- The Washington Times - Monday, July 20, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

What I remember most about my visit to the moon 40 years ago today is a place of magnificent desolation. A barren, stark and lifeless landscape, it hardly seemed to beckon Neil Armstrong and me as we walked its dusty surface on humanity’s first mission to another world.

I remember thinking that any future settlers there would face daunting challenges, almost more than any one nation alone could sustain. Our visit, though, was a product of a Cold War challenge made eight years earlier. Nearly a half-century ago this month, President Kennedy came before Congress to make our lunar mission a reality by proposing a moon race as a national goal for America’s space program. My Apollo 11 flight began a brief but successful exploration of the moon’s surface, accomplishing Mr. Kennedy’s pledge within the timetable he had set forth before the world. A promise made, a promise kept. We won the moon race with the Soviet Union.

But today, America is on yet another race to the moon, this time to build a base on its surface and basically duplicate, with more cost and complexity, what we achieved during the days of our Apollo missions. Once again, our space program is focused on the moon — and once again, we will find that in addition to its desolation, it’s a dead end. The original plan of the new space effort, named the Vision for Space Exploration, was to use the moon only as a technology test bed to develop the tools and capabilities to sustain Americans as we prepared to journey to Mars. Yet in the focus on the moon first, we have forgotten the space program’s ultimate destination.

In this year of remembrance and reflection on my Apollo 11 mission, it is time we regained our focus — and global space leadership — not by aiming back at the moon again, but by aiming at Mars — for America’s future. And in the process, make the moon available to all mankind.

I propose we avoid another costly moon race by fostering a new international partnership to explore and exploit the moon. Instead of spending billions on moon rockets, landers and other hardware, we should open the development of the moon to China, India and other aspiring space powers.

A lunar-development authority in which America plays partner and collaborator — not picking and choosing participants like some space-borne colonial power — would manage lunar resources and coordinate global exploration programs. America could return to the moon riding aboard the new spacecraft of our international partners. In that way, we could focus on technological development for our Mars explorations. The place for a true homestead for the next generation of Americans — a way to excite the public about space like when I voyaged to the moon in 1969 — is to plan our first permanent colony on another world: Mars. We can get there in steppingstone fashion, starting with the moons orbiting the Red Planet.

If we help with management and robotic research of the moon, our lunar partners can thrive. America can gain global leadership and renewed respect for our ideas by helping to advance the space goals of China, India, Brazil, Europe, Japan, Russia and all who seek to use space to advance their national interests, just as we have done. We can test equipment that the Mars colonists will need, such as new life-support technology and power-generating systems. These may have applications on Earth.

We won’t honor Apollo 11 by repeating its mission. If we really believe in the peaceful exploration of space for humanity, isn’t it time we helped make it a reality?

On the leg of the lunar lander that took me to the moon was attached a small silver plaque. It told the world that we had come there “in peace for all mankind.” Now, four decades later, it is time for America to help make good on that pledge. Let’s make the moon available to the world — and Mars the homestead of the next generation of American explorers.

Col. Buzz Aldrin, U.S. Air Force (retired), was lunar module pilot for Apollo 11, July 16 through 24, 1969, the first manned lunar-landing mission. Col. Aldrin followed Neil Armstrong onto the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.

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