Disappointingly, Aldrin feels that despite huge interest in travelling to Mars, no one has the right motivation or is taking the time to make considered decisions. Whether political or corporate expeditions, he believes that everyone needs to slow down, suggesting that the first logical trip to the planet is still decades away. “I try to be realistic about how we would get technology to go to other planets. I think there is a desire to want to rush and I think we need to slow down,” he says. “Despite his ambitions, President Trump is not going to get someone to Mars in his first term – and not in his second term. We have met with Vice President Pence and he is very interested in doing things in space. But we’ve got to give them some guidance, let’s put it that way. I’m convinced that going to Mars and then leaving it empty is not the right way. I think the only purpose of going is to start to build up a settlement there and we should wait until we can do this very confidently, very completely, not real quick to just get there and come back.
“Everyone has their own driving force, expectations and objectives. For me it is an obligation to serve my country that drives me. But not everyone is as purely motivated as I am. A president is going to take an idea because it is good for him and that’s OK – it’s fine, it means he is valuing the decisions he makes because he’s on record as having made them. I’ve learned to preface my approach with two words: fiscal discipline. We need to stop things that are being done just because the vested interest doesn’t want to see change. I want to point out to the people making decisions what their legacy could be if they adopt my approach because I have carefully considered the people who may be carrying these things out and the practicalities involved.”
Military pilot, astronaut, adventurer, academic and space strategist, the man who spontaneously and famously described the Moon’s surface as “magnificent desolation”, is more active today than most high-achievers a fraction of his age, but I can’t help but wonder if, now in his ninth decade, he has any plans to slow down? Staring deep into my eyes, Aldrin smiles and, half laughing, ends the interview with: “Sure, I could have retired, but idle minds get into trouble.”