May 7th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Buzz Aldrin: Get to Mars within 20 years

By Buzz Aldrin, Special to CNN

Editor's note: 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. Aldrin’s new book "Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration," co-authored with space journalist Leonard David, is a blueprint and strategy for American-led presence of human beings from Earth on the Red Planet Mars. He is on Twitter at @therealbuzz.

We need to get the world excited again about space exploration and have the pioneering spirit to reach beyond our boundaries and current capabilities.

I want a new generation of space explorers to feel as I did when it was my privilege to take part in the Apollo program that landed the first humans on the surface of the Moon. This is important, not only for the USA but for the rest of the world.

Let me tell you why.

Buzz Aldrin's new book is called "Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration."

The dream of space travel has been a lure of humankind for centuries – to reach for the moon and even the stars.

But it wasn’t until the 20th Century that man took his first powered flight. It was in 1903 on a windy morning over the sands of Kitty Hawk that the Wright Brothers’ Flyer took their first flight, defying gravity. My mother, Marion Moon, was born that same year.

Just 66 years later, Neil Armstrong and I stepped onto the moon’s magnificent desolation, fulfilling the dreams of millions. But it has been over four decades since we walked on the lunar surface and in my view, with too little progress to show for it.

I have always felt Mars should be the next destination following our landings on the moon. I’ve been very vocal about this for a long time. Today the dream of reaching the red planet looks like it is finally getting closer to becoming a reality.

Thanks to NASA’s Curiosity rover, as well as the spunky Opportunity rover, both now operating on the Martian landscape, these robots are revealing to us more than ever before details about the planet that is more Earth-like than any we have discovered thus far. And with each image relayed back to Earth, every measurement taken, there’s a growing familiarity with distant Mars.

For me, as well as other onlookers, those early color images beamed back from the Curiosity rover showed layered buttes and other features suggestive of the southwestern United States. I’m hoping that familiarity of another world will pique the curiosity of the young people of the world into the idea of exploring beyond Earth, our moon and on to Mars.

In my mind, there is an evolving comfort level with Mars, and it’s a perspective that summons us to push forward. The challenge ahead is epic, but historic. We are on a pathway to homestead the red planet.

What we've done on Mars and what's next

Obviously I am passionate about forging our future in space. People ask me all the time – why do we need to go to Mars or why do we even need a space program?

Because we feel good about ourselves and the future of our country and by venturing into space we improve life for everyone here on Earth. The scientific advancements and innovations that come from this type of research create products and technology that we use in our daily lives and provide even more convenience to people all over the world every day.

So how do we get people excited about space again? And the big question is how do we get there? We need a plan. We also need a leader in the world to state a public goal with a specific time line.

There’s a window of opportunity ahead for a bold, Kennedy-like proclamation that placed the nation in the 1960s on a moon-bound trajectory: “I believe this nation should commit itself, within two decades, to commencing American permanence on the planet Mars.”

Buzz Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon. Here he is in 1969.

We’re talking about multiple missions of adventurers to eventually settle and colonize Mars. To succeed at Mars, you cannot stop with several one-shot forays to its surface.

Years ago I devised a method with cycling orbits of spacecraft on continuous trajectories between the Earth and Mars. By using interplanetary cyclers, I feel, and other space experts agree with me, this is the most economical transportation system concept between the Earth and Mars. Using this capability, I believe the timeline of crewed missions to Mars is between 2035-2040.

So how do we accomplish this?

First, the U.S. needs to continue to be the human space transportation leader. I think we should capitalize on the dynamism of the commercial market to develop a runway landing system that can truly become the basis for the U.S. highway to space.

Second, I worry that we may be caught in an unproductive race to replant U.S. taxpayer-supported footprints on the moon. We should be using the lunar program to accomplish foreign policy goals. So let’s focus on cooperation with our international partners.

Thirdly, and most importantly, we should direct the focus of NASA efforts on establishing a permanent human presence on Mars by the 2030 to 2040 decade.

I firmly believe that accomplishing these three goals will do more to advance U.S. national interests than any other policy initiative we could envision. We have, or can affordably develop the technology, to send humans on various missions towards Mars and especially its two Martian moons.

To reach beyond low Earth orbit requires a progressive suite of missions that are the vital underpinnings - a foundation - for a unified space vision. Putting in place and staying on track with a unified approach to space program activities must begin now.

Now orbiting Earth is the international space station – which is needed to conduct the vital in space research to safely send humans to Mars. We must use our station know-how to prototype specialized safe-haven, interplanetary, and taxi modules.

By implementing a step-by-step vision - just as we did with the single-seater Mercury capsule and two-person Gemini spacecraft that made Apollo possible – we can journey further and further outward.

With each step of this plan, whether it’s the utilization of the ISS for exploration, or our first visits to a truly extraterrestrial body, this vision will captivate the imagination of the entire globe.

We have worked on many of the technologies we need, let’s focus our efforts to mature the capabilities we need to successfully execute this bold mission and to support a Martian settlement. There is really very little new science required. So the question is whether we invest the tens to hundreds of billions of dollars the U.S. will spend on human spaceflight into a return to the moon, or do we invest in a fundamental transition of the human condition.

We are at an inflection point. We can choose to do what is easy, what is safe. Or we can choose to make a difference. The choice to me is absolutely clear. There is no other choice than to commit to Mars.

Humans need to explore, to push beyond current limits, just like we did nearly 44 years ago that enabled me to stand at Tranquility Base on the moon. In reaching outward with method and intent to Mars, America is once again in the business of a vital, meaningful and future-focused space exploration program.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Buzz Aldrin.

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Filed under: In Space • Mars
soundoff (491 Responses)
  1. Karma

    Mr Aldrin himself doesn't know why we need people on Mars.
    All he can come up with is the old ridiculous "because space technology helps everyday life".
    Mr Aldrin, please buy me a car, because I'll report to you what I see while travelling in it.
    Today's robots can do the same as people, at a fraction of the cost.

    August 6, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  2. Gaylord

    After looking at more footage. I think that most of the present day footage about the cross hairs and the background changes that prove this film a hoax, are the hoax. Present day doctoring is easy and does not prove anything was a hoax though. They show you one film cut and them prove that the film was doctored , when actually their copy is the one that's doctored. Don't believe everything they show you as what they found , instead of what they doctored.
    I bow out gracefully.
    Thank You

    May 14, 2013 at 8:05 am |
  3. Gaylord

    excuse me but that's gravitational pull, not full.

    Thanks again

    May 14, 2013 at 7:16 am |
  4. Gaylord

    The gravitational field is the one that looks fake. Check the relative bounce of the Astronauts in the fake film.
    Slowness is not all to railroad our minds with. Their height of bounce off the surface of the moon is short changed.
    New films show them effortlessly jumping higher and moving slower , with higher struts.
    That film does not account for the lack of gravitational full on the moon. Height of bounce could not be faked right, in this film.

    Thank you

    May 14, 2013 at 7:14 am |
  5. Simon W.

    It'll be a lot easier for NASA to fake the Mars landing than the moon landing now that all is digital.

    May 13, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
  6. Elroy Jetson

    Silly earthlings. Like I said before, I've been to Mars many times. Not only do they have a great amusement park, they have this killer water park, too. One of the water slides is called the "Big Dipper". Just loads of fun. Just ask my sister Judy.

    May 13, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  7. Dave Street

    with you all the way – learning more & more russian is stirring up ancient descriptions – its literature & vocabulary supports remembering dreams & feeling togetherness though work toward lofty goals ( living here 19.5 years, owed me 33 mo for a parking, details as these are going in my book ) ERGO ON-WARD – besides, the news is odd without Mars

    May 10, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
  8. Twinklybatz!

    Nuff said.

    May 10, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  9. John

    Let's get the Carpricorn Program started. 😉

    May 10, 2013 at 8:12 am |
  10. M Gonzales

    I LOVE our folks in the military and Im proud we have the most power military in the world. That being said, it's budget has gone thru the roof in just 10 years (I felt our military kept us safe with 2000 budget levels to be honest). I would back up a plan that for every dollor cut in the military 50 cents goes to NASA and spread it around to each state. Imagine what we could do if we did this and "Only" cut 20 million from the miltary and added 10 mllion to NASA? Imagine 100 million cut and 50 million added to NASA?

    May 10, 2013 at 3:16 am |
  11. Fact

    There is scientific evidence all of the moon photos were actually photoshopped. The government had an early experimental Macintosh Computet with a beta version of photoshop as early as 1966. This was used to create the lunar photos.

    May 9, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
  12. Jherkin da Gherkin

    Poop. Poopie. Poophead. Poop in muh pants. Poop in da potty. Poop in yer shoe.

    May 9, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
    • kethy149

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      May 11, 2013 at 9:07 am |
    • kobe jennings

      Jherkin da Gherkin i love you soo much man!

      June 4, 2013 at 10:00 am |
  13. Fake It Good NASA

    Recently I was visiting the Smithsonian Air and Fake museum in DC. There were a group of kids that came out of the McDonald's who were shooting spit wads at the 'lunar excursion module', and now the thing is all dented up.....

    May 9, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • kobe jennings

      wow, your kidding right?

      June 4, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  14. w l jones

    Check this out and see what planets and peoples on other solar system look like up close and personal. For beginner it all on the internet by typing UFO over Jacksonville, Fla June 1971 0r 72 see what you think?

    May 9, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  15. Buck Rogers

    NASA is already doing a good job at faking Mars trying to prove 'astro-evolution'. Bless their heart, these guys are simply out of ideas on how to dupe the masses, so they just say the same thing over and over and over.....

    May 9, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • Twinklybatz!

      May 10, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  16. Liberal and Proud

    I think it would be absolutely magnificent if they would start-off with a manned mission to Mars and have Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Michele Bachmann, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin all scheduled for a ONE-WAY flight straight to the Red Planet.

    May 9, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  17. Ray Gunn

    The moon landings were faked. It was all done from a secret base on Mars.

    May 9, 2013 at 7:53 am |
    • GatorALLin

      ...OK, that was really funny.

      May 9, 2013 at 9:59 am |
  18. Joseph Bleaux

    As much as I like and respect Buzz Aldrin, I'd have to disagree on this. A manned mission to Mars would be EXTREMELY expensive, dangerous and totally unnecessary. And with the global economy the way it is now, it would be really stupid to even try it. For the price of a manned mission to Mars, you could send literally hundreds, maybe thousands of robot probes all over the solar system and beyond. Manned missions are mostly just cowboy grandstanding show offs anyway and don't usually produce much more scientific knowledge (if any) than robotic missions. Sorry Buzz, it's just not practical right now. Maybe in the future when we have better technology and the world economy isn't in the toilet.

    May 9, 2013 at 6:06 am |
    • Matthew Black

      People have been saying for more than 40 years that Mars missions are too expensive. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy of negativity and mediocrity. If not now, then WHEN will preparations for Mars start?! Even the most grandiose Mars mission would cost FAR LESS than another Middle East War or Wall Street Bailout. Hollywood spends more money in two years on making bad Sci-Fi movies than NASA did in six years developing the latest Mars Rover. Between 1961 and 1969 when America was doing Apollo for $24 billion dollars, in that same time period America spent TWO HUNDRED TIMES that amount of money developing nuclear weapons systems for land, sea and air AND a whole lot more again in the Vietnam War. MONEY: there's actually a lot of it about but it depends on priorities.

      May 9, 2013 at 8:08 am |
      • Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

        I have to agree with Bleaux. Until faster methods of interplanetary travel are developed manned missions to Mars are unfeasible. With current technology the average 1-way travel times are on the order of some 18 months. Factor in the living conditions (zero gravity, isolation, confined quarters, lack of medical attention should a truly urgent situation arise) and it's easy to see why a manned mission should not be attempted any time soon. The money currently being spent on robotic probes is the best use of those funds. As far as manned spaceflight is concerned, I'd rather see development of a better orbiting space station with artificial gravity (centrifugal) as a next step towards Lunar colonization. Then Humanity can use to Moon as a base for manned planetary exploration. Perhaps by that time faster methods of propulsion will be developed.

        I don't feel that's being negative, just realistic. Quite optimistic really. Cheers.

        May 9, 2013 at 10:59 am |
      • GatorALLin

        google the www. mars-one .com effort to get 4 humans on Mars by 2023. See what you think of their plan...

        May 9, 2013 at 11:05 am |
      • Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

        @ GatorALLin: What do I think? I think it's cool idea for a new reality TV show, and this coming from a guy who hates reality TV shows. "Survivor: Mars." The trip there would be like watching a remake of John Carpenter's "Dark Star." Minus the alien beach ball with claws of course... ;-]

        May 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Jeff

      All good points however I view manned missions to Mars and, more importantly, colonization of other planets, as a necessary step in human evolution and survival. The other poster mentioned nuclear weapons, well, what if (or perhaps when) 2 countries use those against one another making a large portion of the planet unlivable? Our resources are limited and humans can only remain on this planet for a finite period of time which looks increasingly short with each passing year. A meteor could literally end life on planet Earth and if we have an interest in seeing our species advance then both manned and unmanned space exploration needs to be a top priority.

      May 9, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • Scott Wolf

      Check out the University of Washington's work on a fusion motor. Round trip 30 to 90 days depending on the orbital positions of the respective planets.

      May 10, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
    • bluemoon6790

      "Safe" and "practical" ideas didn't colonize the Americas. They didn't develop and implement democracy. They never built business empires. They didn't develop the art that is the backbone of our culture.

      I think that people who bow and scrape to the gods of safety, comfort, and risk mitigation are likely to end up spending their entire lives living in a world someone else created, instead of imprinting their own unique stamp on human history.

      May 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  19. keith hinkel

    Hold on here–the evidence is there that we NEVER went to the Moon! So where did all that billions go? Now Feds gonna fake a Mars trip also? Nope stay here on Earth, fix it and get all the Feds fired and voted out FIRST. Begin with new Congress serving ONE TERM ONLY-then investigate where Mars will pay us back for any trips. That should take about 200 years to accomplish, by then there be time travel–cheap–like buying a plane ticket. But w/out the crashes.

    May 9, 2013 at 1:28 am |
    • Dude

      Hey, nice hat.

      What brand of foil do you use?

      May 9, 2013 at 3:37 am |
    • Joseph Bleaux

      Put down the crack pipe and chill out dude.

      May 9, 2013 at 6:07 am |
    • Hexdragon01

      What evidence? Are you talking about all the "Facts" that every Mythbusters were able to disprove? We went to the moon.

      Wait, what about the Mars robots? Don't tell me, they are really in New Mexico somewhere?????

      ...and Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya.... Donald? Is that you????

      May 9, 2013 at 7:23 am |
    • cedar rapids

      'keith hinkel – Hold on here–the evidence is there that we NEVER went to the Moon!'

      no, there is not, there really isnt.

      May 9, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  20. Vic

    The moon is our closest neighbor outside our atmosphere. Yet, we last visited some 40 yeara ago. We should have a well established lunar presence by now don't you think? A lunar presence would be the focal point for any manned exploration beyond the moon. We could utilize the resources from the moon to create the fuel necessary for such a mission to Mars. Think helium-3. However, the past 40 years of commercializing and monetizing low-earth-orbit (LEO) missions has had a detrimental affect on the continued development of lunar colonization.

    May 8, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
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