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Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Buzz Aldrin's New Mission: Life On Mars

The Apollo 11 astronaut makes the case for a permanent settlement on the Red Planet.

Buzz Aldrin, living legend, was one of the very first humans to ever walk on the moon. These days, Aldrin has fashioned himself as an elder statesman for space exploration, and has set his sights even higher: Mars.

In recent years, space travel has returned to the spotlight thanks to private sector players like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, and Aldrin is pushing for an audacious (and difficult) goal: the colonization of Mars by astronauts who would never return to Earth. Aldrin likens the idea to the Pilgrims migrating from Europe to present-day Massachusetts and argues it should be the whole world, not just the United States, working on the project.

Over the past few months, Aldrin has been conducting a bit of a publicity blitz on behalf of the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11, which has included everything from moon landing-themed sneakers to a high-end commemorative Apollo 11 watch from Omega to appearances and interviews with media outlets stressing the importance of the Martian colonization project. A spry 84 years old, Aldrin is also moving on from a very public divorce.

Just a few months ago, Aldrin wrote for Fast Company about innovation and cooperation, and we had a chance to catch up with him again at a Vanity Fair and Omega party in Los Angeles. During the conversation, Aldrin stressed the importance of cooperation by the United States, Russia, and China in their space programs. The next morning, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine; by what appears to be missile fire by Russian-separatist forces. Humanity might want to travel beyond the Earth, but many political obstacles remain.

"I think that any historical migration of human beings to establish a permanent presence on another planet requires cooperation from the world together," Aldrin told Fast Company. "That can’t be done by America competing with China… Just getting our people back up there is really expensive! We don’t compete but we can do other things close by with robots, which have improved tremendously over the past 45 years (since Apollo 11). You and I haven’t improved all that much, but robots have. We can work together with other nations in design, construction, and making habitats on both the near side and far side of Mars. Then when we eventually have designs, we’ll have the capacity to actually build them."

During the conversation, Aldrin also referred to his Kennedy-era work with MIT in orbital rendezvous and mentioned something important: how visualizing on scraps of paper benefits his work. He calls himself a conceptual type who "really gets a lot done on the back of envelopes and napkins, and on graph paper," adding that, "I have to somehow put ideas on a piece of paper, and drawing something is one of the best ways to understand it."

Alongside the partnerships with Omega and General Electric, Aldrin is also working with NASA on the #Apollo45 initiative, and is bringing celebrity-filled videos raising awareness of Apollo 11’s achievements and the space program in general to YouTube. Participants so far include J.J. Abrams, Stephen Colbert, Sir Richard Branson, Jared Leto, and Tom Hanks.

[Image courtesy of NASA]

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