Today, the second man to walk on the Moon did a Reddit AMA. Here are a few things we learned.
1. He got his nickname from his sister. “My sister called me ‘Buzzard’ when I was a baby,” Aldrin said. “She couldn't say ‘Brother’ so I've been Buzz my whole life.”
2. Aldrin doesn’t brag about his exploits on the Moon. “I don't want to be shockingly bragging," he said. "I would rather people understand that there is a very, very fortunate American who was given the opportunity, and was in the right place at the right time to have the moment of a lifetime. My mother was born—her name was Marianne Moon. And she was born in 1903, the year that the Wright Brothers first flew. ... I was lucky enough to have been born on this planet earth, in this admirable country of the United States of America.”
3. There was discussion about who should be first to step on the moon—and some at NASA thought it should be Aldrin. "I felt that there was an obligation on my part to put forth the reasons why a commander who had been burdened down with an enormous amount of responsibility and training for activities (and because of that, in all previous missions, if someone, a crew member, was to spacewalk, it was always the junior person, not the space commander who would stay inside)," Aldrin said. "We knew this would be different because 2 people would be going out. There was a group at NASA who felt the junior person (me) should go out first, but many people felt the great symbology of the commander from past expeditions or arrivals at a destination." Ultimately, NASA made the call that Neil Armstrong would go first. "The decision that was made was absolutely correct as far as who went out first, symbolically," Aldrin said.
4. Still, the astronaut feels that what came next could have been handled better. "However, who was in charge of what happened after both people are outside, I believe, could have been done differently," he said. "I was not the commander, I was a junior person, so once both were outside, I followed my leader, because we (NASA) had not put together detailed jobs of people outside. I believe it could have been improved. But it was very successful for what it was."
5. His favorite ice cream flavor is coconut.
6. If he could give advice to aspiring engineers and astrophysicists, it would be: “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.”
7. When he first looked back and saw Earth from space, Aldrin thought: "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."
8. Aldrin isn’t a fan of “Fly Me to the Moon”—“I have heard Frank Sinatra sing [it] almost too many times," he said—but he is “interested in composing a new song, entitled ‘Get your ass to Mars!’”
9. The scariest thing he experienced in space occurred as they were rendezvousing with Mike Collins after their visit to the Moon—and it was Aldrin's fault. “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!" Aldrin said. "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!" They recovered using the "abort guidance" system, Aldrin said, and then: "(I don't admit that to many people) (but I'm sure the mission controllers in Houston, while it was happening or certainly afterwards, they certainly knew what had happened, but fortunately they didn't squeal on us)[.]”
10. Aldrin took a trip down to the Titanic “in a little yellow french submarine." He said that "the visibility was such that we could see the bow ... but [it] was not so good that you could actually see the bottom of the ocean that the Titanic was resting on. So it was an eerie site, of a ship festooned with rusting metal, like gingerbread. Floating, floating out the window in the Ocean.”
11. He saw an unidentified object en route to the Moon, but he doesn’t think it was aliens. “I observed a light out the window that appeared to be moving alongside us. There were many explanations of what that could be, other than another spacecraft from another country or another world—it was either the rocket we had separated from, or the 4 panels that moved away when we extracted the lander from the rocket and we were nose to nose with the two spacecraft. So in the close vicinity, moving away, were 4 panels. And I feel absolutely convinced that we were looking at the sun reflected off of one of these panels. Which one? I don't know. So technically, the definition could be 'unidentified.' We well understood exactly what that was. And when we returned, we debriefed and explained exactly what we had observed. And I felt that this had been distributed to the outside world, the outside audience, and apparently it wasn't, and so many years later, I had the time in an interview to disclose these observations, on another country's television network. And the UFO people in the United States were very very angry with me, that I had not given them the information. It was not an alien."
12. But that doesn't mean Aldrin doesn't believe in aliens. "There may be aliens in our Milky Way galaxy, and there are billions of other galaxies," he said. "The probability is almost CERTAIN that there is life somewhere in space. It was not that remarkable, that special, that unusual, that life here on earth evolved gradually, slowly, to where we are today. But the distances involved in where some evidence of life may be, they may be hundreds of light years away.”
13. He doesn’t care about people who think the Moon landing was faked. “I personally don't waste very much of my time on what is so obvious to a really thinking person ... [W]e talked about Carl Sagan ... who made a very prophetic observation. He said that 'extraordinary observations require extraordinary evidence to make them believable.' There is not extraordinary evidence of (as far as I know) all the claims that have been made that we did NOT go to the Moon. There are photographs from lunar reconnaissance orbiter satellites, going around the moon, that clearly show all of the experiments that we described when we came back from the moon, and they are evidence that we were there, telling the truth.”
14. His favorite book about space is 2001: A Space Odyssey. He once spent some time with Arthur C. Clarke, during which he and the author "talked about a treasure he had discovered in the ocean, and we both hoped in the future that he and I could scuba dive and perhaps retrieve some of that treasure. That never happened, unfortunately."
15. He and Neil deGrasse Tyson are BFFs. “We were on a commission together to look at the future of space activities for the United States, that was about 12 years ago, and we've been good friends ever since," Aldrin said. "I was on his TV show. He did Michael Jackson's moonwalk far better than I did on Dancing With the Stars.”
16. Aldrin believes Mars is the next best extraterrestrial stop for us. “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," he said; he believes that America will lead the way within two decades of the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing.
17. He also thinks that it should be a one-way trip for the explorers who make the trip. "You want it to be permanent from the get-go, from the very first," Aldrin said. "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. Tourism trips to Mars and back are just not the appropriate way for human beings from Earth—to have an individual company, no matter how smart, send people to Mars and bring them back, it is VERY very expensive. It delays the obtaining of permanence, internationally."
18. And though some people feel the private sector should lead the way to Mars, Aldrin disagrees. This "monumental achievement by humanity ... should not be one private company at all," he said. "It should be a collection of the best from all the countries on Earth, and the leader of the nation or the groups who makes a commitment to do that in 2 decades will be remembered throughout history, hundreds and thousands of years in the future of the history of humanity, beginning, commencing, a human occupation of the solar system.”
Aldrin closed the AMA with this piece of advice: "Be careful what you dream of, it just may happen to you. Anyone who dreams of something, has to be prepared."