Two years ago, Neil Armstrong visited the Netherlands to hold a
lecture at the "Meet the Future" Summit in the Hague. He talked
about his vision on space travel and what it takes to become a true
Candidate for command at 80
According to the legendary astronaut, the principal goal
of every space policy should be the "continuing exploration" of
space. This entails that we put more efforts in getting back to the
moon and ultimately send a spacecraft to the Mars. Ideas within the
Obama administration to first try to fly to an asteroid he called
"ill-advised" at best. Landing on a smaller object like an asteroid
would be extremely difficult and yield little value for
Another issue was the current budget cuts at NASA. "These would
only delay the Mars mission further", said Armstrong and he told
that he had objected in an open letter to president Obama, signed
by him and a group of (retired) astronauts. In the light of his
strong stances, it could not come as a surprise that unstoppable
Armstrong himself offered to lead the next mission to the Mars. The
only thing he would do different as the mission-commander this time
would be making sure that there is a "good caterer" onboard since
astronaut food out of tubes is not something he did not in the
sixties and would not in future "pay a lot of money for".
Farm boy landing on the Moon
Neil Armstrong discovered his passion for engineering
early on in his life. 6 years old he visited his grandfather's farm
and tried to ride and to figure out his tractors. Since grammar
school he dreamed of becoming an airplane designer. This dream
became true, but he wanted to know what his 'client', the fighter
pilot experienced in order to improve his designs. This led to a
remarkable change in careers. So not his airplane designs made him
famous. In 1969 with 450 million people watching, Neil Armstrong
became the first man to set foot on the moon.
"I felt surprise, elation and gratitude [when we landed on the
moon]… I was never afraid though, but continuously apprehensive of
the danger of the mission." The biggest difficulty for him was the
landing process above the moon surface, which was done manually.
Only radar instruments could tell them how high above the lunar
ground they were and how fast they were approaching this. He
estimated he had a 50 % chance of landing successfully on the first
When asked whether he would have allowed his son to participate in
such a dangerous mission, he laughed and stated "Well….parents are
very protective". He would ask his son what his goal is, how
valuable that goal is to him and how high the risk is since "no
progress is made without risk". He admitted though that he himself
did not dare to ask his parents for permission to go to the moon.
Nor his wife.
Aliens and Commercial Space Exploration
Regarding the existence of extra-terrestrial life, Neil
Armstrong follows the ideas of Stephen Hawking who says that it is
statistically very probable that there is life on at least one of
the many planets in space. Armstrong admits that it is hard to
imagine that there are intelligent life forms other than us. But
his guess is that "if I were to create the universe, why would
leave all these planets empty?"
That commercial spacecraft is going to play an important role in
future space exploration is rather unlikely according to him.
Current suborbital commercial flights might enable one to see long
distances and experience weightlessness which is "inspiring,
enjoyable and even spiritual". But in the end, such flights take
only 5% of the energy needed to enter into orbit.
So flights with a higher ambition tend to be very expensive indeed
and therefore very risky as an enterprise. To explore space further
one would need much more sophisticated engineering which can be
only provided by nations, not entrepreneurs. Armstrong therefore
preferred a more strategic approach of scientists, engineers and
political leaders in setting goals and sticking to them.