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Astronaut Buzz Aldrin Visits NBC's MEET THE PRESS

Related: MEET THE PRESS with DAVID GREGORY, NBC
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin Visits NBC's MEET THE PRESS

In the latest "Meet the Press" PRESS Pass conversation, David Gregory sat down with legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin to discuss his new book, "Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration."



The Apollo 11 astronaut is calling for a mission to the Red Planet within two decades, and putting pressure on President Obama to make that proclamation:



Buzz Aldrin: "It is about world leadership; it is not anymore prestige. It is about, to put it bluntly, it is about a leader of a nation, a President of the United States, making a commitment -- a location and a time period that I estimate, I won't be here to watch it -- but I estimate, will make that person, that president, go down in history for hundreds of thousands of years, more so than many of the leaders in Earth's history up to now."



Aldrin argues that the United States has much to gain from exploration:



Buzz Aldrin: "We expand human presence outward, which inspires young people and develops the technology that the entire world can use. We demonstrate to other nations, just the way we demonstrated to the Soviet Union, 'Don't monkey with us!'"



A transcript of the full interview is below courtesy of NBC News "Meet the Press"



GREGORY: This week on PRESS Pass, I'm joined by the one and only, Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut who was, of course, the second man ever to walk on the moon, during the Apollo 11 lunar mission. Now, more than four decades later, he's on a mission of another kind, this time with a new book called Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration. In it, he outlines his bold plan to reach Mars and get the world excited once again about space exploration. And I am now honored to be joined by Dr. Aldrin, great to have you here.



ALDRIN: Thank you.



GREGORY: So let's get right to the book. I mean, in this period of budget austerity and big debates about what space exploration ought to be like, ought to look like, you say, 'make Mars a priority.'



ALDRIN: Absolutely.



GREGORY: Why and how?



ALDRIN: Well, because it's easy to say we've been to the moon; that doesn't mean we forget it. We take our experience and we use foreign policy without great expenditures, which means we bring the nations together, we execute things that build up the infrastructure, the international lunar base, which they will use -- the other countries that are going there -- pretty much for prestige. That's sort of why we went to the moon; we didn't occupy it, we didn't go back there. The Russians thought that we were kidding, evidently. They put up Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin, and cut ahead of us. But we caught up, we harnessed the great American industry. And they had two different ways of getting to the moon and we had one solid -- well, we eliminated one that wasn't gonna work too well -- but then we had one solid way of getting to the moon and we succeeded beyond our expectations.



GREGORY: Is Mars about prestige too? Getting to Mars?



ALDRIN: It is about world leadership; it is not anymore prestige. It is about, to put it bluntly, it is about a leader of a nation, a President of the United States, making a commitment, a location and a time period that I estimate -- I won't be here to watch it -- but I estimate, will make that person, that president, go down in history for hundreds of thousands of years, more so than many of the leaders in Earth's history up to now.



GREGORY: What's to be gained from it? What's to be gained, beyond leadership, scientifically, and as a matter of exploration, what do we learn from going to Mars?



ALDRIN: We expand human presence outward, which inspires young people and develops the technology that the entire world can use. We demonstrate to other nations, just the way we demonstrated to the Soviet Union, 'Don't monkey with us!' I'm a military guy, I believe in peace through strength. And we need to do that by taking our experience and bringing the nations together, pretty much the way we did for geosynchronous satellite, international satellite communications, Intelsat. There are other organizations. We need just the nations that are major investigators, explorers.



GREGORY: But what about -- there are still going to be hard questions about -- you talk about a two-planet species, inspiring young people, exploration, and all of that is inspiring, but there still has to be some dividend, some result. What do you lay out that you think is that result for Mars?



ALDRIN: My plan -- unified space vision -- instead of President Bush's vision for space exploration. There's more to space than exploration. There's exploration, science, development, commercial, and security. Those five reasons are why we need to lead the world.

GREGORY: Do you worry about the private enterprise getting into space exploration, or do you think it's a good thing?



ALDRIN: No, I don't worry at all. I think the president has made a wise choice in emphasizing the commercial. Look what the government has been able to do. The accident ward said retire the orbiter at the end of 2010. President Bush said the same thing -- retire the orbiter, finish the Space Station, build a space craft, get to the moon by 2020. Unfortunately it was implemented very poorly and left us in a shambles. There's no crew launch vehicle, there's no lander and cargo launch vehicle, we didn't build a lunar lander, the Orion spacecraft is inadequate, over budget, over schedule. If we were to use the Orion spacecraft the way we used Apollo -- command and service module -- and the lander went to the moon. Who put the combination into lunar orbit? The service module did. Can we do that with the plan that got developed with President Bush's vision? No, because it doesn't have enough propulsion. It has to use the landers, which puts us at a great disadvantage for going back to the moon for prestige. We already have prestige, but it's dwindled a little bit.



GREGORY: Let me ask you this. One of the things that's been in the news so much lately are asteroids, meteors -- it's like a shooting gallery in our orbit-- and the president's talked about actually capturing one of these asteroids. What do you think the benefit is of that?



ALDRIN: Well, if you remember correctly -- and I do because I flew on Air Force One down to Kennedy Space Center when the president made the speech -- he talked about humans to Mars by 2025, he talked about orbiting around Mars. Now, I submitted a plan to go to Mars, but it involved building things on the moon internationally first, demonstrating first on the big island of Hawaii -- where you learn how to over and over again how to assemble big objects -- then we do it at the moon. If we just forgot about the moon, we couldn't develop at the moon the assembly of large bases, because we're going to do that at Mars.



GREGORY: Right, but I'm asking you about asteroids. I'm asking you about whether this part of the plan that you talk about with Mars is actually capturing asteroids. What do you think is important about that?



ALDRIN: Developing the interplanetary spacecraft by a visit outward, further and further. I had a plan where I'd fly by a comet and crash the upper stage into the comet. People back here on earth are watching with their binoculars. All of a sudden the comet's tail goes 'boop' because we crashed the upper stage into it. That's worldwide understanding of what America's space program is. It could be done robotically; it could also be done with the backup crew to Dennis Tito's Inspiration Mars --a married couple leaving at a crucial time in December 2018 on a 500-day mission. That's gonna get the public interested in Mars. We will be helping the internationals build at the moon during the same time. But we have a government program to land on Mars; not a commercial activity that's gonna need some support in launching. We went to the moon as a national project; we should go to Mars as a national -- leading the internationals. So we can't afford some ego-orientated person with his program to take himself and land on the moon and then come back again.



GREGORY: Do you think that space travel, space exploration, you know for thrill-seeking, ultimately becomes the new wave over exploration for the purpose of scientific development, or even, as you're talking about, you know, international alliances and some kind of common cause for exploration?



ALDRIN: It is. It is for international relations and leadership and expansion of the human race outward, and, I'll say again, the president that makes that commitment within two decades -- and he could very well make it on the re-election campaign -- for the president that replaces Obama. It's right in The Middle of the 50th anniversaries of the first of six successful landings on the moon. And if that president -- he, she, red states, blue state -- does not get the support of Obama, then that president may not be able to make that commitment. And can you imagine what the person running against, would steal the opportunity to go down in history, hundreds of thousands of years -- presidents want heritage. They want to be remembered.



GREGORY: It never gets old to ask you about how perspective in life changes having done something that is so unique, having walked on the moon. As you continue to think about space exploration, talk about that perspective. It can't ever get old, what's been so special.



ALDRIN: Well no, it doesn't, because it's not going to happen overnight. So you have time to build up things; time to find out who stands in the way. And I decided while I develop my unified space vision in those five categories, that we need to examine the national space policy, from the first time rockets came up through the V2, through Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin; committing to the moon, the mercury program, Gemini, filling in the gap; and the way that we carried out Apollo -- not Wernher von Braun's way -- with a big space craft, but segmented space craft that took one Saturn 5 instead of von Braun's two. We did wonderful things. At the end of Apollo we chartered a course for the future. We screwed it up because it ran over budget, it was unsafe, it was a competition between NASA centers that interfered with long-range objectives. The people responsible are not going to appreciate when I identified what happened. But that's why I'm developing a foundation, a space policy foundation, united, the same five things, we're nationally going to unite then strategically, with other countries' space programs, U.S.S. - I like the word enterprise -- so this is U.S.S. Enterprise, 'To boldly go where no one's been before.' Enterprise means informing the American people in ways that they can understand, so that they can see that their leaders are following a smooth transition after these successes and failures.



GREGORY: Alright and we're going to leave it there. The book is Mission to Mars. Buzz Aldrin, a pleasure. Thank you so much.



ALDRIN: Thank you.

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