Buzz Aldrin, one of the first men who went to the Moon with Neil Armstrong in 1969, is a sprightly, commanding man. At age 86, he remains intensely passionate about space, fuelled by his infectious curiosity to constantly explore and conquer new frontiers. After a holistic treatment at the Meera Spa and back at the all-exclusive Private Reserve in Gili Lankanfushi where Buzz is vacationing with his family, he opens up to Hpaper about his father, his ceaseless obsession with Mars—he is wearing a t-shirt that says “Destination Mars”—and why scuba diving in the Maldives is one of his favourite things to do on earth.
Hi Buzz. Thank you for this interview. Let’s start at the beginning, at your childhood. What was your childhood dream?
Buzz Aldrin: My childhood dream, other than sports, was to fly airplanes. My father was an aviator. He had a doctor’s degree in aeronautics. He would judge air races. He taught engineering to many people who were pilots in World War I. He was helping to advance their knowledge. My father knew the Wright brothers and Amelia Earhart well. He even rode the Hindenburg from America to Germany. He was a talented experimenter in new things like rocket propulsion. When I was two, I took my first airplane ride with my father. He inspired me to be an explorer, and pioneering became my destiny.
How much of your life is spent exploring?
Buzz Aldrin: I think there’s always been a curiosity. Exploring and doing things that are challenging in my life. Football has great heroes, and you imagine that you can be something like those heroes. I knew I was too small for football, I wasn’t somebody who could run for miles and miles and miles. I knew I was short but quick, and was able to put in maximum eff ort. I put my energies where it was needed and became a pole-vaulter.
What got you interested in aviation?
Buzz Aldrin: I got interested in aviation from real young. I was 11 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, and that was the beginning of World War II. I was following that very closely. The conquests, the borders, the geography. The fact that we (the USA) could start training our air force and retaliate during the war was very impressive to me. I decided that I would one day learn how to fly military airplanes. I would later get my education from West Point and train to fly with the Air Force Academy. I have always looked to education to improve my position.
Tell us about your interest in diving.
Buzz Aldrin: Scuba diving in the ocean has the comparison of freedom in the space craft and in space. Flying an airplane is removing yourself from the limitations of the ground, and the limitations of gravity pulling you down. You use the engine and the wings to become free, and you can move around. In space, they call it space walking but really, it’s more like space floating. In the ocean, when you can leave the surface with the snorkel and go down, you become free to look at fish and underwater life, but because you’re floating in another kind of world you can almost pretend you’re in space.
How did you learn to dive?
Buzz Aldrin: My pilot training took me to Libya in 1957, where I learnt how to scuba dive. We were training to spacewalk, and it wasn’t very successful. Somebody suggested that we could train underwater, and I thought, “Yeah, that’s good! That would work.” Scuba diving helped to simulate the weightlessness of space. This training put me in a very good position for the Apollo 11 mission.
The first thing you said when you landed on the Moon was, “Beautiful view. Magnificent desolation”. What was your first impression of the Maldives, and The Private Reserve here at Gili Lankanfushi?
Buzz Aldrin: The moon was very unwelcoming. I’ve been to many different places after I left NASA. I went to the Maldives and it was the most attractive. The water is warmer, the conditions are good underwater, and the scenery is very attractive. I’ve always been attracted to places that have very good conditions for people to come to. I’m always looking for the next beautiful place. I love to go somewhere new and explore. This resort too, is the perfect setting. You’re far away from distractions and you get to enjoy this beautiful place. My younger son is here and we get to catch up on things. I’ve got space to think and figure things out, without anyone interrupting. There are not enough days like this when I can have total relaxation.
Are there things in Maldives that you don’t see anywhere else?
Buzz Aldrin: Well, there are large schools of fish. I mean, many, many, many more than I’ve seen in many places. There’re no real deep dives here. You get to see the mantas and the sharks, but you don’t have to get down a couple hundred feet. This trip, we saw a beautiful coral reef, we went around the edge and could see the different depths. We saw a turtle during our dive and there was a shark that kept circling around it. I’m also always looking for holes where something might be. If there’s something overhanging, then I’m interested in looking up. And an easy way to look up is to just roll over and swim along upside down. I love diving upside down.
Buzz Aldrin: I guess it would be some place that would remove all the other temptations to go somewhere else. So it’s some place that fulfils all the interests and I think that there are some people who can find a place and say, “This satisfies all my interests.”
What keeps you going?
Buzz Aldrin: I don’t like to be rushed. I like to slowly move into things. And not be surprised. A lot depends on what I feel my needs are, in the way of unfinished business. I still want to see other things. Like with whatever time I have, I’d still dive, until somebody has to push me around in a wheelchair. In 14 years, I’ll be 100. In 14 years, I have to get things moving in a direction I want to see a movement. Because (after that) I won’t be able to push anymore. I know where my life is. My life is doing things that are challenging in space. Ever since I left NASA, the idea was to look at the future.
What is the next frontier for man?
Buzz Aldrin: You have to be willing to leave where you are and go somewhere else. My mind tells me that a hundred, two hundred years from now, we will either have a catastrophe here or a growing number of people on Mars. I can’t convince myself that that’s true about the Moon. I think we can send people there for six months, a year, and they come back and we send somebody else there. But that’s not true for Mars. One day, we can live there.
What does it say on your bracelet?
Buzz Aldrin: Give hope. Honour courage.
THE PRIVATE RESERVE
Gili Lankanfushi had the privilege of hosting astronaut Buzz Aldrin and his family at The Private Reserve, just after an extensive renovation was completed. It was a rare occasion for Buzz and his closest kin to get together, in a mesmerising setting that made precious family time all the more special. Perched in the middle of a turquoise blue lagoon 500 metres away from the main resort island of Gili Lankanfushi, The Private Reserve is the world’s largest over-water villa. Here, five separate and generously sized pavilions linked by pinewood walkways make up the 1,700 square metre space. Although The Private Reserve can comfortably house up to 12 residents, privacy is never compromised. Friends and family can relax on the sunrise deck by the new freshwater pool while enjoying a panoramic 360-degree view of the Indian Ocean, or if they so choose, bond over a private dinner exquisitely prepared by a personal chef, or retreat to their own master suites. There is even a water slide on the top deck that leads into a private lagoon, where residents can swim directly into crystal clear coral gardens and come face to face with enchanting marine life. If Gili Lankanfushi is about getting away from it all, The Private Reserve promises privacy, exclusivity, and luxury bar none. For Buzz, who has journeyed to the ends of the world and beyond, The Private Reserve proved to be a rare, undiscovered gem like no other.
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