On the Streets of DC


Any conversation with a man that walked on the moon is cool, but it was two random conversations on the walk home that were the highlight of the day.

The second day of the Humans To Mars summit was wonderful; it’s each year to step back to really appreciate how much progress is being made toward landing astronauts on the Red Planet. At the end of today’s summit, I got to have a brief conversation with Buzz Aldrin about Venus flyby missions of fiction and future.

I’d had zero chance to actually see any “DC stuff” on this trip except for glimpses of the Washington Monument from a balcony and down an alleyway, so I decided to walk back, from the Watergate on the river to far side of the senate office buildings.

As I snapped a selfie at the Capitol, a woman asked if I wanted her to take the picture. I was satisfied with what I had, so I offered to take one of her and her husband instead. We chatted for a bit. She was there on a work trip; she teaches at Clemson and had made the drive up that day. For both of them it was their first time in the city. It was one of those moments that just hit reset on what I was doing — for a moment, I got to share their perspective, experiencing our nation’s capital for the first time. “We’ve seen pictures of it, but now…” “You’re here. It’s right there.” A good reminder to never forget where you are, no matter where that is.

Walking a bit farther, I came across Lockheed Martin’s Mars Experience bus parked on the side of the road by one of the Senate office buildings. No one was around, except the driver, so I spoke. “Do you travel with the bus?” “Yeah.” “So you were in Huntsville a few weeks ago?” “Yeah.” “And Houston a few weeks before that?” “Yeah.” I’d gone through the bus back in January at the Super Bowl Live event in downtown Houston, and again with Rebecca a month or so ago when it came to Huntsville for FIRST Robotics; he’d been there both times.

He and I chatted for a while also. He wasn’t affiliated with Orion and didn’t work for Lockheed, he was just staff for the exhibit bus. He’d spend weeks on the road with it; he was going home to South Carolina that night for a two or three week break before heading out again. He said he loved seeing the kids experience it; you can tell, he said, the ones that really get into it. He asked what they were saying at the summit, how things were going. “I’ve been traveling with this thing so long now, I really want to see this happen,” he said. I thanked him for his part in making that happen – his role in sharing with people what the future could look like is as important as any.

It’s weird watching D.C. in the news when you’re in the city. It’s easy to believe sometimes from the TV and Twitter and headlines that this place is tearing itself apart.

But you walk the streets of D.C. long enough, and you realize that maybe there’s hope for us yet.

John Hirasaki And The Moon Men


I originally wrote this story for the NASAExplores.com web site eight years ago, for the 35th anniversary of Apollo 11. The site has since been taken down, so I’m republishing it here since it’s public domain. In nine years with the agency, this was one of my favorite stories I got to write.

John Hirasaki inside the Apollo 11 Command Module in quarantine.

It was possibly the biggest event of the century, and John Hirasaki was part of a captive audience for the story.

As a 28-year-old NASA engineer in 1969, Hirasaki found himself sealed in a trailer with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins, just returned from the first lunar landing.

When the Apollo 11 crew returned to Earth days after the July 20, 1969 Moon landing, they were immediately placed in a Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF, in acronym-intensive NASA-speak) aboard the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier, which recovered their spacecraft from the Pacific Ocean.

In the MQF, the crew was transferred to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL) at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, where they spent the remainder of 21 days in isolation, to prevent the spread of any alien germs they may have encountered while walking on the Moon.

Hirasaki, who had come to work for NASA only 3 years earlier, was one of two people placed in the MQF with the Apollo 11 crew when they landed. Hirasaki, 63, who today works as an system integrations engineer at Johnson Space Center, recently discussed his experiences with NASAexplores.com.

“I joined NASA back in ’66, a year and a half out of college,” he said. “It sounded like a great place to work, with very interesting projects to do. First thing out of the bag, they throw you in the middle of the activities associated with spacecraft recovery operation, tell you to build the necessary hardware to evaluate the recovery equipment, ask you to prepare plans to test and qualify the hardware and procedures, and, in general, give you the responsibility to make it work.”

For his first assignment, Hirasaki was placed in the Landing and Recovery Division at Johnson Space Center for the Gemini Program, which was then nearing its end. He was deployed to the northern Pacific Ocean on a Destroyer for the final Gemini mission to work on the craft as soon as it was lifted from the ocean if it were to encounter a contingency landing in that area.

At the same time, NASA was beginning work on the Apollo program, and Hirasaki was tapped to begin planning the landing recovery measures for spacecraft returning from the Moon. His duties included working on the post-landing deactivation procedures for the Apollo Reaction Control System, the smaller thrusters used to maneuver the spacecraft, and the qualification of the Apollo Post-landing Life Support Systems for recovered spacecraft.

He developed tests to make sure that, if necessary, the Apollo capsule could support its crew on the open seas for 48 hours while waiting for recovery workers. To simulate worst case post-landing conditions, test subjects spent 2 days in the Apollo capsule in a wave tank at Johnson Space Center while under simulated solar radiation and high humidity conditions controlled by raw steam pumped into the room.

“Hot out of college, you’re dumped in the program, and told, ‘Hey, go write up the test procedures, run the test program, write the reports, take care of everything,'” Hirasaki said. “So, I thought it was a very interesting training ground for young engineers.

“They literally just tossed you in there and made you go for it. So those were some rather interesting days where you had an extreme sense of accomplishment with your job.”

Because of his work with landing recovery procedures on the Apollo spacecraft, Hirasaki was tapped for qualification tests on the Mobile Quarantine Facility.

The MQF, essentially a highly modified trailer without wheels, was put through trials on the stern of a destroyer in the Atlantic, and later on an aircraft carrier during one of the pre-lunar-landing Apollo missions.

In other tests, the facility was placed in an altitude chamber to simulate rapid decompression (which would have broken quarantine), and microbes were introduced to its interior to make sure it would prevent the spread of pathogens.

In the wake of the Apollo I fire, less than a year after Hirasaki began to work for NASA, modifications were made to eliminate flammable materials in the potentially oxygen-rich environment of the MQF. Since the MQF was intended to be transported by aircraft, it had its own oxygen supply system in the event that the aircraft experienced a loss of cabin pressure.

Finally, as the launch date for Apollo 11 neared, a volunteer was needed to serve in the MQF after the mission to perform landing recovery tasks on the Command Module, Columbia. After all his training, hard work, and preparation, Hirasaki’s selection for the job came down to luck.

“There were four of us out of the Landing and Recovery Division that sort of volunteered for the position,” he said. “We ended up drawing straws to see who would go on that first mission. And it just so happened that I ended up with the short straw. So that’s how I ended up getting hooked up for the Apollo 11 mission.”

While he had a little concern about the possibility of Moon germs, Hirasaki believed that the opportunity was well worth the risk.

“Obviously there’s concern, or else the National Academy of Science wouldn’t have made us do all this,” he said of the quarantine. “Is the gain worth the risk you’re putting yourself to? You have to answer that question for yourself going in up front.”

“If something’s out there that’s never been exposed to the Earth environment, can it cause a problem by contamination? You’re dealing with an unknown. In the whole lunar landing mission, we were dealing with a lot of unknowns.”

For Hirasaki, though, the chance was too good to pass up.

“Basically, it was to be able to participate in such a significant mission as the Apollo lunar landing program,” he said. “I think all of us had that in mind. We were active participants; we all wanted to contribute. It was part of our job, but we volunteered to take any risks that came along with that particular job. And, you knew that there were some risks.”

Though Hirasaki got married about half a year before the Apollo 11 mission, he had already volunteered for the quarantine assignment, so his new wife knew that possible exposure to lunar microbes was just part of the package when she married him.

However, he said, the publication around that time of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, about the spread of an epidemic from space, did little to make her feel better about it.

While Armstrong and Aldrin were walking on the Moon, Hirasaki and Bill Carpentier, a NASA physician, were placed in the MQF, to prevent the possibility that they would contract an illness before the crew returned.

On July 24, the Apollo 11 crew landed, and Hirasaki’s decision to take the risk of volunteering paid off. When asked how the Apollo 11 crew reacted upon their return to earth, Hirasaki responded, “It was as if the crew were saying, ‘Hey, we just got back from this just fabulous trip that nobody’s ever done,’ and they wanted to tell everybody about it, because it was so interesting and exciting,” he said. “They reminded me of three schoolmates who had gone off on a trip where none of their classmates had ever gone, saw all these neat sights, had just gotten back home, and were trying to tell you about the things they saw and the things they did.

“And Doc (Carpentier) and I had a front row seat,” he said.

When the astronauts arrived on the U.S.S. Hornet and were placed in quarantine, Hirasaki’s first duty was to the Columbia command module. A tunnel was extended from the MQF to the spacecraft, allowing the engineer to work in its quarantined interior.

Some may wonder why all the quarantine procedures were necessary, since the command module hatch was opened to let the crew out when they landed. Surely, if there had been any lunar microbes inside, they would have escaped then into the open sea?

As with so much else about the mission, the answer deals with risk management. “That’s true,” Hirasaki said. “It would spoil the whole thing if the pathogen could have been airborne transmitted. The reason they did that is, there is a limit of what you can do, and what risks you take.

“NASA was not willing to risk the potential injury and loss of the crew upon trying to recover the Command Module on the open seas with the crew inside.”

Instead, a quarantine procedure was developed that would allow the safe recovery of the crew, and would prevent spread of a pathogen that required direct biological contact.

“So, once again, it’s a series of trade-offs,” he said.

Among Hirasaki’s Command Module duties were the removal of the film with the pictures the crew had taken on the Moon, and the true prize of the Apollo 11 mission—the Moon rocks.

These treasures were sealed up and passed through a liquid submersion decontamination lock and sent by courier aircraft launched from the USS Hornet to scientists in Houston who were eagerly awaiting them.

In addition to his engineering duties, Hirasaki was tasked with other responsibilities to the new national heroes trapped with him.

“I was chief cook and bottle washer,” he said. “We had what you would nowdays call TV dinners. In fact, there was a device aboard the Mobile Quarantine Facility I hadn’t seen before, called an Amana Radar Range.

“See, in the ’60s, there weren’t a lot of microwaves around, so we were checking those out. You didn’t want an open flame, obviously. So we had radar ranges aboard there.

“It was interesting because JSC had prepared the meals,” he said. “And, during the sea trials that we had originally on the destroyer, we found out that the meals that were prepared were way too rich. In a sea environment, you don’t really want highly spiced seasoned food. It just doesn’t go along with living aboard ship.

“As a matter of fact, I can recall we had lobster thermador, and stuff like that. They had some very fancy menus prepared for our trials. And we said, ‘Uh-uh, that’s not what you want in that environment. Meat and potatoes are more like it.'”

“But it was much better than what the Apollo crew had (in space), the freeze-dried food,” he said.

The MQF was carried aboard the Hornet to Pearl Harbor, where it was loaded on a C-141 cargo plane, which flew it to Houston.

From there, they were transferred to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, where they spent another 2 weeks under quarantine.

“I think the crew would rather have been out, but they understood why they were there, and they went along with it,” Hirasaki said. “We had enough to do. The quarantine facility is much, much bigger than the Apollo Command Module, so there was enough room inside there. They could have their privacy if they wanted to.”

Additional NASA staff lived in the LRL, and even more joined later.

“If a person that was handling the lunar samples was ever exposed, then there was a set of rules that forced them to be transferred to our side of the LRL,” he said. “And we did have a couple of cases where that happened. So we did pick up a couple of people.”

Asked to recall the most memorable experiences with the Apollo 11 crew in the LRL, Hirasaki hesitated.

“That’s a long time ago,” he said. “And, it was all interesting; it was all very exciting.

“It’s sort of hard to imagine what it was like to have been a participant in a mission of that significance. You had an extreme sense of accomplishment. I think everybody had an extreme sense of accomplishment of having pulled off this mission. And it took everybody doing their particular part.

“It’s sort of amazing when you stop and think about the magnitude of the project, the uncertainties we were dealing with, and the time period we took to accomplish it. And, I keep wondering why we’re only where we are right now.”

That frustration was to govern Hirasaki’s career arc over the following decades. He stayed with NASA through the final Apollo landing, but then left the agency not long afterwards in 1973.

“The only thing that really was funded was the Shuttle,” he said. “Even then, Station programs were proposed, but did not have the proper backing to ensure their construction.”

“So, I said, hey, we’re going nowhere fast,” he said. “Yes, we’re going to build this great Shuttle, but what are we doing to advance manned exploration of space.”

“To me, after having gone to the Moon, yes, this is interesting, but it doesn’t seem to fit my idea of a long-range plan to advance manned space exploration.”

After leaving NASA, Hirasaki spent 14 years in the motorcycle business. During that time, the space industry once again came knocking. A former boss enlisted his help in a private company staffed with several ex-NASA employees.

“We launched a non-government-funded rocket into space in a sub-orbital flight over the Gulf of Mexico, just to show it could be done as a venture capital activity,” he said.

Finally, in 1986, he returned to NASA full-time, working on a crew return vehicle for Space Station Freedom.

Eventually, the space station became an international project, and Russian Soyuz vehicles were picked to transport crews to and from the Station and to serve as an emergency crew return vehicle. Today, Hirasaki works on systems integration for Russian and European spacecraft, making sure the Soyuz, the Progress supply ship, and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle will work properly with U.S. systems on the International Space Station.

“As long as the work is interesting, I’ll do it,” he said. While the Station support vehicle work is interesting enough for now, Hirasaki hopes things will become even more interesting, and that he’ll once again see men returning from the trip Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins took 35 years ago.

Today, though, few people still ask Hirasaki about his role in the history-making event.

“Not very many,” he said. “I think that most of the people that worked on the Apollo Program have retired and the current group of people working at Johnson Space Center have forgotten the particular roles that we played during the Apollo 11 mission.”

Published by NASAexplores: July 15, 2004

The Most Famous Person I’ve Ever Met


From a Plinky prompt: “Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?”

Photograph of President William Jefferson Clinton with Buddy the Dog in the Oval Office: 01/16/1998

Who is the most famous person I’ve ever met? Well, it depends on what your definition of “is” is.

Actually, no, wait, it depends on what your definition of “met” is.

Back in the fall of 1992, about a week before the presidential election, Bill Clinton was winding down his campaigning with a visit to Jackson, Miss. I was a student at Ole Miss at the time, and a group of us decided to drive down to Jackson to hear him speak.

After he spoke, we pressed down to the front of the crowd to try to get to meet him. There was a short fence that separated Clinton from the crowd, and he was walking along it, shaking hands with a few people, skipping a few people, shaking hands with a few people, and so on.

I made my way against the fence, and Bill worked his way toward me, shaking hands with people as he came. He shook hands with the person next to me, looked at me, and then skipped down a little ways and started shaking hands again.

I generally just summarize that story as “One time, Bill Clinton refused to shake my hand.”

So, does that count as meeting? If so, then Clinton definitely wins the most famous person for me.

If not, then it gets a bit more complicated.

I’ve actually had conversations with famous people in a number of different areas, but how do you determine which of them is the most famous?

Probably the most historical person I’ve met is astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon. I spoke with him briefly in person at a space symposium back in 2004, and then had a longer conversation on the phone with him a little later about the 35th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.

In the acting arena, James Earl Jones is probably the most famous actor I’ve had a conversation with. Back in college, several years before Star Wars: Episode I started filming, I asked him, and I’m sure he loved getting this question, what he knew about the rumored prequels. He told me they were going to happen, and that he would be in it at the very end. So there you go.

Musically, it’s got to be B.B. King. B.B. consider his hometown to be Indianola, Miss., where I worked for the newspaper for five year, so I saw him several times when he came into town for his annual homecoming concert. I got to ask him a few questions for the paper and talk with him a little. He considered my editor, Jim Abbott, a friend, so I got to be around while they talked, too. B.B. is an amazing man, friendly and incredibly down-to-Earth. Just a super, super nice guy.

In the field of writing, John Grisham, right around the time the movie “The Firm” came out, when he was really probably at the height of his popularity, took a six-month or so sabbatical from interviews. When the Sunday “Parade” magazine (or possibly USA Weekend, I forget which) wanted an interview with him during that time, he agreed, but with the stipulation that he would interview himself rather than talk to someone else. To the best of my knowledge, he granted only one interview during that time — to me. I was working at the college paper at the time, and he was in town for a private screening of The Firm, which I’d been invited to. I told him I knew he wasn’t doing interviews, but would he be willing to let me ask just one question. He said he’d never met a reporter that could ask just one question, but if I could, he’d answer it and I could use it. I did, and he did.

So with all of those possibilities, how do you determine who the most famous person I’ve ever met is?

Oh, yeah, Google.

Google “James Earl Jones,” and you get just over 4 million results.

“John Grisham” gets you over 9 million.

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, a participant in probably the greatest human achievement of the 20th century, nets about half a million.

And B.B. King? Indianola’s favorite son gets almost 27 million results, making him the most famous person I’ve ever met.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

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Have You Heard The Buzz?


20120505-142739.jpg

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy playing dress up at the Depot. Last week, however, I found out it could be even more fun than I’d realized.

A bit part of what we do at the Huntsville Historic Depot museum is putting on programs for students on field trips. We have several different programs, and I get to perform different stations for each one. For example, I’ve been the emergency management director of Whoville, a Union general and a train conductor for various activities. I’ve scared kids with ghost stories so badly they had to take a break from the program, and taught them to march around the grounds.

Last week, though — Last week I got to branch out a bit.

The Depot museum is owned and operated by the City of Huntsville, as part of an organization that also includes the Alabama Constitute Hall Village museum and the Earlyworks children’s museum. Last week, while the Depot was closed to prepare for the annual Whistestop Festival, they had me come work at Earlyworks as part of an “American Heroes” program. They gave me the option of who I wanted to be, and asked what I’d need for a costume.

“Well,” I thought, “I do have a flightsuit …”

“Can I be an astronaut?” I asked. Yes, it turned out, I could be an astronaut.

So for two days last week, I went and pretended to be Buzz Aldrin for school kids. And, no offense to Clara Barton and Harriet Tubman, but my Buzz was about as cool an American hero as they come.

I had fun. Like, a lot of fun.

I like talking to kids about space, and I love seeing them get excited about it, and that was definitely the case those days. I had my story that I wanted to cover, and was barely able to get through it each time for them wanting to ask me questions about what it was like for “me” to be in space. I was proud that I was able to answer everything they threw at me, which helped maintain the feeling that it was “real” for the kids. Frankly, I’ve seen actual astronauts do actual Q&A’s with kids, and this really wasn’t that different.

And that part of it made me really happy. I’ve been blessed to meet and talk with astronauts from the early days of spaceflight, and the reality is, there’s a limit to how much longer we’ll be able to hear their stories first-hand. Since I began working on “Homesteading Space,” I’ve always felt a responsibility that, when it’s no longer possible to talk to them directly, the best thing people will be able to do is talk to the people who talked to them, and that I have a duty to carry those stories. These kids will likely never get to talk to Buzz directly, but it made me happy that they could talk to Buzz by proxy. (And I felt like, in places, I was a pretty decent Buzz — when a kid asked if I was the second man to walk on the moon, I responded that “Neil and I were the first men to land on the moon,” a fairly accurate Buzz response, in my opinion.)

I’ve enjoyed all the different programs I’ve done, but this one very well may have been my favorite. Enough that I’m currently trying to convince my boss that, when we do the Civil War program, the Depot should have been captured, not by Union General O.M. Mitchell, but by Buzz Aldrin. THAT would be a great presentation, let me tell you!

“Magnificent Desolation” — An Interview With Buzz Aldrin


I published this interview with Buzz Aldrin seven years ago for a NASA Web site that no longer exists. Since the agency is no longer using it, I figured the 42nd anniversary of the first manned moon landing would be a good opportunity to post it here.

Buzz Aldrin was the Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, during which he and commander Neil Armstrong became the first humans to land on the Moon.

David Hitt: Dr. Aldrin, thank you for agreeing to talk to us today … We have just a few questions about your involvement in Apollo. As we prepare to mark the 35th anniversary of the first Moon landing, what do you believe is the most important legacy of Apollo 11?

Buzz Aldrin: Well, I think there are many legacies. It clearly fulfilled a dream of many people over the centuries. It was a response, clearly, to a cold war environment of Soviet actions in space following Sputnik. I think as a legacy it has inspired people the world around that remember where they were when that event happened. And that, in a way, gives testimony to the importance of the legacy.

Hitt: The words that you spoke after stepping onto the Moon—“Magnificent Desolation”—have become probably the most famous description of the lunar surface. Tell us a little more about what it was like walking on another world.

Aldrin: My sort of spontaneous words, “Magnificent Desolation,” were a contrast really of the magnificence that I felt represented the achievement of so many people, and yet the desolation of what the destination was that we had sought out. Walking on the surface of the Moon was really a lot easier perhaps than we had even been led to believe. The horizon clearly curved away in that rather smooth part of the Moon chosen for our landing site for Apollo 11. The sky was black as could be—crystal clear visibility with no air. The backpack caused us to lean forward a bit. But, clearly, moving was like in slow motion because of the restrictions of the suit. Walking on another world, knowing that you’re more distant than two people have ever been before, and yet, at that time, more people back home were witnessing what we were doing. That was quite an ironic situation, an unusual one. And, it occurred to me that this was, indeed, unique in the history of travel.

Hitt: Alright. Thank you for sharing that. Through your numerous public appearances, your BuzzAldrin.com Web site, your many books, including an upcoming children’s book, you’re an outspoken advocate for space exploration. What is the most important message you want to share with the world today?

Aldrin: I think with the world today, the most important message might be the plaque that we left on the Moon that said, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969.” And, the most important part is, “We came in peace for all mankind.” The world is in turmoil today, and I think the efforts that we put forth are an inspiration to those who seek freedom in the world, that this is an example of what that freedom can bring. Space travel is something that is now reserved for only those very specially selected people, but I think there’s an inspiration involved also that one day in the not-too-distant future, many other people, not specialists in astronaut or cosmonaut activities, but more and more of the ordinary common private citizen, may one day have the opportunity to experience, perhaps not landing on the Moon, perhaps not reaching the Moon for a good while, but attaining not just suborbital flight, but flight into orbit around the Earth.

Hitt: Today, after more than 30 years, there is serious talk about returning to the Moon and exploring the solar system. What do you believe should be the goals of space exploration today?

Aldrin: Well, clearly today, I think the goals must be affordable. They must be sustainable through many different administrations. So, we need a bipartisan approach that inspires the people. And, through the people of our country and of the world, it motivates the leaders and the people allocating the funds, in our case, the congress, to be able to ensure the continuity of funding support for NASA and the private sector. But, we need a sustaining leadership in the executive branch of the government. The goals, clearly, must be attainable, and they must be evolutionary. I think there are several steps involved in reaching the Moon. We need to chart out the potential landing sites by robotic spacecraft. We need to decide what is the best selection of launch vehicles to launch the exploration vehicle and the landers, that they can evolve into maximizing the potential support for journeying beyond the Moon, perhaps visiting the asteroids on the way to the moons of Mars, then supporting landings on Mars itself. All of this should be viewed with an objective of accepting the objective of permanent occupancy on Mars, rather than just several expeditions that could be postponed in a discontinuous way. We need to have a growing evolutionary commitment that doesn’t turn on and off the support for space.

Hitt: Thank you. The students of today will be the explorers that will bring that future about. What advice would you have for children in school today?

Aldrin: I guess the students of today need to have an open mind, explore many avenues of career choices, pay attention to the working tools that might be needed if the student aspires to a career supporting space activities or actually participating in them themselves. They need to be operators, they need to be communicators, have a significant individual background. And for longer and longer duration spaceflights, they need to develop the skills of compatibility with the close quarters that would be required for their fellow travelers. Not an easy task, but an inspiring one.

Hitt: For you, what was the most exciting part of the experience of flying in space?

Aldrin: Maybe that fits into three categories, the experience of flying in space. One is the physical sensations, and the observations. And, I guess the third is that your life is different. You are now looked upon as an individual who has been to unusual places. And, this gives you a status in the eyes of your fellow citizens. So, there’s the visual scenery from space, the fantastic view, there’s the sensation physically of floating in zero-gravity, and, then, there is the lifetime experience of sharing those wonderful opportunities to fellow human beings.

Hitt: Although your last spaceflight was 35 years ago, you’ve been very involved in space exploration ever since. Tell us a little bit about what you’re doing today.

Aldrin: I’m involved in a number of things moving toward, let’s say, technical contributions. I’ve formed a rocket company for reusable rockets, demonstrating what NASA and the Air Force could use in small reusable rockets, progressing to boosters of larger and larger size. This is just a booster that gets the launch vehicle to Mach 3, 3 and a half, and then the booster glides back, or Mach 6, part of the way up into space, and the booster then flies back. We also have an expertise in crew modules, safe crew modules that can be matched with appropriate launch vehicles, to carry out flights beyond low Earth orbit, to be able to join up with landers and support missions to the Moon and beyond. That’s part of the technical contributions. The other contributions, perhaps, are in the more non-profit, the inspirational, and they come under the category of my Share Space Foundation. The objective is to share space with as many people as possible, so that there’s an increasing commercial return from spaceflight and an inspirational aspect for those who are afforded the opportunity to share in space. I’m organizing global space travelers, those individuals who are non-professional astronauts and cosmonauts, who have had the opportunity to reach orbital flight, either in the Space Shuttle or with the Russians. Then, there’s suborbital space travelers that would also be a part of this group. These role models, global space travelers, can inspire adventure travel, space camps, and perhaps eventually space scout type organizations, not just nationally, but internationally. Space camps are a part of this, but I think perhaps more important is to try and look at how the exploration missions can also be augmented by similar applications of those launch vehicles and crew modules so that adventure travel can take place with minor modifications of the launch vehicles and crew modules that are needed for exploration. Otherwise, adventure travel would be far, far too expensive. But, we need a partnership between the government civil space exploration needs and the commercial private sector human space travel objectives.

Hitt: Dr. Aldrin, it has been an honor and a pleasure talking to you today, and we appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

Aldrin: Thank you. I hope this helps. It’s an interesting prelude to the 35th anniversary of that wonderful opportunity that three of us had on Apollo 11 to carry out the first lunar landing.

Biographical Data

Hometown: Montclair, New Jersey
Born: January 20, 1930
Education: Bachelor of Science degree from United States Military Academy at West Point, Doctorate of Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Spaceflight Experience:
Pilot, Gemini 12—Aldrin established a new space walk duration record on this 1966 flight.
Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 11—Aldrin and Armstrong became the first men to walk on the Moon during this 1969 mission.

For more information about Buzz Aldrin, visit his NASA biography at http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/bios/htmlbios/aldrin-b.html or his official Web site at http://www.buzzaldrin.com