Buzz Aldrin praises Mars, and slams the desolate moon and a jeans-clad Daily Show correspondent at StarTalk Live

Sprightly 83-year-old astronaut Aldrin chats and laughs with Eugene Mirman, Neil deGrasse Tyson and others about Earth's future in space.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson moonwalks at StarTalk Live with Buzz Aldrin

Neil deGrasse Tyson moonwalks at StarTalk Live with Buzz Aldrin Photograph: ©2013 Daniel Johnson


“I don’t think anybody’s learning anything,” Buzz Aldrin blurted about a third of the way through a live taping of science and comedy podcast StarTalk Live at Town Hall last night. He’d become momentarily disillusioned with his crew: host (and Hayden Planentarium director) Neil deGrasse Tyson, author Andrew Chaikin, as well as comics Eugene Mirman and John Oliver. Tyson played hardball, Chaikin intercepted Tyson’s pitches and turned them into softballs, all while the peanut gallery of Mirman and Oliver chattered from the stands.

Aldrin’s theatrical grumpiness was also part of his charm; the former Apollo astronaut had nothing to prove. (“For those of you dragged here by a friend,” Tyson reminded the audience, “He walked on the moon.”) As Aldrin fielded questions about fighting in the Korean War, the behavior of dust particles in zero gravity and wrangling governmental travel reimbursements, the bright-eyed 83-year-old was by turns laconic, feisty and baffled that his interlocutors failed to grasp the simplicity of his ideas.

The show—titled “From Small Steps to Giant Leaps: Humans to the Moon, Mars and Beyond"—was divided in three parts: Aldrin's experience on the moon, his hopes for humans visiting (or colonizing) Mars and the possibility of propagating outside of our solar system. The tone was set early, Aldrin insisting he became an astronaut "on a fluke," bragging that his lunar experiment was superior to Neil Armstrong's "easy" deployment of reflectors and justifying the space program with "they told us to do it."

Aldrin also took playful swipes at everyone in sight. After Oliver professed he felt a kinship to Aldrin, the be-suited astronaut glanced at the be-denimed Daily Show correspondent and said, “I had jeans on this morning, too.” When Tyson considered whether he’d be part of a mission to colonize Mars, Aldrin quipped, “You’ve got to do something with this life of yours.” At one point, Aldrin likened the desolation of the moon to what he perceived as the desolation inherent in Tyson’s audience; Mirman peered into the house and hollered, “Astro-burn!”

Though there was talk about asteroids destroying the Earth, Tyson’s usual flair for the dramatic was curbed a bit in favor of recognizing the presence of a hero. Aldrin criticized lack of “leadership” in the space program, approved of private plans to visit the red planet like those of PayPal cofounder Elon Musk and talked about his vision for an outpost there (as he discusses in his new book, Mission to Mars). 

As far as answering Tyson’s prompts to inspire young listeners, Aldrin would only tell them to “be in the right place at the right time.” He had a much clearer idea about whether people should visit Mercury: “Send ‘em to the sun!” (Mirman’s responded, “This guy knows how to party!”) before adding, "And go at night." As Oliver stood up and mimed a player hitting one out of the park, the astronaut patiently remained seated.

Listen to the whole program in the near future at startalkradio.net.

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