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As Moon Landing Anniversary Approaches, Astronaut Looks Forward - 2004-07-09


Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon, followed minutes later by fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin. That happened 35 years ago this month. Mr. Aldrin now lives in Los Angeles, where he recalled the landing with VOA's Mike O'Sullivan, and spoke about the future of space exploration.

Buzz Aldrin was the pilot of the lander Eagle as it touched down on the moon July 20th, 1969. Roughly 500 million people watched from earth on television.

ALDRIN: "Forward, 30 feet down, two-and-a-half. Picking up some dust. Big shadow, four forward, drifting to the right a little."

MISSION CONTROL: "30 Seconds."

ALDRIN: "Contact light. OK, engines stop."

MISSION CONTROL: "We copy you down, Eagle."

NEIL ARMSTRONG: "Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

The spacecraft landed safely to the cheers of engineers at Houston Mission Control.

A few hours later, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface.

NEIL ARMSTRONG: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Looking back on that day, Buzz Aldrin says reaching the moon was the high point of the space program. Later lunar missions would offer other astronauts the chance to visit the moon.

"And there were 24 human beings that were able to reach the moon," he notes. "Eighteen of us are still alive now. And of those 24, 12 of us were fortunate enough to walk on the moon, and nine of us are still alive."

He says all, like him, had their spirits buoyed by President Bush's announcement in January that humans will return to the moon over the next two decades and use it as a base to travel to Mars. The former astronaut describes the steps he hopes to see in the future.

"Returning to flight, completing the international space station, sending robots out to the moon, retiring the orbiter [space shuttle] so that we then can concentrate our efforts on developing, testing and then flying the crew exploration vehicle," he says. "I'm sure that as we approach 2020, we'll be establishing a support habitat near the moon that can support the lunar landings, which should take place before 2020."

Then, he says, it's on to the other parts of the solar system.

He says by 2035, there should be humans on Mars.

"As we set our sights to Mars, I think we have to realize that we should commit ourselves to a growing permanence on Mars," he adds. "Establish a settlement and continue to rotate people, but right from the beginning, realize that this is not one or two expeditions to Mars and then we'll kind of close up shop and then say, well, we've done that. The enormous expense and effort involved in defining, testing, developing, and then going to Mars is so immense that it shouldn't result in just result in a few human visits."

The race for space in the 1960s was spurred by the successes of the former Soviet Union, which sent the first man into space, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, in April, 1961. The following month, President John F. Kennedy proposed an ambitious timetable for the United States.

Kennedy: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before the decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth."

The U.S. space agency NASA achieved that goal just six months before the end of the decade.

Astronaut Aldrin hopes that future presidents will maintain a commitment to space, and thinks the public will support it if the cost is spread out over the generations. He says it must be affordable.

"And it has to be sustained through the vagaries of politics as to who is in office at one particular time and what are the confrontations of the moment. This is an enduring journey," says Mr. Aldrin.

He recalls he and his partner Neil Armstrong took an important step in that journey 35 years ago this month.

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