The space program has blossomed into all sorts of stuff. Studying the Earth from space and studying the universe with the Hubble Space Telescope, and the next one that is coming, this big James Webb Space Telescope, all of this extends from the space program. We have learned incredible things about the universe and about the Earth because of the space program. 

Neil Armstrong once said: “I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small". When we think about the moon landing, it was a real dream come true. What do you think will be the next milestone in space exploration?

I think now there could be a lot of different frontiers, some with human astronauts and some with just spacecraft. New horizons are out there ‒ on the outskirts of the solar system. It is a new horizon that we know very little about, but right now we have a spacecraft out there. It is taking pictures and collecting data and sending them back. Before that were Voyager spacecraft. One of those is still in the very outskirts of the solar system or outside the solar system, sending back information.

There are a lot of projects with telescopes, like the James Webb Telescope. It is going to be able to do things that the Hubble Space Telescope could not. Recently, the Kepler Space Telescope ended its mission. It was looking for planets around other stars [and] found thousands. We know now that most stars have planets so that is a wide open field to be explored in addition to everything that these telescopes unleash.

Talking about human spaceflight, we are looking at Mars and the Moon. Maybe someday we will have a longer presence on the Moon and even see people on Mars during our lifetime. I do not know a timeframe for that, it could happen within the next five, 10 or 20 years, maybe. It is really difficult to send humans to Mars and bring them back. There are some people willing to make a one-way trip, who volunteer to be set to Mars and just try to survive there without having the ability, yet, to come home. It is kind of scary ‒ if I had the opportunity, I do not think I would want to give up my life on Earth, though.

   Image: courtesy of Brian Malow with Harrison Schmitt (astronaut from Apollo 17 mission)

There are many conspiracy theories about the moon landing. For example, in 2001, Fox television network documentary “Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?” claimed NASA may have faked the first landing in 1969. Same conspiracy theories are still being discussed on different platforms. What do you think about the main reason for this ongoing debate about the moon landing?

It is a psychological issue: the idea of believing in conspiracy theories. I do not know why people have a hard time believing the moon landing happened. It was a very gradual process, like the whole history of physics. 

Nothing is impossible if you understand the science behind it. You can send a missile farther and farther away, and the faster you send it, Isaac Newton understood, the farther it will go before it hits the ground. If you send it far enough, it will just keep going and it will be in orbit. There is nothing impossible about the science and the math that millions of people understand. 

There are a lot of conspiracy theories that are grounded on misinformation. One of the things is that the flag that they placed on the moon was waving and why is it waving if there is no air? Well, the reason it is waving is because of the inertia from when it was attached to a rod. Motion does not go away, it is simple physics. So that flag waving had nothing to do with air.