Buzz Aldrin on Getting Back to the Moon, Elon Musk and March Madness

Buzz Aldrin's Plan to Get Us to Mars
Buzz Aldrin wants man to walk on the moon again, and after that, Mars. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Buzz Aldrin is a man who has never given up on people. Even when, for a few decades, they seemed to give up on space. Man hasn’t touched the moon since 1972, meaning generations of Americans were never alive for a moon walk. Aldrin was the second person to actually walk on the moon, and he’s never stopped pushing people to try one more step: to Mars. Aldrin has a plan to get us there, but you better be ready, because missions start in 2018.

“We really need to remind the people and the politicians what we really accomplished back then, and how we inspired future generations, because we think it’s really time for us to put our objective here on the U.S. to landing people on the moon,” Aldrin tells Newsweek. A moonshot wouldn’t be about reliving past glories, however. It would be a step in getting us to Mars.

“It’s what I think is a reasonable, outstanding plan beginning in 2018 and ending with humans landing on Mars by 2040,” Aldrin says.

In a year where presidential campaigns have barely mentioned NASA at all this all may seem like a pipedream, but Aldrin recently presented his plan to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and says he’ll work with whoever gets nominated to put his “Cycling Pathways to Occupy Mars” plan into action.

“We need to help other nations with their lunar programs, and at the same time we’ll learn how to assemble missions there, for Mars, and then my cycling spaceships can deliver people,” Aldrin says.

His “cycling spaceships” are based on the idea that you could put a large ship in orbit around the sun and meet both Mars and Earth at regular intervals, to deliver supplies and people. The cycling ships would reuse life-support systems, cutting down on the cost. “And it lets us occupy Mars, not just visit, but rotating people there, just like the space station,” Aldrin says.

Although some of his fellow astronauts have been critical of Elon Musk and SpaceX, Aldrin seems impressed with Musk’s vision of partially privatized space travel, saying he’s met with him “many times.” “He certainly has great expectation and he’s done rather well with reducing the cost of space launch,” says Aldrin. He also speaks encouragingly about Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance, but he’s really excited about the rockets Ariane 6 (from the European Space Agency), Russia’s massive Angara rocket and the Long March rockets from the Chinese.

The key, Aldrin says, is helping other countries get to the moon, while having the U.S. specialize in “humans and landers” and bringing everyone together for a Mars mission.  

Manned missions haven’t been in vogue lately, at NASA or any other space agency, where they’re seen as dangerous and expensive. Aldrin says robots aren’t good enough. “We may be the only people who send robots because the rest of the people are going to want to do what we did before for the inspiration of their people... Do we just back out of this high technology that we started? That hardly seems the way of a great nation or an exceptional nation.”

Aldrin is doing interviews for the Allstate March Mayhem challenge, where he’s going head-to-head against Dick Vitale, so we also talked a little basketball. Aldrin says he normally attends a few game but this year, “I’m waiting for invitations.”

Aldrin’s alma mater, West Point, where he was a pole vaulter, isn’t in the tournament, which means he can pick a team to root for. He hasn’t made any decisions but says while he used to root for the underdog, lately “I decided to root for the team that’s ahead and has the best chance of winning. I want to be a winner just like everyone else does.”