Almost nobody perceives the universe the way that Buzz Aldrin perceives the universe. As one of only 12 people to walk on the surface of the Moon, he's got a perspective that very few share.
Because of this, as well as his many achievements in space, Aldrin has amassed an incredible collection of mind-blowing tales. He's been as far away from his home as anyone ever has, and felt what if feels like to be surrounded by the cold, desolate reaches of space. He even knows for Pete's sake!
Fortunately for those of us that can't even begin to comprehend those things, Aldrin set aside some time to participate in a Reddit AMA session in honor of the 45th anniversary of his historic Moon landing on July 20.
Read some of his most fascinating comments below:
On the Moon's desolation:
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.
Because I realized what I was looking at, towards the horizon and in every direction, had not changed in hundreds, thousands of years. Beyond me I could see the moon curving away — no atmosphere, black sky. Cold. Colder than anyone could experience on Earth when the sun is up — but when the sun is up for 14 days, it gets very, very hot. No sign of life whatsoever.
That is desolate. More desolate than any place on Earth.
On seeing Earth from the Moon for the first time:
[I thought] "Where are the billions and billions and billions of people, on what I'm looking at? We're the only three that are not back there." And we didn't get to celebrate. Because we were out of town.
On his favorite space movie:
I have watched many movies from Martians coming to Earth in New Jersey in the form of giant snakes — this was a radio program created by Orson Welles, "War of the Worlds" — and I've read many science fiction stories, descriptions, by Isaac Asimov, but my favorite of course is Arthur C. Clarke. So "2001: A Space Odyssey."
On the depiction of space in movies:
I thought that the movie "Gravity," the depiction of people moving around in zero gravity, was really the best I have seen. The free-falling, the actions that took place between two people, were very, I think, exaggerated, but probably bent the laws of physics. But to a person who's been in space, we would cringe looking at something that we hoped would NEVER, EVER happen. It's very thrilling for the person who's never been there, because it portrays the hazards, the dangers that could come about if things begin to go wrong, and I think that as I came out of that movie, I said to myself and others, "Sandra Bullock deserves an Oscar."
On deciding who would walk on the Moon first:
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). We knew this would be different because two 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. The decision that was made was absolutely correct as far as who went out first, symbolically. However who was in charge of … what happened after both people are outside, I believe, could have been done differently. 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. And the decision wasn't up to me, or Neil, it was up to people much higher up in NASA.
On his favorite flavor of ice cream:
COCONUT ICE CREAM.
On his favorite type of cheese:
Since we're talking about the Moon, it'd have to be American cheese.
On the advice he'd give to aerospace engineering students:
Drive over to the nearest airport, and enroll in flight classes. You will experience the joy of freedom in the air above, as you study the mechanics of how this is made possible by understanding the construction, the laws of motion, the air that can provide lift when it is moved by propulsion through the air, and stay above the gravity pulling the airplane back down to earth.
On his biggest accomplishments outside of space:
I was very close to the top of my class at West Point. And I continued to expand my understanding of the world around me, and the human evolutions here on earth, the achievements perhaps to other people are impressive when I tell them that not only have I been to the North Pole, I haven't been to the South Pole yet, but I have been to the Titanic in a little yellow French submarine. It took an hour and a half just to sink down in the ocean about two miles deep to look out the thick glass window and see the Titanic. The visibility was such that we could see the bow, it became very famous in the movie thanks to James Cameron, but the visibility 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.
On his nickname "Buzz":
My sister called me "Buzzard" when I was a baby — she couldn't say "Brother" so I've been Buzz my whole life.
On the existence of extra-terrestrials:
There may be aliens in our Milky Way galaxy, and there are billions of other galaxies. 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.
On the taste of "astronaut food":
The taste was generally pleasant. But it was mostly freeze-dried so we had to add water to the container and let it set — and around the instrument panel and other parts of the spacecraft, we had certain places we had Velcro so we could attach things so we wouldn't have to hold on to each one or have it float around the cabin. We had to use a water gun to send water into the plastic bag with the freeze-dried food. Now later on, things got much better and they were more like TV dinners that I remember — I don't see too many these days — as long as the food has some stickiness to it, it won't float around, but if it is like M&Ms, that are used in training with zero gravity, they're all over the place, and so would water form into spheres and float around in the cabin! So the crewman has to be very careful about adjusting to a lack of gravity sensation. We had very small shrimp that had a little bit of cocktail sauce, and when exposed to water, were very very tasty. But you wouldn't want a shrimp an inch long floating around the cabin!
On his taste in music:
Well, I prefer the soft singing voice of Karen Carpenter. I have heard Frank Sinatra sing "Fly Me to the Moon" almost too many times. So I'm interested in composing a new song, entitled "Get your ass to Mars!"
On bragging about his achievements:
I don't think I've ever really [done] that. I don't want to be shockingly bragging. 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 participated with great honor in becoming one of the first to land on the moon, and now I am devoting and have devoted many years of my life to enabling Americans to lead international nations to permanence on the planet Mars. I was lucky enough to have been born on this planet Earth, in this admirable country of the United States of America.
On mankind's next biggest adventure:
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 two decades of the [50th] anniversary of the first landing on the moon, that within two decades America will lead an international presence on planet Mars.