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Former Astronaut Buzz Aldrin Hopes for Space Cooperation

This year is the 40th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing, and a time to look ahead to future space exploration, says Buzz Aldrin, one of the first two men to step on the moon.

It was a moment that galvanized the world, as the lunar lander Eagle touched down in the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969.

"'Tranquility Base, here. The Eagle has landed."

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans on the moon. Ten more astronauts would follow.

Aldrin says competition between the world's superpowers, the United States and Soviet Union, drove the mission. But with the goal attained, competition was not enough to sustain the program. Six crews would touch down between 1969 and the last lunar landing in 1972. "And I think those stories need to be told over and over again," he said.

The US space agency NASA turned to other missions, including the space shuttle and the International Space Station, a cooperative project of 16 nations, including Russia, Japan and Canada.

Aldrin says the United States now has a president who promised change, and one change the former astronaut wants to see is greater cooperation in space. "We, the United States, could help the international partners that we could bring into the space station - China, India, South Korea, Brazil - have them join there and begin to gradually look at the moon as an international project that the US experience can help the other nations land on the moon, and we'll work with them, but not spend our resources and our big rockets and spacecraft to go to the moon. We've done that," he said.

In 2003, President George W. Bush announced a plan to return humans to the moon by 2020 and use the moon as a base to go to Mars.

NASA is now reevaluating its options. An advisory panel has presented a report to the White House saying the projected program of manned space exploration requires a major infusion of money. Aldrin believes the space program should remain flexible, responding to new priorities and available resources. But he says the United States could keep its attention focused on inter-planetary travel, and reevaluate the goal 10 years from now. "We could reaffirm that, or we could say, well, we've looked at it and I think we want to go and visit the asteroids more and get some minerals from thereā€¦. or if we find minerals that are on the moon with robotic exploration by 2020, or maybe we run out of money again, and we say, well, let's build another space station or let's just have robotics," he said.

Still, Aldrin hopes the United States will put humans on Mars soon after 2030. And he says the nation should consider a stop-over base on the Martian moon Phobos.

The former astronaut believes nations can compete to develop space technology, but then pool their efforts for major missions. He says the stakes are high and require the kind leadership shown by great explorers and other leaders in history. "The historical nature of a world leader that commits a realistic path of about two dozen years to take creatures from the surface of one planet like the earth and begin to have a growing permanent settlement on another planet in the solar system, historically that is in my estimation greater than Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Magellan, Columbus, Kennedy," he said.

Aldrin has chronicled his own life journey in the book Magnificent Desolation, and also written a children's text called Look to the Stars, which is meant to inspire young readers with a vision of humanity's future in space.