Buzz Aldrin Wants Humans to Travel to Mars. But They Can’t Come Back.

The Apollo astronaut says he believes people will reach the red planet within the next 20 years.

Digital rendering of Mars.
National Journal
Marina Koren
July 8, 2014, 12:28 p.m.

Buzz Ald­rin wants man­kind to one-up him.

In a Red­dit Ask Me Any­thing post Tues­day af­ter­noon, the former NASA as­tro­naut said he be­lieves that hu­man be­ings can make it to Mars with­in the next two dec­ades. Ald­rin was the second per­son to set foot on the moon after Neil Arm­strong dur­ing the Apollo 11 mis­sion in 1969. He logged onto Red­dit to pro­mote a so­cial-me­dia cam­paign aimed at cel­eb­rat­ing the 45th an­niversary of the Ju­ly 20 moon land­ing.

“There is very little doubt, in my mind, that what the next mo­nu­ment­al achieve­ment of hu­man­ity will be the first land­ing by an Earth­ling, a hu­man be­ing, on the plan­et Mars,” Ald­rin wrote, adding that Elon Musk’s space trans­port­a­tion com­pany SpaceX could con­trib­ute “con­sid­er­ably, enorm­ously” to build­ing a hu­man colony on Mars. Last month, Elon vowed to send people to Mars in the next 10 to 12 years.

And once hu­mans get to the red plan­et, Ald­rin says, that’s it:

The first hu­man be­ings to land on Mars should not come back to Earth. They should be the be­gin­ning of a build-up of a colony/set­tle­ment, I call it a “per­man­ence.” A set­tle­ment you can vis­it once or twice, come back, and then de­cide you want to settle. Same with a colony. But you want it to be per­man­ent from the get-go, from the very first. I know that many people don’t feel that that should be done. Some people even con­sider it dis­tinctly a sui­cide mis­sion. Not me! Not at all.

Ald­rin be­lieves the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment should push strongly for a Mars mis­sion — and pour more money in­to NASA’s budget:

Re­turn­ing to the Moon with NASA as­tro­nauts is not the best us­age of our re­sources. Be­cause OUR re­sources should be dir­ec­ted to out­ward, bey­ond-the-moon, to es­tab­lish­ing hab­it­a­tion and labor­at­or­ies on the sur­face of Mars that can be built, as­sembled, from the close-by moons of Mars. With very little time delay — a second or less. Much bet­ter than con­trolling things on the Moon from the Earth. So when NASA fund­ing comes up for re­view, please call your law­makers to sup­port it.

Aside from mis­sions and money, the former as­tro­naut gave his Red­dit audi­ence a list of his fa­vor­ite space movies, which in­clude 2001: A Space Odys­sey. His all-time fa­vor­ite, however, is much more re­cent:

I thought that the movie Grav­ity, the de­pic­tion of people mov­ing around in zero grav­ity, was really the best I have seen. The free-fall­ing, the ac­tions that took place between two people, were very, I think, ex­ag­ger­ated, but prob­ably bent the laws of phys­ics. But to a per­son who’s been in space, we would cringe look­ing at something that we hoped would NEV­ER, EVER hap­pen. It’s very thrill­ing for the per­son who’s nev­er been there, be­cause it por­trays the haz­ards, the dangers that could come about if things be­gin to go wrong, and I think that as I came out of that movie, I said to my­self and oth­ers, “Sandra Bul­lock de­serves an Oscar.”

And no AMA with an Apollo as­tro­naut would be com­plete without a de­scrip­tion of what it’s like to walk on the moon:

My first words of my im­pres­sion of be­ing on the sur­face of the Moon that just came to my mind was “Mag­ni­fi­cent des­ol­a­tion.” The mag­ni­fi­cence of hu­man be­ings, hu­man­ity, Plan­et Earth, matur­ing the tech­no­lo­gies, ima­gin­a­tion and cour­age to ex­pand our cap­ab­il­it­ies bey­ond the next ocean, to dream about be­ing on the Moon, and then tak­ing ad­vant­age of in­creases in tech­no­logy and car­ry­ing out that dream — achiev­ing that is mag­ni­fi­cent testi­mony to hu­man­ity. But it is also des­ol­ate — there is no place on earth as des­ol­ate as what I was view­ing in those first mo­ments on the Lun­ar Sur­face.

Be­cause I real­ized what I was look­ing at, to­wards the ho­ri­zon and in every dir­ec­tion, had not changed in hun­dreds, thou­sands of years. Bey­ond me I could see the moon curving away — no at­mo­sphere, black sky. Cold. Colder than any­one could ex­per­i­ence on Earth when the sun is up — but when the sun is up for 14 days, it gets very, very hot. No sign of life what­so­ever.

That is des­ol­ate. More des­ol­ate than any place on Earth.

Mars will be just as des­ol­ate when the first earth­lings ar­rive, whenev­er that may be.

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