New Delhi: Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 astronaut and one of the first two humans to set foot on the Moon, on Saturday rolled out a red carpet for the Red Planet at a star-studded gala at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Aldrin, 87, established the Apollo 11 Anniversary Gala to commemorate his moon mission, which blasted off at 13:32:00 UTC from Kennedy Space Center 48 years ago on July 16, 1969.
The event at the Apollo-Saturn V Center raised more than $190,000 for Aldrin’s nonprofit space education foundation, ShareSpace Foundation.
Apollo astronauts Walt Cunningham, Michael Collins and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt joined Aldrin at the sold-out fundraiser.
“I like to think of myself as an innovative futurist,” Aldrin told a crowd of nearly 400 people in the Apollo/Saturn V Center. “The programs we have right now are eating up every piece of the budget and it has to be reduced if we’re ever going to get anywhere.”
Aldrin believes people will be able to land on Mars by 2040, a goal that NASA shares. The space agency is developing the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft to send Americans to deep space.
During the gala, the ShareSpace Foundation presented Jeff Bezos with the first Buzz Aldrin Space Innovation Award.
Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com and the spaceflight company Blue Origin, is trying to bring the cost of space travel down by reusing rockets.
“We can have a trillion humans in the solar system. What’s holding us back from making that next step is that space travel is just too darned expensive,” Bezos said. “I’m taking my Amazon lottery winnings and dedicating it to (reusable rockets). I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do that.”
The foundation also honored former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel in space, with the Buzz Aldrin Space Pioneering Award.
“When Buzz says, ‘Get your ass to Mars,’ it’s not just about the physical part of getting to Mars. It’s also about that commitment to doing something big and audacious,” Jemison told The Associated Press. “What we’re doing looking forward is making sure that we use our place at the table.”
The gala is the first part of a three-year campaign leading up to the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing to help fund advancements that will lead to the future habitation of Mars.
ShareSpace Foundation also announed a new nonprofit, the Buzz Aldrin Space Foundation, on Saturday to create an educational path to Mars.
During the past year, the foundation has gifted 100 giant maps of Mars to schools and continues to work with children to advance education in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math, or STEAM.
At the gala, space memorabilia was auctioned, including an autographed first-day insurance cover that flew to the surface of the moon that went for $42,500.