History & Culture / Technology

Exclusive AMAC Interview with Apollo 11 Moonwalker, Buzz Aldrin – On Mankind’s Quest for Mars


Interviewer:  Dr. Aldrin, you have written and spoken eloquently about the importance of establishing “human permanence” on Mars, including the deployment of a series of “cyclers” that would transport humans to and from Mars over time. Can you elaborate on why humans should go to Mars, why they should stay there rather than just visiting, and how the cycler system might work?

Dr. Aldrin:  Certainly. There is growing interest in a manned mission to Mars – one that is transformative and begins mankind on a path toward eventual permanence on the planet. There are scientific reasons to undertake the journey, but another big reason may be mankind’s curiosity. America also has a legacy of leadership in space exploration. I am a believer that America has a rendezvous with destiny, and part of that is reaching outward.

As for doing an out-and-back, there are arguments against that. We raise our return on investment by staying. Manned exploration of Mars must be more than leaving footprints on the Martian soil and planting the American flag. 

Such expeditionary missions are also extraordinarily expensive. Just to provide one illustration, each time we send a crew of six people to Mars using NASA’s so-called Minimum Mars approach, we need seven launches of the massive SLS launch vehicle. Each time we send a mission to Mars, we will need a new set of in-space habitation modules, each costing billions of dollars. Such a program cries out for cancellation after the first mission or two. Flags and footprints are all we would get. 

Contrast that with my Cycling Pathways approach, which only requires a single launch of an SLS, or perhaps two launches of an existing launch vehicle, like the Atlas, Falcon, or Delta, to send a crew of six to Mars. Moreover, since the cyclers orbit continuously between Earth and Mars, it would be many decades before we needed to replace the cycling spacecraft.

If the quest to settle Mars is intergenerational, we should accept the role of pioneers. The idea of a cycling means of transportation is relatively simple. It could be tested in transits to and from the moon. It essentially turns on placing a series of spacecraft in cycling orbits between the Earth and Mars. This will allow periodic return trips to and from either location at shorter intervals. While the first mission to Mars will be challenging, the return on investment for all mankind promises to be great: in science, wonder, and achievement. That is one reason we should set benchmarks and move forward. We must ask ourselves, if not now, when?

Interviewer:  How would this mission compare with your path-breaking and the perilous first mission to the Moon in July 1969? When Apollo 11 reached lunar distance, and you and Neil Armstrong headed for the Moon’s surface, with Mike Collins in the orbiting Command module, you must have felt quite removed from Earth. Could you explore similarities and differences for a moment? 

Dr. Aldrin:  Well, the two missions are very different in important ways, with Mars lying almost 45 million miles from Earth and the Moon just a quarter of a million miles from home. Mars raises obvious technical and human challenges, such as staying fit for an extended time in space, but the rewards will be enormous. Like Apollo 11, the first trip to the surface of Mars will be unprecedented and daunting. Extended time on the surface would also be perilous. But this effort, like ours to the Moon in 1969, would capture the public imagination as nothing to date … and for good reason.

For Americans and all of mankind, the mission would trigger a new appreciation for space exploration. It would bring a revolution in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. A cascade of innovations would follow. They would be valuable in space, and on Mars, as well as on Earth. The eventual presence of mankind on Mars will be an intergenerational quest. But all great journeys begin by taking the first – and then second – steps. If the Apollo Moon missions were America’s first steps into space, Mars must be our second.

Interviewer:  So, as you see it, how do we get there – to the point where we are placing human footsteps on the surface of Mars and thinking about permanence?

Dr. Aldrin:   Needed at the front end of this grand and inspiring undertaking are detailed, practical thinking and a national commitment. We must, as a nation, put our minds, hearts, and resources into a truly ambitious space exploration agenda for the 21st Century. That agenda begins with the commitment to get to Mars. A drive to Mars also has the potential for uniting all mankind, the nations of this fragile planet, in a unifying quest. It would allow the future to be defined more by unity of purpose than the default to human hostilities. On major undertakings in space, there is room for human cooperation and shared accomplishment.

The Apollo missions gave us a template for finding common ground in space. The development of joint missions with Apollo-Soyuz, followed by the International Space Station, has helped mankind understand the importance of preserving our species and the value of cooperation in adverse settings. From robotics to satellite placement, the science of the Earth to understanding the Universe, American leadership and international cooperation in space has been positive.

The way we get there, in practical terms, is to unify as Americans around a commitment to make the next big step. That commitment may begin with the president and Congress but must reflect an American desire to embrace risk again – for the good of the quest.

Interviewer:  You have founded the path-breaking educational organization called the Aldrin Space Institute. Can you help our readers, many of whom lived through your spectacular Moonwalk in 1969, understand some of what the Aldrin Space Institute is accomplishing? 

Dr. Aldrin:  Yes. The Buzz Aldrin Space Institute at the Florida Institute of Technology is the realization of a dream that dates back to my doctoral work in astronautical engineering at MIT and extended through the Apollo Moon landings into recent writings. Our goal is to spur a wider understanding of space exploration, from the Moon to Mars and beyond, but also to trigger a deeper understanding of the STEM disciplines and encourage long-term thinking, plans, and experiments – the combination of theory and practice that will eventually assist mankind in establishing permanence at Mars.

From there, future generations will have to follow the research, progressive achievements, and human curiosity where they lead. But I firmly believe that those of us who have lived in this day, been privileged to be alive at this time in human history, and especially those of us who were able to participate in some of these events, must assure that progress is not lost. We must rekindle enthusiasm, risk-taking, planning, and achievement in space for the future.

America’s destiny is both at home on Earth and in the stars. We all owe a debt to those who have brought us to this point. We carry a burden. My hope is that, with inspiration, greater unity, and a sense of high calling, we will unite in the years ahead to press human space exploration to its next logical step – Mars. 

Interviewer:  Dr. Aldrin, you are a source of enormous inspiration, insight, and guidance for those of us who recall your historic walk on the Moon and also for those who never saw it but will learn of it in the future and draw enthusiasm for space exploration and risk-taking from your extraordinary missions. I cannot thank you enough for being a strong supporter of STEM education, American leadership in space, and all that we aspire to as a People.

The entire leadership of AMAC thanks you for taking the time for this interview and for also being a voice for the future. Our rendezvous with destiny, as you have called it, rests squarely on the heroic efforts of yourself and those who were part of the Apollo program and all that came before it. Thank you, and stay strong. You inspire us all.

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3 years ago


Sharon Harrigan
3 years ago

A total waste of tax payers money. If God would have meant for man to live on any other planet, He would have created him there as well.

Greg Russell
3 years ago

“…and begins mankind on a path toward eventual permanence on the planet”.

Why? To what end? Well risk lives and spend who knows how much just to get there the first time, and again…why?

Helen Corey
3 years ago

Allowing to dream about exploration in space is so much more pleasant than plying the game of blame promoted by the Dems.

Brenda Blunt
3 years ago

Could this be possible? Go for it!

3 years ago

So with America in the throes of financial default; only to be staved off by unabashed fiat paper money printing ala A.O. Cortez, and the unabated thievery of savings through inflation, we are to believe that this Mars mission is extraordinarily necessary. The benefits of the cost? Let’s see: ‘curiosity, rendezvous with destiny, capture public imagination, revolution in sciences…, finding common ground, uniting all mankind.” I don’t see a tangible dollar return in all that double speak. Oh, wait a minute. The defense contractors will love it when the world weapons programs will be elevated to an entirely new level.

3 years ago
Reply to  Chuck

Your cynical viewpoint is important in this discussion and not without merit. But I would point to the Apollo program as a perfect example of what stands to be gained. Much of the technology that we take for granted today (computers, integrated circuits, fly by wire aircraft etc.) have their roots in the Apollo program and it is not guaranteed that they would have ever come to fruition without a “task” that forced their invention and application. What advances might come out of a mission to Mars are obviously unknown and therefore intangible, but if the past is our guide, the advances will be of substantial benefit to all mankind. And to your last point, some of the biggest steps towards peace and international cooperation have been made in space. Perhaps a Mars program could be a step towards putting all the defense contractors out of business or into a new business of exploration.

Paul W
3 years ago

With adversaries such as China and Russia, I believe that for at least the near future the bulk of NASA’s budget should be redirected toward a space defense program. The Space Force, if you will. China and Russia, from what I’ve read, are making big strides in that area. Space, unfortunately, will become the new front in military conflicts. The U.S. should make darn sure that it is ready and able to secure that front. Manned exploratory missions are great, but with government spending way too high already, it’s my opinion that those “space” dollars should be going toward defending this country from earth orbit. The moon and Mars aren’t going anywhere.

3 years ago
Reply to  Paul W

True, but under the Green New Deal the astronauts will be required to transit to Mars on the high speed rail! And golly, on that we’ll be there in nothin’ flat!

Paul W
3 years ago
Reply to  PapaGrouch

Yeah…and building it would be a breeze. Of course the fact that Mars doesn’t orbit the sun at the same speed as Earth could pose a minor problem as well. I’m sure AOC has all of that, and much more figured out already. She’s a genius…and the boss!

3 years ago
Reply to  Paul W

We’ll just use “Fantasy Track.” …because it’s green, toooooo……. =D

Paul W
3 years ago
Reply to  PapaGrouch

Why not? Everything that the left proposes is based in fantasy. It’s sure not based on fact or reality.

Frank S.
3 years ago

But wait! Doesn’t our national drive toward socialism, identity politics, multiculturalism, intersectionality, and political correctness take precedence? Certainly these things are more important than having a national vision that unites us and inspires us. Sorry, I had a “sarcastic moment”–what a great American we have in Dr. Aldrin, along with the thousands of others who contributed to our great nation. I only hope we can continue their legacy.

3 years ago
Reply to  Frank S.

You left out “climate change”.

Stephen Russell
3 years ago

Need Lunar base for mining, tourism & research prior Mars, then need Orbital Hub over Moon to build Marsship with Ion drive.
Crew is global, use pvt companies for project vs Govt IE Apollo, etc.
Diversify Tech, education, etc.
Need lunar base.

3 years ago

Ah, the practical and rational approach to getting there. Yes, that is the right way to get such a project properly done. All that is lacking for that to work is:

1) Washington politicians will insist that the effort be managed by the government. Which means design by committee bureaucrats and special interest “experts” (translation: major campaign donors with ZERO expertise, but looking for their piece of the action). The people and companies in the private sector would quickly find themselves mired in a never-ending set of competing agendas and conflicting priorities. At which point the project would end up like so many other worthwhile projects: Mismanaged into the ground by the same incompetent federal bureaucrats that will immediately turn around and hold endless hearings on why each private contractor should either be massively fined or regulated into oblivion.

2) Sadly, there is no long-term American will anymore to support such an effort over say the realistic 15 to 25 years it would take complete all the pieces and achieve the goal. Much of our society, as well as much of the world’s population has developed the attention span of a 5 year old. We now demand immediate results to almost everything and if they are not forthcoming, we quickly lose interest and move onto the next shiny ball that is dangled in front of us.

I read several interviews over the years from Buzz Aldrin and the one over-riding constant in all of them was his regret that we, as a nation, lost interest in doing big, long-term things after a half dozen or so flights to the moon and then squandered our technological prowess in technologies for space flight.

Aldrin has been advocating for his plan for decades now. Remember, originally, the equivalent of the ISS was supposed to be the orbital manufacturing and rehab base for the construction of inter-planetary ships to reach Mars and beyond. Thus eliminating the ridiculous cost associated with conventional lift vehicles being launched from the ground. The space shuttle was originally meant to be the glorified delivery truck ferrying supplies, materials and crews back and forth to the ISS to support the orbital construction effort. Waning interest in almost everything space related after the Apollo missions were scrapped pretty much relegated the proposed ISS to an over-expensive symbol of inter-national public relations and the greatly reduced functionality of then down-sized space shuttle to a satellite launch vehicle for most of its lifespan.

GySgt. Joseph E. Barlow Jr USMC (Ret)
3 years ago
Reply to  PaulE

This killing of the space programs, in my humble opinion, a direct result of LBJ buying vote with the great society. The welfare programs and big government squandered our tax dollars, that should have been spent on space programs. I pray President Trump can prevail in getting us back on tract. I agree with the good DR. we should lead in space. Not lead in filling the hand of those who do not contribute to our Nation.

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