Last month, Vice President Mike Pence announced that we are headed back to the moon. I am with him, in spirit and aspiration. Having been there, I can say it is high time we returned. When Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and I went to the moon 50 years ago this July, we did so with a mission. Apollo 11 aimed to prove America’s can-do commitment to space exploration, as well as its national security and technological superiority. We did all that. We also “Came in Peace for all Mankind.” More of that is needed now.
Today, many nations have eyes for the moon, from China and Russia to friends in Europe and Middle East. That is all good. The United States should cooperate – and offer itself as a willing team leader – in exploring every aspect of the moon, from its geology and topography to its hydrology and cosmic history. In doing so, we can take “low-Earth orbit” cooperation to the moon, openly, eagerly and collegially.
Meanwhile, another looming orb – the red one – should become a serious focus of U.S. attention. Mars is waiting to be discovered, not by clever robots and rovers – though I support NASA’s unmanned missions – but by living, breathing, walking, talking, caring and daring men and women.
To make that happen, members of Congress, the Trump administration and the American public must care enough to make human exploration missions to Mars a national priority. To be clear, I do not mean spending billions of taxpayer dollars on a few hijinks or joy rides, allowing those who return to write books, tweet photos and talk of the novelty. I mean something very different.
The United States’ eyes – and our unified commitment – should focus on opening the door, in our time, to the great migration of humankind to Mars. Books aplenty have been written about how to do this, and they have inspired government and non-government leaders to make lofty plans. But plans without a detailed architecture, and without that “next step” into the future, are just fantasy.
Americans are good at writing fantasy, and incomparable at making the fantastic a reality. We did it with Mercury, Gemini, Apollo – and in thousands of other ways. It is time we get down to blueprints, architecture and implementation, and to take that next step – a sustainable international return to the moon, directly charting a pathway to Mars.
The Trump administration and today’s Congress, inspired by an American public impatient for space leadership, could start this engine. The next step would build on our early lunar landings and establish permanent settlements on the moon. In the meantime, preparations for permanent migration to the red planet can be made. All of this is within reach for humans alive now, but it starts with a unified next step in space. The nation best poised to make it happen is the United States.
Just as President John F. Kennedy is remembered for starting our nation’s drive to the moon, where Neil and I left footprints, the Trump administration and this Congress would be remembered decades forward for putting humans permanently on the moon and Americans on Mars – for making human footprints in red dust and subsequent migration possible.
As matter of orbital mechanics, missions from Earth to Mars for migration are complex. That said, human nature – and potentially the ultimate survival of our species – demands humanity’s continued outward reach into the universe. Call it curiosity or calculation, strategic planning or destiny. Put simply: We explore, or we expire. That is why we must get on with it.
In a world of division and distraction, this mission is unifying – for all Americans and for all humankind. So, I am personally glad we are headed back to the moon – and I thank President Donald Trump and the vice president for their commitment. But my eyes drift higher, to the red orb that, even now, awaits an American flag and plaque that reads: “We Come in Peace for All Mankind.”
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Aldrin is a former astronaut and, as part of the Apollo 11 mission, was one of the first men to walk on the moon.