Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Buzz Aldrin: After moon, next stop Mars

By Buzz Aldrin
updated 3:36 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Astronaut Buzz Aldrin stood on the talcum-like dust of the moon 45 years ago
  • He says all he loved lay on a faraway, fragile blue sphere engulfed by blackness
  • Aldrin: Let's join an international private-public sector effort to develop the moon
  • But for America, he says, we must pursue permanent human presence on Mars

Editor's note: Buzz Aldrin, best known for his Apollo 11 moonwalk, holds a doctoral degree in astronautics. He is co-author with Leonard David of "Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration," published last year by the National Geographic Society. Follow #Apollo45 for more on the mission. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

(CNN) -- Back in July 1969, I stood on the talcum-like lunar dust just a few feet from our home away from home, Eagle, the lunar module that transported Neil Armstrong and me to the bleak, crater-pocked moonscape.

Standing there and soaking in the view, I called it as I saw it: "magnificent desolation."

Buzz Aldrin
Buzz Aldrin

As Neil and I walked upon the surface of the moon at Tranquility Base, we satisfied a vision held by humankind for centuries. And as inscribed on the plaque fastened to the ladder of our lander: "We Came in Peace for All Mankind."

Sunday will mark the 45th anniversary of the lunar landing, when Neil announced, "Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Neil Armstrong took this photo of Buzz Aldrin next to the U.S. flag on the surface of the moon.
Neil Armstrong took this photo of Buzz Aldrin next to the U.S. flag on the surface of the moon.
Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon on July 20, 1969. Sunday will be the 45th anniversary of the lunar landing.\n
Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon on July 20, 1969. Sunday will be the 45th anniversary of the lunar landing.
Apollo 11 crew members, from left, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin \
Apollo 11 crew members, from left, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.
Buzz Aldrin takes what was probably the first \
Buzz Aldrin takes what was probably the first "space selfie" during his Gemini 12 mission in 1966.

It was, truly, one small step, but more steps are needed to fuel and assure America's leadership role in deep space exploration.

I'm often asked just how lonely it was on the moon. First of all, what got us there was the tireless effort of some 400,000 people who shared a universal dream. Project Apollo was a unified enterprise that relied on teamwork.

Second, while we were farther away from terra firma than any humans had ever ventured -- with our colleague Mike Collins circling the moon in the command module above us -- the three of us were connected to home planet Earth. Close to a billion people watched and listened to our journey.

In reflecting back on that thrilling, transformative time, several things come to mind.

Standing on that harsh, desolate, yet magnificent terrain, stealing precious moments, I looked back at Earth. Everything I knew and loved lay suspended on a far away and fragile blue sphere that was engulfed by the blackness of space.

In the back of my mind were Neil's words about a step on the moon. Imagine the great magnificence of humanity going from horse and buggy, to railroads, cars, and airplanes, to rockets -- and now walking on the moon. That is a testimonial to the progress of the creatures here on Earth.

I couldn't have imagined anything more desolate -- knowing it hadn't changed in hundreds of thousands of years. You couldn't find any place like that on Earth. The airlessness. Brilliant sunlight illuminated the dust, which was everywhere. And the horizon, visibly curving away in the distance, was so clear because no pollution obscured it.

Walking across that landscape was much easier than we had thought it would be. When my boot struck moon dust, it flew away in a straight line, a sign of the lighter gravity load, one-sixth that of Earth.

I didn't anticipate, returning to Earth, that America's triumph was viewed as a success for all humankind. People expressed their collective pride by declaring "We did it!" -- there was an aura of ownership of the achievement.

Aldrin: Space funding drying up quickly
Mission to Mars
Man's next space frontier: Mars

Although we can revel in taking rear-view mirror looks at the Apollo 11 mission, the urgent need, I believe, is to confront the future.

Our space program should not focus on getting back to the moon. We have already blazed that trail. Apollo was part of a clear, get-there-in-a-hurry, space race strategy. To be blunt, that meant we didn't spend time developing re-usability.

It's time for commercial and international interests to move, beyond discovery, to development.

Other nations, China in particular, are working toward the exploration and development of the moon with robots and, eventually, crews. Providing U.S. support for international lunar development is in our best interest.

By participating in a unified, international effort, we avoid an unnecessary race back to the moon and can still participate in lunar science. Other U.S. government entities -- the National Science Foundation and commercial entities -- should take over in moon exploitation and development. It may well be that NASA is not best suited to run this program. Exploitation has never been its strong point.

It's true, multiple choices need to be made. We could as a country sit around and do nothing. On the other hand, we could accept the role of space leadership that we carved out for ourselves in the 1960s and 1970s.

For America, another destination is calling. America's longer-term goal should be permanent human presence on Mars.

The moment to begin could be on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's touchdown on the moon.

We can make a courageous, Kennedyesque commitment to America's future in deep space. The U.S. President could utter these momentous words: "I believe this nation should commit itself, within two decades, to commencing an America-led, permanent presence on the planet Mars."

We must look to re-establish realistic, but ambitious, longer range and more meaningful exploration goals, and we must issue a call -- with the right guidance and sustained funding -- to a new generation. The next generation of space explorers.

Again, the Apollo moon program provided one small step. Other steps lay ahead, strides that take us to the surface of Mars.

Catching the summer of supermoons

Scientists create a mini Mars on Earth

Looking up at mesmerizing stars

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT