TIME Science

Buzz Aldrin: Pioneers Will Always Pave the Way With Sacrifice

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Crashes During Test Flight In Mojave Desert
Sheriff's deputies inspect the wreckage of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 in a desert field November 2, 2014 north of Mojave, California on The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. Sandy Huffaker—Getty Images

Dr. Buzz Aldrin served as lunar module pilot for Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission.

That first human landing on the moon—a small step for mankind—was about taking risks to reap great rewards. Today, more steps are needed

Pioneering the space frontier is a perilous business.

That was recently underscored by the catastrophic breakup of the commercial Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo and the loss of one of its two pilots in testing the vehicle.

My career as an aircraft pilot and astronaut has been punctuated by both risk-taking and the loss of several close colleagues. The Apollo 1 fire in January 1967 claimed my good friends Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee in a launch pad training exercise.

And it was Gus who had earlier voiced his view of the perils associated with pushing the boundaries of curiosity and exploration:

If we die, we want people to accept it. We’re in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.

We also cannot forget the lost crews of America’s Challenger and Columbia space-shuttle orbiters and the deaths of several cosmonauts of the former Soviet Union. They all were forging our future in space.

Unfortunately, pioneers will always pave the way with sacrifices.

Every type of transportation has involved loss of life, as witnessed with the Conestoga wagon heading west and giving way to the stagecoach, the railroads, motor homes and eventually airplanes.

Indeed, airlines came into existence because of the commercial use of World War I aircraft, put to work to carry mail for the government. That convinced the commercial sector to develop the airlines of today.

Now we are contemplating point-to-point and suborbital rocket flight, a distinctly commercial stepping stone from the pioneering days of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo’s giant leap to the moon.

The future is about wings and wheels and new forms of space transportation, along with our deep-space ambition to set foot on another world in our solar system: Mars.

I firmly believe we will establish permanence on that planet. And in reaching for that goal, we can cultivate commercial development of the moon, the asteroid belt, the Red Planet itself and beyond. Following that trajectory means returning with scientific knowledge, sharpening our space know-how and utilizing celestial resources that improve the lives of all here on Earth.

We need to look forward to countries around the globe following our lead and establishing a rotating permanence on Mars for science and commercial resources.

Some 45 years ago, when Neil Armstrong and I stepped upon the surface of the moon at Tranquility Base, we fulfilled a dream held by humankind for centuries. Yes, it was one small step. Today, more steps are needed.

Apollo 11 was rooted in exploration. That first human landing on the moon was about taking risks to reap great rewards in science and engineering. It was about setting an ambitious goal, anchored in political will and staying power. And it was about harnessing industry — big and small — fueled by talented teams of individuals working together to attain a common objective.

To go back to the recent SpaceShipTwo tragedy, I echo the sentiment voiced by my good friend Richard Branson, an adventurous entrepreneur and the leader of Virgin Galactic: “I truly believe that humanity’s greatest achievements,” he said, “come out of our greatest pain.”

Those space pioneers that are no longer with us were hungry to serve, and they served all of us here residing on our tiny niche of the huge universe.

There’s no doubt that there will be many trials and tribulations along the way in taming space for the benefit of all, unmasking its truths and using the boundless resources available to us. Taking a chance allows us to seek new horizons — and we all benefit from being horizon hunters.

Dr. Buzz Aldrin served as lunar module pilot for Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission. He is the author of eight books, including his New York Times best selling autobiography Magnificent Desolation. His newest book, Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration, was published in 2013. As one of the leading space exploration advocates, Buzz continues to chart a course for future space travel. He is an unpaid advisory board member for XCOR Space Expeditions.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Science

Buzz Aldrin: It’s Time to Put a Man on Mars

George Washington University Space Policy Institute Holds Humans To Mars Summit
NASA Apollo XI astronaut Buzz Aldrin speaks at the Humans to Mars Summit on April 22, 2014 at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

On the 45th anniversary of the moon landing, the U.S. should decide on the necessary steps to explore Mars with the eventual goal of establishing a manned settlement there.

It’s hard to believe that on July 20, 2014, we’ll be celebrating the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11, man’s first landing on the moon. It’s also hard to believe that no one can really say where the U.S. manned space exploration program is heading and how we’re going to get there. People come up to me and say, “It’s too bad the space program got canceled.” This is not the case, and yet that is what most of the public thinks has happened. Yes, we hear from NASA that the destination is Mars — and yet there is no detailed plan on how to get there. No one can seem to agree on a clear path. The nation is understandably focused on many other pressing challenges at the moment. However, if we don’t make some important decisions about the future of our space program very soon, I’m afraid the program will be lost to the ages.

There are eight U.S. astronauts left out of the 12 who walked on the moon. All of us are in the eighth decade of our lives. Each of us can attest to the importance of continuing human exploration of space and the tremendous impact it has had on so many facets of our society. The technical innovations, scientific achievements, medical breakthroughs, environmental enhancements, national defense improvements and educational impacts have been immeasurable. Our nation simply cannot afford to lose a program that has contributed so much for so long. Our leaders have some important decisions to make and they need to make them now. The moon must not be the last stop in America’s quest for knowledge of other planets and of other places.

Here’s what we as a nation must decide:

  1. Does the United States wish to continue leading human exploration of space or leave it to Russia, China, India or some other nation to take over? To me, the answer is obvious.
  2. Does it not make good sense for the U.S. to take the high ground by establishing cooperative U.S.-China relations in space? We did it with the Soviet Union through the Apollo-Soyuz program back in July 1975, and I believe it is even more important to do it with the PRC in 2014. Cooperation, not confrontation, should be the hallmark of our dealings with the Chinese beyond Earth.
  3. Does it make sense for the U.S. to expend hundreds of billions of dollars to mount a new Apollo-style program to return to the moon? Or have we blazed that trail? Shouldn’t we help other nations achieve this goal with their own resources but with our help? Rather than doing again something we did 45 years ago, shouldn’t the U.S. be developing a path toward Mars?
  4. And shouldn’t the U.S. develop the technological capabilities needed to land humans on Mars by first traveling to a nearby asteroid for research and development purposes? A hybrid human-robot mission to investigate an asteroid affords a realistic opportunity to demonstrate new technological capabilities for future deep-space travel and to test spacecraft for long-duration spaceflight. This is imperative, as we’ve never done manned missions beyond the moon.
  5. And speaking of Mars, are we prepared as a nation to take the necessary steps to explore Mars with the eventual goal of establishing a manned settlement on that planet? To me, the answer should be a resounding “yes.”

It’s unlikely that the remaining Apollo astronauts, including yours truly, will be around to witness the conclusion of the next exciting chapter in our nation’s space program. However, we would like to be here when our President and Congress make these critical decisions. If our leaders make the right decisions — and they must — we’re confident the new manned space program will meet or exceed the tremendous success of the Apollo program so many years ago. But let’s make these decisions now.

Dr. Buzz Aldrin served as lunar module pilot for Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission. He is the author of eight books, including his New York Times best-selling autobiography Magnificent Desolation. His newest book, Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration, was published in 2013. As one of the leading space exploration advocates, Buzz continues to chart a course for future space travel.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser