“Magnificent desolation”: Buzz Aldrin shares his Moon landing memories

One of the most significant moments in human history, the day man walked on the Moon, will reach its 45th anniversary on 20th July.

The event captured everyone on Earth’s attention, and has been watched by more or less everyone born since, yet there are three people who missed out on the excitement: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, the astronauts involved in the mission.

Now Buzz Aldrin is looking to recapture some of the earth-bound excitement by inviting people to share their memories of the landing through a YouTube-focused social media campaign, #Apollo45.

To promote the event, Aldrin took to Reddit to answer questions about the Moon, life, Mars and the future of space travel.

Providing candid responses to everything from his experiences of the infamous event to his favourite ice cream, Aldrin delighted Redditors with his detailed and often surprisingly humble responses.

The best of Buzz Aldrin’s AMA

Is there any experience on Earth that even compares slightly to having been on the Moon?

My first words of my impression of being on the surface of the Moon that just came to my mind was “Magnificent desolation.” The magnificence of human beings, humanity, Planet Earth, maturing the technologies, imagination and courage to expand our capabilities beyond the next ocean, to dream about being on the Moon, and then taking advantage of increases in technology and carrying out that dream – achieving that is magnificent testimony to humanity. But it is also desolate – there is no place on earth as desolate as what I was viewing in those first moments on the Lunar Surface.

Do the pictures of space do any justice to the real thing?

Yes, they do. They recall (for me) the actual experience of myself in space – not by words, not by print, but visual reminders, it brings back a very in-depth appreciation. They can be used very well for communicating in speeches, talks, and more to other people who can actually see what I saw and what the camera saw.

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What advice would you like to give to a lab full of aspiring engineers and astrophysicists? And… What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

COCONUT ICE CREAM.

Don’t waste your time on beaming people up or down. Instead, consider gravity waves as advanced physics of the universe that could be used to travel interstellar distances. And ENJOY floating in space, rather than being decomposed or recomposed in another location.

What went through your head when you first looked back and saw the Earth from space?

“Where are the billions and billions and billions of people, on what I’m looking at? We’re the only 3 that are not back there.” And we didn’t get to celebrate. Because we were out of town.

What’s the most frightening moment that you have ever experienced in space?

I believe it was after leaving the surface of the moon and completing a successful rendezvous with Mike Collins in the command module, as we approached connecting / docking, the procedures in the checklist said one thing, and I thought maybe doing it a slightly different way, rolling and pitching instead of something else, and I thought that was better on the spur of the moment!

It turns out that it was not a good thing to do, because it caused the platform to become locked, and we were not able to use the primary thrusters, the primary guidance, to control the spacecraft, to its final few feet to dock and join the other spacecraft. That was my mistake. I suggested to my commander that we do it differently, and it was his mistake to assume that I knew what I was talking about. So we both made mistakes – brought about by me! We recovered successfully on the “abort guidance” system.

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What advice would you give Elon Musk to achieve the ultimate objective of permanence on Mars?

There is very little doubt, in my mind, that what the next monumental achievement of humanity will be the first landing by an Earthling, a human being, on the planet Mars. And I expect that within 2 decades of the 5th anniversary of the first landing on the moon, that within 2 decades America will lead an international presence on Planet Mars.

Some people may be rooting for Elon – I think he could, with his SpaceX, contribute considerably, enormously, to an international activity not only at the moon but also on Mars. I have considered whether a landing on Mars could be done by the private sector. It conflicts with my very strong idea, concept, conviction, that the first human beings to land on Mars should not come back to Earth. They should be the beginning of a build-up of a colony / settlement, I call it a “permanence.” A settlement you can visit once or twice, come back, and then decide you want to settle. Same with a colony.

But you want it to be permanent from the get-go, from the very first. I know that many people don’t feel that that should be done. Some people even consider it distinctly a suicide mission. Not me! Not at all. Because we will plan, we will construct from the moon of Mars, over a period of 6-7 years, the landing of different objects at the landing site that will be brought together to form a complete Mars habitat and laboratory, similar to what has been done at the Moon.

Read the full AMA here.


Images courtesy of NASA.


Salad in deep space: Robot gardeners to grow food for astronauts aboard spacecraft

NASA is looking to university students to help find solutions for feeding astronauts on long space missions, with promising results.

Students at the University of Colorado Boulder designed a growing system that uses robots to cultivate and harvest plants during deep-space explorations.

The project, titled “Plants Anywhere: Plants Growing in Free Habitat Spaces”, places plants throughout the spacecraft rather than utilising a designated area for growing. According to the researchers, this method optimises the tiny space available within the ship.

The vegetation is housed in small hydroponic growing chambers called SmartPots that contain computers and sensors to keep track of each plant’s development, including air and water temperature, pH levels and responses to lighting and humidity.

Each chamber communicates its plant’s conditions to a remotely-operated gardening rover (ROGR), which moves around the cabin responding to the system’s commands for water or other needs.

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The ROGR robots can also harvest the fruits and vegetables. If an astronaut wants to make a salad, the growing system determines the plant with the best, ripest vegetables and tells the robot to collect them.

The SmartPots and gardening robots do most of the work in the system so that astronauts can focus on other tasks during their mission.

Besides supplying food for physical health, the growing system and its “plants anywhere” concept could help astronauts maintain their mental health as well.

“We want to optimise a system allowing the humans to get psychological benefits from interacting with the plants,” said Heather Hava, a member of the UC Boulder team. “We also want the plants to be in the astronauts’ environment so they can see them, smell them and be around them. Who doesn’t love to pick a fresh strawberry?”

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The project is part of the eXploration HABitat Academic Innovation Challenge, an initiative from NASA that asks teams of university students to develop new systems for use in space travel.  By engaging students, NASA hopes to encourage interest in deep-space exploration so that ideas and designs continue to improve.

The exploration of Mars continues to be a hot topic, and this growing system could provide astronauts with the sustenance they need to make the long journey there.

Robotically-controlled gardens could even give insight into how we would grow food for a Mars colony, as plants are able to flourish in treacherous environments thanks to the hydroponic chambers. While powdered space foods might have a longer shelf life, eating fresh fruits and vegetables as we explore the unknown terrain of a faraway planet sounds much more appealing.


Featured image is a screenshot from Elysium (2013), body images courtesy of NASA/ Bob Granath.