Buzz Aldrin's next mission? Colonizing Mars
The moon? Been there, done that. For his next act, the living legend wants to go even farther.
Buzz Aldrin may have been the second person on the moon, but when we interview him on a recent Friday morning, he's in an easier-to-reach location: His home in the aptly named Satellite Beach, Florida.
It's a rare day off in an otherwise busy schedule. He was in New Jersey. Before that, Washington D.C. And he spent a week in London. Next, he's off to South Korea. Indeed, these days the icon and astronaut says he's traveling now more than in his entire life. Which is saying something, considering the guy has literally traveled to the moon.
Aldrin is constantly on the move, telling anyone he can of his new mission. With the gumption and gall of only someone who has gone beyond Earth's atmosphere, Aldrin has his sights set on a new frontier – Mars. Indeed, living on Mars will be the topic of his keynote address to an international space conference next month in Israel.
Yes, he will be traveling to the Mediterranean. After Jerusalem, he's off to Colorado, New York and Indiana. Oh, and then he flies to Australia for a couple of speaking engagements. Aldrin, it seems, is in perpetual motion, in a constant state of lift-off.
"It is in our DNA, our makeup as human beings, to have a curiosity to expand our knowledge and to explore beyond the present limits," he tells us. "It is an inevitable mark of progress."
Aldrin's interest in Mars began decades ago and, with the success of recent robotic missions to the Red Planet, he believes human visits can start before the end of this decade. "I think that the occupation of Mars is, in my mind, an absolute certainty."
NASA seems to be on board, too. "We are farther down the path to sending humans to Mars than at any point in NASA's history," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said at an event this month. "We have a lot of work to do to get humans to Mars, but we'll get there."
Aldrin admits it will take time. Setting up residence on Mars, a brutally cold planet, will first require the help of robots to build habitats for humans to live in. Not to mention, the trip itself is long and arduous. He envisions using Mars’ moons, Phobos and Deimos, as stepping stones for astronauts en route. And while most people assume a ticket to Mars is "one way," Aldrin believes the technology will allow for trips back to Earth.
"The Pilgrims on the Mayflower came here to live and stay," Aldrin said recently. "They didn't wait around Plymouth Rock for the return trip, and neither will people building up a population and a settlement" on Mars.
But the moon, like a first love, still lures Aldrin back. July 21, 2019, will mark the 50th anniversary of his historic moon walk. "I think the crew of Apollo 11 looked forward optimistically for all three of us to be around for those celebrations. Unfortunately, that's not going to be the case," he says, noting the 2012 passing of his co-pilot and friend Neil Armstrong. (The third crew member, Michael Collins, orbited in the Apollo 11 spacecraft while Aldrin and Armstrong walked on the moon.)
But it's not just the skies that draw him in. He often turns to the ocean for inspiration as well. He went swimming with a whale shark. (The photo of the encounter is now his screensaver.) He's dived to the depths of the ocean to see the Titanic. "My favorite thing to do on this planet is to scuba dive," Aldrin says. Indeed, while in Israel next month he tells us he plans on diving in the coastal city of Eilat.
“Looking around me and then glancing upward at the surface of the sea, there is a strong realization that I’m in the one place where I’m secluded from all the daily troubles and problems that the world has." It offers peace and solitude, a quiet respite from a planet constantly spinning on its axis. A glimpse, perhaps, of what life was like when he lived in outer space.
At 85, Aldrin is in his twilight, and is eager to take advantage of every moment. Indeed, the constant travel belies a man half his age. Perhaps it's true what they say that time in space stands still. So while Aldrin spent 12 days, 1 hour and 52 minutes aboard a rocket ship, the rest of us, mere mortals tethered to terra firma, were aging at a faster clip.
Aldrin, meanwhile, shows no signs of slowing down. This fall he launched the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute at the Florida Institute of Technology where he now serves on their faculty. He just released a children's book called "Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet."
He says he's meeting new people every day. Just last week, he took the time to speak with "Astronaut Abby," a young blogger from Wellesley College who hopes to be the first human on Mars. Aldrin speaks at universities across the globe, inspiring a new generation of science dreamers to become ardent fans of an icon from the 1960s. He's appeared on the popular sitcoms "The Big Bang Theory" and "30 Rock." He was a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars." He's offering opinions on Matt Damon movies. He's active on social media, posting several times a day. On Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TheRealBuzz, he has nearly a million followers.
Aldrin's work is not done. He wants his legacy not to be as the man who walked on the moon, but as someone who enabled humans to colonize Mars. Because if we've learned anything about Buzz Aldrin, it's that there are always new worlds to explore.
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