- - Sunday, November 23, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Forty-five years ago last summer, Neil Armstrong and I walked on the moon. Our Apollo 11 lander touched down in the moon’s “Sea of Tranquility,” and three days later we were home. We splashed down and came safely aboard the USS Hornet. In that moment, America fulfilled a promise — to herself and to the World. Together, we resolved to lead in space, convey men to the moon and come home safely. As Americans, one nation, we resolved to do it, and we did it. The time has come to find that kind of resolve again. As a nation, now is the time to see in the stars a longer term destiny, to make new commitments, and to lead in space — as we have done before.

Nothing reminds us of our potential like an anniversary. We have one upon us. Four months after Neil and I walked on the moon, America did it again. Apollo 12 carried astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean to the moon’s surface. These two men walked in the “Ocean of Storms.” Now, at the 45th anniversary of that seminal Apollo 12 landing, America should examine our goals in space — and recommit to the ones that make the most sense.

Sustaining our advantage in low earth orbit (including support for the International Space Station), while promoting international cooperation at all points between earth and the moon make sense as goals. Still, there is more to life than sustainment. America must look higher in the sky, deeper into space and into ourselves. America sent seven crews to the moon; 12 Americans walked safely on the moon’s surface. Now it is time to assess who we are, and make a new promise to ourselves, the world and the future — going to, and staying on, Mars.

As the Apollo 12 anniversary passes by, the time is right for President Obama, our commander in chief, to look beyond the present and into the future. His legacy — and ours — depends on new commitments. When better to make a real, ambitious and meaningful commitment to the future, with both leadership and cooperation, than now? If not this anniversary, then the next one. The 45th anniversary of Apollo 13’s extraordinary story arrives next April.

A renewed American commitment to leadership in space could place American feet on Mars within a matter of years, while strong American cooperation in space with other nations, including China, India and even Russia, could help all parties see a common future, gain perspective beyond present conflicts, and map a common presence on the moon.

History does not make itself. It is made by actions and inaction. Americans will either set the course in space again and make history or simply watch while others do so. This appeal is to the president and to all leaders to see that we are at an inflection point in human and American history, once again. We can look up and gather strength from vision and commitment to worthy goals beyond ourselves and beyond the here and now, or we can sink back into what Theodore Roosevelt once called the “gray twilight” of never trying.

On many themes and issues, President Theodore Roosevelt, as well as Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and those who followed might not have agreed. But on American leadership they would all have concurred. Nowhere is that more urgent and rewarding, necessary and timely, than in space. So, as these anniversaries arrive, let us not only think about them and reflect on who we were in that time, but let us draw inspiration from them and launch ourselves on a new day in space.

Let us look to establishing a permanent American presence, proud and daring humans who call themselves both Americans and interplanetary citizens, on the surface of Mars. Let us start converting today’s dreams — just as walking on the moon once was a dream — into reality. No one can do that more decisively, effectively and with a greater legacy than President Obama. For myself, I am ready to help him — and to help America — make this new dream a reality, with all the associated work and risk, commitment and resolve this will require.

Buzz Aldrin, one of the first two human beings to walk on the moon, was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 11.


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