Buzz Aldrin became the second man to set foot on the moon, behind Neil Armstrong, 40 years ago this month. Although his days of traveling into space are over, the retired astronaut whose memoir Magnificent Desolation was released in June, stays on the go jumping from one continent to another. He shares his travel highlights and tips with Kelly Carter for USA TODAY.
Q: Where have you been recently that you liked or were surprised by?
A: Kazakhstan, where Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin and at least six American tourists along with Russians were launched into space. That was the first time I ever saw a launch in Baikonur. That was kind of surprising because I had heard so much about it. It's very basic, very reliable. And it's a very smooth launch countdown and exposure of the crew to the public and the dignitaries, or at least behind glass, just a couple of hours before the launch.
Q: What's the best place you've ever visited?
A: I would have to say probably Hawaii. I've spent many years there. My oldest son is there. And we trained in the volcanoes in Hawaii for the moon mission. I learned a lot about geology there and the beauty of the different islands. I really got my formal certification for scuba diving but I learned much earlier in the Mediterranean in Tripoli (Libya). The beauty of Hawaii probably surpasses other places. I like the Big Island and the two mountains, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, where you can look out at the stars. There's the Keck Observatory, which is famous, and also a nice aquarium — so both extremes.
Q: What's the most surprising/unexpected place you're ever visited?
A: No one can look out from the (Apollo 11) Lunar Module on the landscape at Tranquility Base and not be totally taken with the difference between the reality of being there and the total magnificent desolation of the view, the magnificence of human beings there and the utter lifelessness of such a fairly remote place, at least it was mighty remote … even though more people were paying attention at that moment 40 years ago. Growing up I was fascinated with Buck Rogers' airplanes. As I began to mature in World War II it became jets and rocket planes. But it was always in the air.
Q: What's your favorite vacation spot?
A: I haven't been there yet. I'll never get there but right now I'm fascinated by the potential of the future of the moon of Mars (called) Phobos. It orbits Mars in seven hours and it's an ideal observation place and preliminary visit to American astronauts. I may be 95 by the time somebody gets there and 101 when they touchdown on the surface.
The place I have been is Palau in the Pacific. It's an outstanding scuba diving site. I've been there a couple of times. (Next) I'm driving a Hummer to the South Pole. That's my December project with a couple of other folks. We're planning on doing that with alternative fuel vehicles. I haven't been to the South Pole, which is why I'm going. I've been to the Titanic in a yellow submarine and the North Pole in a Russian nuclear ice breaker. I figured I had to round out my travelogue.
Q: Can you offer an insider tip or recommendation for your favorite vacation place?
A: It might get boring to give you another dive location but there's a place called Bloody Bay on Little Cayman that's kind of an interesting dive.
I also like the Cobb salad at Cristina's Restaurant in Ketchum, Idaho, near Sun Valley. Tom Hanks, Arnold Schwarzenegger also show up. I do celebrity ski races all over the world. I didn't start skiing until I was 50. My wife Lois taught me how to ski. I'm proficiently conservative.