TIME A Year In Space

Buzz Aldrin: Why the U.S. Should Partner with China in Space

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

Working together on the International Space Station would benefit us all

I’d like to call attention to and expand upon several points recently raised by Jeffrey Kluger, editor at large for TIME magazine, in his first-rate article: “The Silly Reason the Chinese Aren’t Allowed on the Space Station.” Let me add my voice of support for the U.S. to initiate dialogue with China on the country’s inclusion in the International Space Station program. Doing so, however, requires not only White House leadership, but also bi-partisan support in Congress to roll back public law that bans NASA from engaging in bilateral agreements and coordination with China.

It’s all about “inclination.” In this case, I’m not just talking about the inclined orbit of an object circling Earth, but also a will to lean forward and encourage collaboration in space.

Working with China—as we’ve learned with other space powers—presents scientific gains and boosts safety factors for all those engaged in human spaceflight. But there is much more.

All 21st century spacefaring nations need to take stepping stones that lead to humanity’s bold leap to the Red Planet. For my part, I have spent considerable time orchestrating Cycling Pathways to Occupy Mars—by initiating government-private sustained human presence around Earth and the Moon, including design assistance of several lunar bases for all international and commercial uses as a prelude to human activity on Mars.

But back to orbiting olive branches between two space powers, the United States and China. Let’s put the symbolism aside for a minute regarding Chinese onboard the 15 nation-supported International Space Station.

The ISS is an orbiting test bed for scientific utility and sharpening our exploration knowhow. It is also an incubator for commercial development and free enterprise. Those activities will soon include U.S. government support to appraise a privately supplied expandable module. That technology is useful for establishing habitats elsewhere in low Earth orbit, at L-points in Earth-Moon locations, and even on the Moon itself. The U.S. can assist other nations to gain a foothold on the Moon, just as we did when Neil Armstrong and I made that “one small step” back in 1969.

China can, as other nations have already, reap rewards by using the ISS. There are many benefits to opening the airlocks on the ISS to accept visitors from China and other nations.

America would be taking the high road, not just offering cooperation but also assistance in making Earth orbit a busy place for commerce, transforming the Moon into a multi-nation beehive of activity, and tapping the global wherewithal and talent to venture outward to Mars.

The 40th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz “handshake in space” this July acts as a reflective moment on how two Cold War rivals— the U.S. and the Soviet Union—put aside their saber-rattling rhetoric to meet in space.

Perhaps that historic mission in July 1975 can help shape space cooperation with China—a means to facilitate China’s growth in becoming a responsible and respected member of the international community of spacefaring nations. It would welcome them, I feel, into the fellowship of nations that are doing things together in space, as well as right here on Earth.

But suppose U.S. leadership in promoting space cooperation with China is a no-show. Other nations are already stepping into this arena.

Specifically, the European Space Agency and China have blueprinted a cooperative work plan for space. ESA and the China Manned Space Agency signed a framework agreement in December 2014, reaffirming that partnership last month. The two sides have established working groups on space experiments and utilization, astronaut selection, training and flight, and space infrastructure of mutual interest to both organizations.

Let’s consider some key facts.

China is readying their Tiangong-2 space lab to be lofted around 2016. Once that facility is in Earth orbit, it will be followed by a piloted Shenzhou-11 spacecraft and first use of the Tianzhou cargo craft to rendezvous with and support lab operations. A core segment for a larger, multi-module space station is also on their agenda, to be placed in Earth orbit around 2018. That station is expected to be fully constructed around 2022. China is itself taking strides to make their orbiting outpost available to other countries.

It is time that America take stock in and re-examine our goals and objectives in space. Let us recommit to objectives that make the most sense. History does not make itself. But unfortunately it is not just made by actions … but also inaction.

I am resolute in my vision that Earth isn’t the only world for humanity anymore. The first humans on Mars will herald a remarkable milestone. Indeed, I’ve been a global envoy carrying a message: On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s touchdown on the Moon on July 20,1969, the U.S. president in 2019—she or he—can utter these words: “I believe this nation should commit itself, within two decades, to commencing an America-led, permanent presence on the planet Mars.”

America’s space program can be placed on a trajectory that spurs increased global space cooperation. The International Space Station is one tool that can be used for this prospect. Let’s all look beyond the here and now. By working collaboratively we can attain the vision and the will to reach for even larger goals … all the way to the distant dunes of Mars and beyond.

Buzz Aldrin, best known for his Apollo 11 moonwalk, holds a doctoral degree in astronautics and continues to wield influence as an international advocate of space science and planetary exploration. Aldrin and co-author, Leonard David, wrote Mission to Mars – My Vision for Space Exploration, published in 2013 by the National Geographic Society.

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: Pioneers Will Always Pave the Way With Sacrifice

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Crashes During Test Flight In Mojave Desert
Sandy Huffaker—Getty Images 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.

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

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.

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