Buzz Aldrin wants people to know that he has some cool new ideas about how to get to the moon — not just because they’re cool, but also because they show his mind is working.
“That’s not an inactive, incapacitated, dependent mind,” the 88-year-old Aldrin, who became one of the first humans to walk on the moon during 1969’s Apollo 11 mission, told me today during a wide-ranging telephone interview.
That’s an issue nowadays, due to a legal fight that’s pitting Aldrin and his new business managers against two of his children and his former business manager.
The children, Andrew and Janice Aldrin, have asked a court to determine the former astronaut’s competency, with the aim of taking more control of his accounts as co-guardians.
In response, Buzz Aldrin filed a lawsuit alleging that his children and his former manager, Christina Korp, have been improperly characterizing his mental state, exerting too much control over his personal life, and misusing his money.
Today, the younger Aldrins countered with a statement saying that the allegations in the lawsuit “are products of the increased confusion and memory loss that Dad has demonstrated in recent years.” Korp, meanwhile, issued her own statement saying she was being “unfairly defamed” by Buzz Aldrin’s managers and lawyers.
The family feud is sure to get even more tangled: This week, Aldrin will reportedly undergo examinations by court-appointed mental health experts.
But that’s not what Aldrin wanted to talk about when he called me up today. He wanted to talk about building space gateways to the moon.
“I crystallized this thinking while I was getting a massage this morning,” he joked.
Aldrin’s plan, which has been percolating for much longer than the time it takes to get a massage, builds on NASA’s Gateway concept. The concept calls for building up a platform in the vicinity of the moon, to serve as an initial in-space facility for managing lunar operations.
Aldrin said the Gateway could also house an electrolysis facility for turning water into oxygen and hydrogen fuel — at least until a water-splitting facility could be built on the lunar surface.
“Gateway is something that everybody is tapped in on,” he said.
He envisions using other sorts of “gateways” to build out a transportation infrastructure, including two International Space Station labs and a new type of transfer vehicle to ferry payloads and people between Earth orbit and the lunar Gateway.
Another piece of the puzzle would be a type of spacecraft that Aldrin calls a Space View Voyager, which could house people during long-duration stays in space. Aldrin’s term takes its inspiration from World View Enterprises’ balloon-borne Voyager capsule.
Aldrin insisted that China should be included in future space plans, even though “we gave them the finger on the ISS, and they would love to do that to us in return.”
“I want them to be an integral, equal partner in a coalition,” he said.
Aldrin’s aware that his plan needs more work. “I can’t do it myself,” he said. “I’m just one person.” So he’s creating a new entity called the Human SpaceFlight Institute to turn his multi-gateway concept into a realistic blueprint.
“I want this to be the first innovation that the Human SpaceFlight Institute … puts through exercises with the universities,” Aldrin said. He also said he’s soliciting feedback from friends in the space community, and is talking about going on a nationwide tour next month as a “preamble” to next year’s Apollo 11 golden anniversary.
Aldrin said the current legal battle is fueling a personal push to become more active in spheres ranging from social media to the National Space Council’s recently formed Users Advisory Group.
“It motivates me to make it clear to people that, not only am I active, but the stimulus of constructive thinking has risen in a way that surprises me, and surprises other people,” he said.
The change has certainly been jarring to some, including those who noticed a dramatic shift in tone on Aldrin’s Twitter account, @therealbuzz. “Regaining my control of inputs into a Twitter account unfortunately resulted in an exchange or two,” he said.
At one point during our nearly hourlong conversation, he even asked for advice on managing social-media accounts — for example, by automating the reposting of responses to multiple platforms. “I might want to know a little more about that,” he told me.
The phone conversation wandered into other topics as well, including his renewed interest in doing product endorsements (“reliable, sensible things for me to be associated with”) and his hopes of discussing his space concepts with space-savvy billionaires such as Jeff Bezos (who won the first-ever Buzz Aldrin Space Innovation Award last year).
We didn’t delve into financial or legal questions, and I didn’t ask Aldrin about his mental state or his interactions with his children and business associates. But he volunteered that he has a habit of saying what’s on his mind, even if what comes out occasionally sounds “humorous and absurd.”
“What I’m doing is training my brain to think out of the box,” he said. “That creativity is sure something I don’t want to lose.”