you seeking a spot on the space shuttle?
A: I think anyone who has flown in space would like to do so again, but I don't want anyone thinking that my motive for promoting space tourism is getting a ride into space. I do not need that. I want to set these things in motion, then sit back and watch it all happen.
Q: Your schedule would exhaust a much younger man. Are you increasingly aware of mortality?
A: No, I'm of good Scandinavian-English stock.
Q: Do you want your remains shot into space?
A: I think Arlington [National Cemetery] is a good place. That's where my mother and father are.
Q: If an orbital craft carrying tourists suffered a Challenger-like disaster, would it doom your dreams?
A: I think a disaster would provide a great rallying point for those who feel that we shouldn't doing this and should spend our time and resources on their projects. When this older lady, 60 years old, jumped off El Capitan to demonstrate how safe parachuting off mountains is, and her chute didn't open, that probably prompted a lot of people to demonstrate against doing things like that.
Q: Any plans to jump off El Capitan?
A: No. I'm trying to squeeze in a trip to the South Pole.
A: I want to have my picture taken at the South Pole.
Q: Describe the most moonlike place on Earth.
A: That's in people's heads, or in photographs. There is no place that was ever created for us that came close at all. The visual sensation of the desolation that exists against the black sky is just not capable of being re-created here.
Q: Is there anything that happened during your trip to the moon that you rarely discuss?
A: Personal concerns about looking good and personal performance, living up to expectations. Even though the audience was a long ways away, the repercussions of screwing up were quite lasting.
Q: You worried about tripping?
A: Yeah, tripping and looking stupid.
Q: If you could travel to one planet in this solar system, which would it be?
A: I think the attraction to Mars overshadows anything else because of its potential to support growing colonies. I would think in terms of what might be useful. We can send robots to many of these other inhospitable places. I don't think humans are going to dive down under the ice of Europa.
Q: Aside from space, can you recall the most spiritual moment you've experienced while traveling?
A: We travel in lots of ways and in lots of conditions. I have memories of travel during combat in Korea. There was a loneliness. . . . I was very thankful when the other pilot bailed out and I could go back home. I was very vulnerable--easy picking over enemy territory. That's quite a contrast from being on the back side of the moon.
Q: How will people travel 100 years from now?
A: I'm sure that people will be going around the moon and back, possibly stopping at the libration point, and maybe selected visits to the lunar surface in the way people can now make a trip to the South Pole. I think people will also go on six-month or one-year periods where they'll travel significant distances away from Earth. . . . I kind of think that people going to Mars will only be involved with exploration and settlement.
Q: But how long will it take to get from New York to Washington, D.C., in 2199?
A: Why would someone want to get there in such a big hurry?