Interview with Marshall Burns
by Jim Swift, KXAN Channel 36, Austin, Texas
on the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing
July 20, 1989
Copyright © 1989, . All rights reserved.
Q. Do you remember the day of the Moon landing?
A. The very day. My parents, my sister and I went to my aunt and uncles house because they had a color TV. There was another aunt and uncle there, and maybe my grandparents; the whole family was there. We watched it, and I had my parents little old movie camera set up and recorded the whole thing.
Q. Right off the TV screen?
A. Right off the screen, complete with flicker and everything.
Q. What were you thinking about? Do you remember? Why did you go to that trouble?
A. Thats like asking me why I want to go to the Moon. I mean, theres no answer for that. What in the world could be more exciting than a guy getting off the face of the planet and walking on the Moon?
Q. So you want to go to the Moon?
A. Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Q. Youre 34 years old, almost 35. Seventy-year-old people dont fly into space.
A. By the time Im 70, seventy-year-old people will be flying into space. In the meantime, I recently received some interesting information about the Canadian Astronaut Program. I was looking over the biographies of their current astronauts. There are six of them, and I noticed that the youngest one is my age. The oldest one is in his fifties! And hes not scheduled to fly until 1992. So Im encouraged.
Q. What is your long term goal regarding space travel? How are you going to get there?
A. There are the two ways to get into space. One is to be enlisted as an astronaut and fly on the space station. Were talking six, seven years from now. The other possibility is to work as a research scientist in private industry involved in a project that uses low gravity for the development of some kind of new technology, prove myself necessary to the development of that process in space, and go. Or, be the chief executive of the company that does it, and put myself up there.
Q. All right, so those are options. To what extent are you willing to go? To what length are you willing to go to put your body, your heart, your mind, your soul into outer space?
A. Well, I asked myself that when I heard, and I dont know if this is rumor or true, that John Denver, who has been trying to get into space, had been offered a seat on the Mir Space Station for $10 million. I thought, If I had $11 million, I would spend ten on a flight in space. Now, if I had $10,100,000, would I do it? I dont know.
Q. You want to go real bad, but maybe not that bad.
A. Maybe Id wait a few months until I had the other million. But I guess Im telling you I would spend 90% of what I have to experience being in space, for that adventure, to participate in that exploration.
Q. A minute ago, I asked you why you took the pictures. You said that was like asking you why you want to go to the Moon yourself. Im sorry, Ive got to ask you. Why would you do that? Why would you spend 90% of your wealth? Why invest so much energy? Billions of people the world over are born and live and die and they never go into space and they live happy, meaningful, valuable lives.
A. But they are going into space! Going into space is not the isolated activity of any individual or group of individuals. It is one aspect of the combined activity of all people, and ultimately of all living things, maybe even of all material and energetic elements of the Earth itself. The cave men of ancient Africa were going into space when they started sharpening rocks for tools. It is only the extraterrestrial portion of the journey that has waited until this century; the journey has been in progress for millions of years.
But you want to know why I would work so hard to go myself. I dont know. Why have I spent the last eight years in graduate school? Why did I spend two and a half years extra time in my Ph.D. research, in work completely unrelated to my thesis topic, in order to take a course from Steven Weinberg, to have a man who won a Nobel Prize teach me what he knew? Its like this: If I had been alive 2,000 years ago, and someone offered me a ticket to go see the Sermon on the Mount, could I have passed that up?
Q. I wonder if, at the time of the Sermon on the Mount, the ordinary person on the street realized the importance of it. And I wonder now, if the ordinary person on the street realizes the importance of this. Sure, we all watched the Moon walk, and it was fascinating. It was exciting. It was exhilarating. But then, you know, we had to take the garbage out after that. And to me, it sounds like, yeah, you took the garbage out too, but you were thinking about the Moon flight while you did it. And thats why I keep probing and wanting to know why. And maybe its not possible to tell me why. But before I quit asking you, Ill ask you again.
A. Okay. So, again, why do I want to go into space?
Q. Yes, because I think there is a reason. Maybe not a reason; there are many reasons. You dont sit down and think about them because youre busy with your computer and your studies and so on.
A. Well, there are various kinds of reasons, the kinds of reasons that you use to promote such an adventure when you want to go for it. The kinds of reasons that you put in a prospectus where youre going to raise half a billion dollars to pay for the thing. The reasons that talk about the resources, the mineral resources [pause]
Yes, there are reasons. And I do think about these things. Actually you have just brought me to a thought that has been rolling around in my mind for the last several months, and I havent done anything to crystallize it, so this could take me a minute.
The environmental issues on our planet are severe. And theyre very important. And its very important that we deal with them. But few people are willing to recognize that the environmental issues are not caused by anything anyone is doing on purpose, or doing perniciously. Our planet is tired. Weve been living here for a million years. If you look at Europe a thousand years ago, it was a vibrant, exciting, new, clean place. And now its exciting to go there to see the history. But its old, and dirty. Actually, the same thing can be said about New York City.
A thousand years from now, Im sorry to say this the few friends that Ive discussed this with have a hard time letting me say this a thousand years from now, the Earth is going to be like Europe is now. Its going to be an old place. And its not because were bad people. Its not because were inconsiderate or not careful enough. Were human beings. We have natural functions that impose on our environment.
The exploration of space is the expansion of our species. And not just our species. Its the expansion of the whole family of life from this planet to [looks up through the ceiling] to everywhere else. Its part of growth. Its part of being alive. To move out there and join the rest of the world.
Q. Well, let me just add, if you start your own company, you buy your own space ship, whatever the Hell you do, and you fly up there and you need a public relations director to go along
A. You want to come too?
Q. I want to come too. I sure do.