LITTLE ROCK — Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon, said Wednesday that it's common to view the Space Race as a competition but he prefers to see it as nations seeking prestige.
That sentiment is what he sees driving an eventual colonization of Mars, which he said could be accomplished by the current generation.
Aldrin, 83, spoke to a packed house at the 2,600-seat Robinson Center in Little Rock in a presentation put on by the Clinton School of Public Service.
Seated on stage with Leonard Davis, co-author of his latest book, Mission to Mars, Aldrin discussed his 1969 venture moon and his idea for future space travel.
Speaking in a gravelly voice, Aldrin had sharp words for the current incarnation of NASA, noting that it's expected 10 years will pass between the last Space Shuttle mission and the next manned mission by the United States.
"We clearly have made some grievous mistakes since Apollo," Aldrin said.
He said NASA is made unstable by budget cuts and it's hard to get the public to feel about the space program as did people in the 1950s and 1960s.
"That is not in keeping with a great nation to have that happen. No wonder our people are not all that enthusiastic about what we do with one-half of 1 percent of the budget," he said.
Prompted by questions from Davis, Aldrin recalled his moon landing, with the lunar module running low on fuel as it approached the moon's surface and the relief of a successful liftoff when it was time to leave.
An audience member asked Aldrin about an incident in which a man accused Aldrin of taking part in a ruse to fake the moon landing. Aldrin said it's easy to see the proof that the landings happened by looking at photos from a subsequent lunar satellite which photographed the landing sites, footprints still intact.
Aldrin wound up punching the man who challenged his achievement.
"He called me a liar and a cheat. What do you expect me to do?" Aldrin said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Aldrin is active on Twitter — @TheRealBuzz — where he has more than 800,000 followers. He also has a Facebook page, You Tube channel and an iPhone app.
Aldrin was an Air Force pilot with 66 combat missions in Korea and NASA selected him in 1963 to be among the third group of astronauts. He was the first astronaut to have a doctoral degree (doctorate of Science in Astronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
While orbiting the Earth on Gemini 12, Aldrin made the first spacewalk.
Now a distant 44 years ago, Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were the first people to walk on the moon, while Michael Collins orbited the moon in the Apollo 11 command module.
Since then, he has continued exploring, taking undersea voyages, visiting the North Pole and patenting designs related to space exploration.
Aldrin has written a fiction and nonfiction books, including two children's books.
His autobiography, Magnificent Desolation, takes its title from a phrase he uttered after stepping onto the surface of the moon. The book was published in 2009, 40 years after the pioneering adventure.