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Buzz Aldrin on March Madness, brackets and basketball on Mars (or something?)

Buzz Aldrin, right, takes this very seriously. (Courtesy of Taylor Strategy)
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Buzz Aldrin went to the moon, you know. I mean, of course you know this. This is a science blog for The Washington Post (dot com), you guys aren't chumps. I'm just saying, Buzz Aldrin has literally walked on the moon.

So you'd probably think that when I spoke to the Apollo 11 astronaut via phone on Wednesday afternoon, I'd ask him about space and stuff. The galaxy. Great and bold adventure. Exploration.

Hahaha. Nope.

Don't you know what's happening this week? March Madness is starting! That means we're pressing pause on science-y talk and focusing on bracket busters, One Shining Moments, and also how badly we want Indiana to beat to Kentucky in the round of 32.

(So badly.)

But, yeah, back to Buzz. The thing is, apparently he had never filled out a bracket before. I hadn't actually realized that a person could get through life without filling out a bracket. But hey, there used to be a time when people didn't realize a person could launch oneself all the way to the moon and then (!) actually come back, and you know who proved everyone wrong there? Buzz Aldrin.

This year, the NASA legend made his NCAA Tournament picks as part of the Allstate March Mayhem Challenge, going head-to-head with ESPN's Dick Vitale. Then he hopped on the phone to talk to me about it. And, man, shout-out to Aldrin for being a good sport about that, because I asked him some real dumb questions, if I'm being honest.

"Well, he's been picking things all along, but sooner or later his system is going to crumble a little bit, and open up to the opportunities of us outsiders," Aldrin said, when I somewhat unsuccessfully tried to make him trash-talk his opponent.



Buzz Aldrin calls NASA 'adrift'

As Aldrin explained in the March Mayhem Challenge news release, he tried to make his picks using an approach "rooted in a probability and statistical analysis around this year's tournament."

And, you know, when that failed, he just ... well, whatever. He figured it out, that's what counts.

"If you don't know very much about things, if there's a little bit of a crutch that you can employ, you better use it," Aldrin said. "Or you gotta justify why you chose to be different. And you're probably going to pay the penalty for being different if you don't know what's going on.

"So I go along with the choices put out by the predictor, then make a few guesses kind of near the end, based on whether I like Kansas or Oklahoma."

Aldrin has a Final Four of North Carolina, Michigan State, Kansas and Oklahoma, with Michigan State beating Kansas in the national championship game. Vitale also has Michigan State winning it all.

"They've always been a force to be contended with," Aldrin said of the Spartans, "and this year I think they're going to come out winners."

Here's a look at Aldrin's bracket, if you want to just crib his picks.

And I know, I probably should have spent my time with Aldrin talking about space, but to be fair, I did try. Sort of.

Okay actually, I asked him what Martians would think of Duke basketball if there were life on Mars. Close enough.

Buzz Aldrin really wants to send people to Mars — and leave them there for a long time

But I'm pretty sure he misheard my question, and thought I had asked what basketball would be like on Mars.

At least that's what it seemed like, based on his response, so that's what I'm going with. Anyway, this is 100 percent on me, but regardless, his answer was so charming and wonderful, I'm still sharing it:

Well, the gravity is a good bit lower there, so the basketball court would probably be larger, and when they bounce the ball it would probably go higher, and they would have to take into account a different arc from the three-point shot. But I think they can figure it out. I don't know about the Martians, but the people we're going to send there, who will become Martians, are going to be the very best that we can find and select, and train and then send them there, and they're going to form a great team. Who are they going to play against? I think they're going to choose up sides and play against each other. Because the Martians either are hiding somewhere and they're very very big, and they probably don't know what to do with a basketball. Maybe they can play Ping-Pong with the basketball.

Then he clarified, saying that he thought we would find "little amoeba" on Mars, which kind of kills my space basketball dreams, but fine. The true champion of March Madness is Aldrin, because he got through 20 minutes of talking about sports with me.

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