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Buzz Aldrin in the ''Eagle'' lunar module during the Apollo 11 mission.

Buzz Aldrin in the ''Eagle'' lunar module during the Apollo 11 mission.

Photograph courtesy NASA

Buzz Aldrin with Leonard David

for National Geographic News

Published May 10, 2013

Editor's Note: National Geographic is bringing together astronaut Buzz Aldrin and mountaineer Conrad Anker for a Google+ Hangout on Monday, May 20 at 2 pm ET (7 p.m. UTC). Post your questions below using #LetsExplore.

As an Apollo 11 astronaut, I stood on the talcum-like lunar dust just a few feet from the Eagle, the lander that carried Neil Armstrong and me to the bleak, crater-pocked moon. Looking around at my surroundings on that July day in 1969, I called it "magnificent desolation."

Whenever I gaze up at the moon, I feel like I'm on a time machine. I am back to that precious pinpoint of time, standing on the foreboding—yet beautiful—Sea of Tranquility. I could see our shining blue planet Earth poised in the darkness of space.

Virtually the entire world took that extraordinary journey along with the crew of Apollo 11. We were supported by hundreds of thousands of American workers, the greatest can-do team ever assembled on the face of the Earth. That team was comprised of scientists and engineers, metallurgists and meteorologists, flight directors, navigators, and suit testers—as well as policy makers. So many devoted their lives and professional energies, minds, and hearts to our mission and to the following Apollo expeditions. Those Americans embraced commitment and quality to surmount the unknowns with us.

Fast forward to nearly 45 years later. Today, I see the moon in a different light.

America won the "moon race" more than four decades ago. We do not need to engage in that contest again. Instead, we should set our sights on a permanent human presence on Mars. There is no compelling reason that this can't be done, but great care must be taken that precious government dollars necessary for the great leap to Mars are not sidetracked to the moon.

Robotic exploration of the Red Planet—including the highly capable NASA Mars rover Curiosity—provides us a window on a world that can be a true home-away-from-home for future adventurers. Mars has been flown by, orbited, smacked into, radar inspected, and rocketed onto, as well as bounced upon, rolled over, shoveled, drilled into, baked, and even laser blasted.

Still to come—being stepped on.

The first footfalls on Mars will mark a momentous milestone, an enterprise that requires human tenacity matched with technology to anchor ourselves on another world. Exploring Mars is a far different venture than Apollo expeditions to the moon; it necessitates leaving our home planet on lengthy missions with a constrained return capability. Once humans are at distant Mars, there is a very narrow window during which they can return to Earth—a fundamental distinction between our reaching the moon and sailing outward to Mars. Therefore, we need to start thinking about building permanence on the Red Planet and what it takes to do that. It is a vision of the extension of humanity to Mars.

As outlined in my book Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration, we can implement a step-by-step vision to plunge deeper and deeper outward. Part of the plan is a sequential buildup of a spaceship network that coincides with an ever-increasing escalation of action on the moon and Mars. The Earth, the moon, and Mars become busy places as people, cargo, and commerce navigate through the inner solar system. (See video: Buzz Aldrin discusses new book on possible Mars mission)

When Neil and I stepped upon the surface of the moon at Tranquility Base, we fulfilled a dream held by humankind for centuries. As inscribed on the plaque affixed to the ladder of our lander: "We Came in Peace for All Mankind." It was, truly, one small step. But more steps are needed.

Nowadays, my dedication—indeed, my passion—is focused on forging America's future in space, guided by two principles: a continuously expanding human presence in space, and global leadership in space.

To move forward, what's required is a unified space agenda based on exploration, science, development, commerce, and security. For instance, our work on the moon should be limited to robots assigned to scientific, commercial, and other private-sector work. We need a unified international effort to explore and utilize the moon. It would be a partnership that involves commercial enterprise and other nations building upon the Apollo legacy.

Earth isn't the only world for us anymore.

There's an opportunity to make a bold, Kennedy-esque statement in July 2019, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first humans to land on the moon: "I believe this nation should commit itself, within two decades, to commencing American permanence on the planet Mars."

In reaching outward with method and intent to Mars, and helping others go where we have already gone, America is once again in the business of a momentous and future-focused space exploration program.

Let's get rolling . . . and roll up our sleeves and begin.

Buzz Aldrin, best known for his Apollo 11 moonwalk, holds a doctoral degree in astronautics and, at the age of 83, continues to wield influence as an international advocate of space science and planetary exploration. He has written three nonfiction books, two science fact/fiction novels, and two children's books.

Leonard David is a space journalist and the 2010 winner of the National Space Club Press Award. He is the Space Insider columnist for space.com, a correspondent for Space News, and a contributing writer for Aerospace America, the magazine of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

12 comments
Ashish Manohar Urkude
Ashish Manohar Urkude

My humble suggestion to Mr. Buzz / Edwin Aldrin and the whole humanity 
Mr. Edwin Aldrin on The News on NGC: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130510-buzz-aldrin-space-mars-moon-nasa-science/#close-modal

TOI: India can land on moon/ mars, etc. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-05-10/science/39167659_1_red-planet-buzz-aldrin-human-landing

My concern is, why USA, India, USSR, Europe, Japan, ...have different plans? Why not all humanity plan unitedly to go to other planets and beyond? It's shame, viruses can live together and survive for billions of years but not human-beings.

I'm also surprised that Scientists are NOT accepting, the fact that, there cannot be only one Universe, there must be Multiple or Multi Billion Universes. This, is also one problem.

Let's go to places at least in our Solar System, then other Galaxies and then other places in our Universe and then to Multi-Verse and build our human civilizations there without disturbing the basic habitat/ culture/ civilization if any and ecology of that planet/ place. I think unitedly it's possible, divided and we'll be short of reaching there on time.
To support my opinion I had conducted the poll on my blog in 2007 itself in which more than 66% people around the world, have agreed on this issue.Just have a look:http://managementengineering.blogspot.in/

...Dr. Ashish Manohar Urkude, India 

mr peabody
mr peabody like.author.displayName 1 Like

im a big fan of science and exploration, but i think buzz is mired in old-school thinking. not once does he mention ANY kind of real justification for putting humans on mars, as if it is somehow self-evident. is it the cool factor? is it international prestige? personally i dont think those reasons would be the least bit valid. living on mars would be cool.. for a month maybe. then it becomes hell. your body atrophies under the 1/3 gravity. the incredibly hostile and forbidding environment (enormous temperature fluctuations, almost no atmosphere, heavy space radiation at the surface) means that death is constantly looking over your shoulder. and to accomplish what? being able to say we did it? building sealed-off colonies at the bottom of our oceans would be far easier and just as brutal a living experience, but nobody is clamoring for that. the expense and difficulty of getting people to mars is many times that of going to the moon. its not the same mission except longer. its a mission where an apollo 13 scenario, or even a far less serious malfunction, would end in total mission failure and death. moments after liftoff, the spaceship is headed to mars no matter what. there are no u-turns in space.

bob wright
bob wright like.author.displayName 1 Like

It's not clear to me what the point would be in putting people on Mars, except that it's a fun and interesting project. It's possible, no doubt, and would give everyone something to rally behind. Big national goals are unifying. Beyond that though, it's a pretty futile endeavor. 


"Ultimately we MUST leave earth" one commentator says, but why? To what end? There is no place to go. Mars is like Mount Everest, or the bottom of the Mariana Trench or the moon for that matter - you can put a man there, but then he has to return to a livable habitat. Living on Mars would be an extension of living on the space station - you can do it, with great effort, but it's nearly completely pointless, and all all you accomplish is proving you can do it. Persisting just shows you can persist for a while before bowing to the inevitable. 


Humans are earthlings. And that's that, pretty much. Our biology is tailored to the environment we're part of, and won't thrive in other conditions. Carefully manufactured air and nutritional substrate imported from earth or whipped up out of something grown in tubs in the weak but irradiating light can keep bodies alive for as long as you feel you have to to prove a point, but it's a total dead end. 


The most you can ever hope for is to keep people alive in an unlivable environment for a while - something much more easily done here on earth. It's not like we're running out of space. Any place on planet earth - Gobi desert, Antarctica, the interior of Greenland - is more accessible and infinitely more welcoming than Mars. 


Space is a place for machines. If there are valuable minerals on Titan, it will be robots that return them for our use. Sending human bodies into space is a pointless and doomed exercise. If propulsion becomes so easy that people can fly to Mars on a lark then space touristry will become sustainable, but that's the only reason to go: to say you've been there. After Mars, there is nothing. 


Human consciousness, human culture, human technology, is beginning to extend out past our planet, but our bodies can only be visitors anywhere but Earth. Eventually we might become such complete masters of biology that we can purposefully change what our bodies are, and eventually we may find a manner of propulsion that makes sending really large masses to Mars trivial. But until then, leave it to the machines. 

Bruce Rayburn
Bruce Rayburn

We need further developement in Ion propulsion. 39 days in space is long enough.  

George MacDonald
George MacDonald

The challenge of putting man on mars is a worthy one, it would push us beyond our comfort zone, create new solution to new problems, expand us in many ways. I think we should change or focus on the Moon to one of sustainable development. It's time to think of it as a resource to be utilized peacefully for all of our benefit. It's a great place to loft materials into space. Either raw materials or finished products. Lower gravity, no atmosphere, abundance of solar influx(energy), lots of Al, Ti and other metals... Utilizing the resources of the Moon can ensure a greater peace and increased freedom for us all. Ultimately we have to control the radiation and materials arriving on Earth, ultimately we have to prepare to leave Earth, and ultimately we MUST leave Earth. The Moon is the leverage we need to do this peacefully together.

Martin Zitter
Martin Zitter

We need to manufacture a semi-self-supporting space habitat at L5 in-orbit from refined asteroid and lunar materials.  Then we can go to Mars...

Last Curmudgeon
Last Curmudgeon like.author.displayName 1 Like

when i get a new tent, i try it in my back yard first.  maybe buzz has been there and done that, but i haven't.  go to the moon.  start a colony.  a business.  whatever.  then go to mars with proven technology and people have also been there and done that.  mars will still be there.  also, the robot thing?  i'd cover mars with robots taking pictures and samples to send back to my base on the moon.  you test the ice with a stick before you walk on it.

Mike Franklin
Mike Franklin

I recall that right after the first lunar landings, the public was being told that we'd be on our way to Mays withing 10-15 years. Well, ever since then... every time we start getting close to the last prediction date for a manned mission to Mars, NASA kicks it back again over the horizon of sight. We're to the point now where those of us who were alive for the Apollo landings, will be dust and bones six feet under if and/or when it ever does finally happen. 

Forgive my cynicism but... come on guys, we've heard this all before, over and over again. 

Carol Music
Carol Music

REALLY, GUYS????? I'm not part of your belief system I guess. I was and continue to be awed by all that has occurred by earth's search into space. What they are discovering daily I find simply amazing! I also feel sorry for you two because you can't see the truth in front of your eyes!!

Dare I ask whether you believe the Holocaust occurred as well . . .

Bruce Skarin
Bruce Skarin

Quite sad that the very first comment trots out the old hoax story. Forget all the lasting science and technology behind getting man to the moon. Discard those lunar samples returned. Close your eyes from the images returned by the new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter showing the landers and tire tracks (from subsequent trips).  Ignore all the other advances since then...

Now get off the internet because you do not deserve to benefit from all the labor and lives that made all of this possible, and leave it to those of us that chose to live with eyes wide open to reality.

Vraja Sundar
Vraja Sundar

Mr. Aldrin's trip to the moon and his so-called moonwalk was a big hoax. Before he becomes an agent for another hoax with a trip to Mars, he needs to show that the so-called accomplishment of his Apollo 11 team can be repeated by NASA under careful world coverage using the present technology free from possible manipulation by a single network feeding studio recorded space movie scenes and shots.

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