Buzz Aldrin: Stephen Hawking Said We Should 'Colonize the Moon' Before Mars

Buzz Aldrin has said Stephen Hawking believed that before going to Mars, humans should "colonize the moon first."

Aldrin was speaking at the Starmus festival in Zurich, Switzerland—an event that celebrates space exploration, astronomy, music and art. The festival has been held since 2014 and before his death, Hawking was a member of the advisory board.

At this year's event, Aldrin, 89, was presented with the Stephen Hawking Medal for Lifetime Achievement. According to the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph, the former NASA astronaut told the audience: "There was a time when I was in his office in Cambridge and at that time I had been anxious that we should make a continuous orbit between Earth and Mars, and he started tapping out letters with his cheek, the way he did.

"And it was rather time consuming, and I waited for this really long time. And eventually he said, in that computerised voice of his, 'colonize the Moon first' and since that time I realised there are so many things we need to do before we send people to Mars and the Moon is absolutely the best place to do that.

"And hopefully we can do it with international partners so they can help to pay the bills."

Aldrin is now one of only four surviving people who have walked on the moon. However this will change over the next decade. Earlier this year, NASA announced its plan to send people back to the lunar surface—including the first woman to ever set foot on the moon. The European Space Agency has also expressed an interest in developing a base on the moon and is looking at options for 3D-printing a building where humans could live.

At the end of 2018, the Moscow Times also reported that Russia wants to establish a "moon colony" by 2040, with Roscosmos' first manned mission expected between 2025 and 2034.

After NASA announced its forthcoming moon mission, Aldrin said it was "high time we returned." Writing for the Washington Post, Aldrin said having the moon as a base for space exploration was an important step in the bigger picture for America and mankind in general: getting to Mars.

Buzz Aldrin starmus
Buzz Aldrin speaking at Starmus Festival. Valeriano Di Domenico/Getty Images for Kaspersky

"The United States' eyes—and our unified commitment—should focus on opening the door, in our time, to the great migration of humankind to Mars," he wrote.

"It is time we get down to blueprints, architecture and implementation, and to take that next step—a sustainable international return to the moon, directly charting a pathway to Mars.

"The Trump administration and today's Congress, inspired by an American public impatient for space leadership, could start this engine. The next step would build on our early lunar landings and establish permanent settlements on the moon. In the meantime, preparations for permanent migration to the red planet can be made."

Aldrin's latest comments come ahead of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, on July 20, 1969. The last time a human visited the moon was December 1972, when Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt completed three walks with the Apollo 17 mission.