ALAMEDA -- Forty-five years may have passed since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made that "one giant leap for mankind" and became the first men to walk on the moon. But Aldrin believes recalling that day in July 1969 should launch a renewed commitment to space exploration and not just a celebration of an historic achievement.

The goal should be manned missions to Mars, the 84-year-old Aldrin said.

"Our purpose is not just to go there and look around," he said. "Our purpose should be to establish an ongoing presence of human beings from the planet Earth."

Aldrin admitted it will mean a significant investment for the United States to lead an international effort to send crewed missions to the Red Planet, and he called for additional funding for NASA.

Apollo 11 astronaut and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin speaks during the "Splashdown 45" event aboard the USS Hornet in Alameda, Calif., on
Apollo 11 astronaut and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin speaks during the "Splashdown 45" event aboard the USS Hornet in Alameda, Calif., on Saturday, July 26, 2014. July 26th marks the 45th anniversary of Aldrin and fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong's splashdown after the first moon landing on July 20, 1969. After Armstrong, Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon on July 21, 1969. The USS Hornet was the recovery ship, picking up the Apollo 11 capsule when it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 26, 1969. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

The agency's budget this year is $17.5 billion, which critics have noted is $50 million less than what it received in 2012.

"You have got to support some reasonable step increase," Aldrin said Saturday when he visited the USS Hornet in Alameda for "Splashdown 45," an all-day event that celebrated the aircraft carrier's role in recovering the three Apollo 11 astronauts from the Pacific Ocean following their mission.

Now a floating museum, the Hornet's exhibits include the quarantine trailer used by the Apollo 14 astronauts and the Sikorsky Sea King helicopter used to recover the Gemini 4 crew in June 1965, when astronaut Ed White carried out the first spacewalk by an American. Director Ron Howard used the helicopter in his film "Apollo 13."


Advertisement

Along with recovering the Apollo 11 crew, the ship recovered the Apollo 12 astronauts after the second moon landing.

"It's living history," said Jason Mayers, 24, of San Francisco, as he visited the mobile quarantine facility, a converted Airstream trailer in the ship's hangar bay. "When I heard that Aldrin was going to be here, there was no way that I was going to miss it."

Emily Reiman, 30, of Rohnert Park, said she wanted to visit the ship because the scientists behind the Apollo missions fascinate her.

"These are the guys with pencils, pocket protectors and slide rules," Reiman said, "and they put a man on the moon."

There are questions about why a permanent manned outpost was not established on the moon following the successful landings, Aldrin said. But the challenge made by President John F. Kennedy during the early days of the space race with the Soviet Union, Aldrin said, was to land an American on the moon within a decade and return him safely to Earth, nothing else.

"He also did not say anything about opening the hatch, going down the ladder and walking around," Aldrin said.

His helmet visor prevented Aldrin from getting a good view of the Earth during the nearly 22 hours he spent on the moon's dusty surface, carrying out experiments with Armstrong, he said.

"It isn't white when you get there," Aldrin said about the moon. "It's shades of gray. Hey, that sounds like a title of a good book, doesn't it?"

Among those who joined Aldrin aboard the Hornet on Saturday were former U.S. Navy helicopter pilots Larry Duncan and Bruce Johnson, who helped recover the Apollo 11 command module as it bobbed on the Pacific Ocean swells.

Clancy Hatleberg, the Navy swimmer who was the first to greet the astronauts upon their return and who tossed the quarantine suits into the module, was also on hand.

Armstrong, the first man to walk on the lunar surface, died Aug. 25, 2012. Fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who orbited the moon during the mission, is now age 84.

Aldrin said it took many, many people to carry out the historic voyage.

"Three guys stood at the end of a spear that was thrust out into space by hundreds of thousands of people in various walks of life, who participated and who made that possible," he said.

Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654. Follow him at Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.