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Interview with Buzz Aldrin Astronaut

Buzz Aldrin

November 18, 2002


Apollo II Astronaut Buzz Aldrin Walks On Moon

AO/Beck: Good Morning Dr. Aldrin. Thanks for your time today, it's an honor to meet you.

Aldrin: Good Morning Dr. Beck, nice to meet you too.

AO/Beck: I think most people know you were the second person to set foot on the moon, but I'll bet few people know you have hearing loss. Talk about a segue! I'd like to start with a few notes on your hearing loss, and then I'd like to discuss your bio and reflections on the Space Program.

Aldrin: Sure, let's go ahead.

AO/Beck: Can you tell me a little about your type and degree of hearing loss?

Aldrin: I think my hearing loss is not very significant, but it is an annoyance. I have a type of hearing loss that was inherited. It's characterized by a reasonably healthy inner ear, but the passage of sound to the inner ear is not normal. The sound is blocked by a bony growth in the middle ear space.

AO/Beck: Sounds like you're talking about otosclerosis?

Aldrin: Yes, I believe that's correct. My father had it too, and he had windows placed in his ears so he could hear better, that was a long time ago, but it worked!

AO/Beck: Yes, that was called a fenestration operation. It was a surgical therapy for otosclerosis. That operation was essentially discontinued a few decades ago in favor of the stapedectomy. With all the flying you've done, it seems you've probably have had some significant noise exposure too?

Aldrin: I certainly have. We flew lots of jet airplanes and those whining engines were terrifically loud. Of course our noise exposure wasn't as bad as it might have been with an open cockpit T-6, or the really loud P-37s that bothered many people afterward. I don't think my noise exposure was horrible, although I certainly had my share!

AO/Beck: Very good. I understand you're meeting with Bill Austin from Starkey in Minneapolis and you're going to try some digital hearing aids?

Aldrin: Yes. That's the plan and I'm looking forward to it.

AO/Beck: Very good. I'll check back with you in a few months to see how this turns out! In the meantime, if I may, I'd like to read a little of your bio, which is available online at

Aldrin: Sure. Please go ahead.

AO/Beck: You're 72 years old, born in Montclair, New Jersey. Your father was Edwin Eugene Aldrin, aviation pioneer and student of rocket developer Robert Goddard. You attended West Point, graduated with honors in 1951. You flew 66 combat missions in the Korean Conflict, and shot down two MIG-15's. You earned your doctorate in Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Manned Space Rendezvous. Many of the techniques you devised were used on NASA missions, including the first space docking with the Russian Cosmonauts.

On July 20, 1969, you and Neil Armstrong made your historic Apollo XI moon walk, becoming the first two humans to set foot on another world. This unprecedented heroic endeavor was witnessed by the largest worldwide television audience in history. You were presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Since retiring from NASA, the Air Force, and your position as Commander of the Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, you've remained at the forefront to ensure a leading role for America in manned space exploration. To advance your lifelong commitment to venturing into space, you created a master plan of evolving missions for sustained exploration utilizing The Cycler , a spacecraft system which makes perpetual orbits between Earth and Mars. In 1993, you received a U.S. patent for a permanent space station. More recently you founded a rocket design company, Starcraft Boosters, Inc., and also the ShareSpace Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to space tourism for all people.

You have authored two space novels, The Return (Forge Books, 2000) and Encounter with Tiber (Warner Books, 1996). You also authored an autobiography, Return to Earth.
I'm sure you've heard this before, but that is simply the most amazing bio I have ever read. Your contributions to the space program and our nation are nothing less than monumental. It really is an honor to spend some time with you.

Aldrin: Thank you.

AO/Beck: As a young man, were you always focused on being an astronaut?

Aldrin: Looking back, from the vantage point I have in 2002, it's funny because it originally looked as though I was not cut out to be what NASA was looking for -- they were looking for a test pilot! I was not a test pilot. I was pursing a doctorate my MIT, specializing in space rendezvous, but I was able to parlay that around into a position - even though I really wasn't qualified! So after a little while, they began to consider my record, and even though they couldn't accept me that first year as an astronaut, they changed the requirements the following year and they accepted me based on my education. So I came along at the right time and things went in my favor. I do believe I was unusually fortunate to have a career that included service to our country. I was given an extraordinary opportunity to accept a voluntary challenge that was pretty exciting.

AO/Beck: In retrospect, do you believe we had enough reliable information to land on the moon in 1969? Was the mission sound scientifically?

Aldrin: That's an interesting question. I think you're referring to the fact that a lot of people though it was folly at that time, and we really didn't know exactly what the moon was all about back then. Well, we had bounced radar signals off the moon for quite a while. We knew the Russians had photographed the back side of the moon and they named many craters after Russian scientists before we got there. However, we too, took a lot of photographs with the Ranger program as it crashed into the moon, and Surveyor bounced off and landed on the moon. So we had a pretty good idea of what the surface was like, and that provided us with photographs and other data. We also had photographs from the Lunar Orbiter, so actually, by the time we got there, we had lots of information to support the mission. Nonetheless, many prestigious people were predicting doom and gloom. They thought we'd sink into the moon dust. I had no real concerns about that. Although I did have some very real concerns about our fuel supply! Neil Armstrong did an extraordinary job flying us to the moon. However we had a very heavy spacecraft, and we flew a little beyond the expectations, and we came preciously close to exhausting our fuel supply.

AO/Beck: I don't think I ever heard about that before. I do remember when you returned to Earth, you were quarantined.

Aldrin: Yes, we were quarantined. Nobody really knew if we were carrying germs from the moon to the Earth, and it seemed wise to make sure we were all healthy before allowing us to rejoin the other humans! There were two thoughts on this issue. First, the assumption was made that if we were carrying some sort of germ back to Earth, the germ could be enormously strong to have survived the moon's environment and space travel, and it could be potentially very damaging to the Earth. The other thought was, if we were bringing germs back from the moon, the germs would be so different, and so out of their element, they would probably not be able to survive on Earth and would have no effect. So we were isolated for 21 days after leaving the lunar surface. And of course as soon as that was over, we were chased all over the world by the press!

AO/Beck: Can you tell me your thoughts on the current state of the space program? Seems to me that funding is the major obstacle at this time?

Aldrin: Yes, that's right. As you know, I am a presidential appointee on the Commission on the Future of the US Aerospace Industry. I'm the space guy on that commission. I've pretty much convinced myself that despite my desires for us to have a shuttle between Mars and Earth, and a follow-up trip to the moon, it probably isn't in the cards at this time. The financial commitment simply isn't there to support these programs.

When we landed on the moon, there was tremendous participation and support from around the world. People tuned in to watch it on TV from all over the planet. They paid attention. When Senator John Glenn flew again, people paid attention. We can build a space station and safely transport people to and from it. However, it is very expensive. If we motivate and interest people to explore space and make it available to the masses, the funding will be there.

AO/Beck: Dr. Aldrin, I know I've gone a little into overtime here and I need to let you go. I thank you again for your time and for your service to our country. Let's follow up in the spring and we'll review your hearing aid experience.

Aldrin: Very good. I'll look forward to it.

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Buzz Aldrin


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