Beijing: Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin will support a new mission to the moon by countries other than the US, and is looking forward to a manned mission to Mars.
One of the icons of space exploration, Aldrin was the second man to set foot on the moon July 20, 1969, only minutes after Neil Armstrong. Now, 45 years after the historic mission, Aldrin longs for a return to the moon.
"I support a return, but not for NASA, for every other country," Aldrin said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua at the recent meeting of the Association of Space Explorers in Beijing.
Aldrin explained that Americans have been there, and know what needs be done to land on the moon. Furthermore, robotics have been improved tremendously, and people can control robots from both the front side and back side of the moon. The US can use robotics technology to help other countries.
Aldrin believes the US should build a permanent station on the moon's surface, so that China's Shenzhou spaceships, Russia's Soyuz and other spaceships could go there.
When asked which country would be the next to go to the moon, Aldrin said that most people would agree that China would be next, or maybe the European Agency, but not the US.
After setting foot on the lunar surface, Aldrin uttered the words "magnificent desolation", which later became the title of his book. He explained that the words described the scene he saw at that moment, which was not beautiful at all.
"It was magnificent for human beings to progress to the point where we could make airplanes, spaceships and go to the moon. It was a magnificent achievement. But looking around it was the most desolate, lifeless and not welcoming place," Aldrin said.
"No air. In one month, 14 days very hot and 14 days very cold and darkness. (The moon is) not a very good place to live. Mars is much better," he added.
In the meantime, he clarified that he was misunderstood and did not see any unidentified flying objects (UFOs) during the mission as some claimed.
In an interview on the Science Channel in 2005, Aldrin said the crew of Apollo 11 had seen a UFO on their way to the moon. However, Aldrin later said that his words were taken out of context.
Aldrin told Xinhua that he was convinced that he saw light reflected off one of the four panels which split away in different directions when the lander detached from the rocket, but he did not know which panel the reflected light was from, so it was "unidentified".
"We did not say 'Houston there is a spacecraft following us to the moon.' We did not say that," Aldrin added.
Wearing a T-shirt with the words "Get your ass to Mars", Aldrin is a strong supporter of the manned Mars programme, and he even has some of his own ideas how to get there, including a permanent station on the moon as a staging post.
The most difficult thing in the manned Mars programme is bringing people back, because they would not have fuel or rockets. The first group of people to go there will be pioneers and they will have to settle there for a long time, Aldrin said.
When asked which of his acting roles he preferred - Transformers 3 or TV comedy the Big Bang Theory - Aldrin said there was no need to compare the roles and he has done quite a few such cameos.
"It is a different way of communicating. It's telling people that I was there but I also do things here, and I still think about the future very very much. I want people to realise that I didn't just go to the moon and retire," Aldrin added.
Asked why so many people believed that the moon landing was faked, Aldrin said he did not need to respond the scepticism, "because I was there".