On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to ever set foot on the moon, as part of the Apollo 11 mission. Aldrin celebrated the 46th anniversary of the landing with a pair of Facebook posts earlier today.
In one of those posts, Aldrin writes, “The next giant leap will be #Mars #GYATM.” When that happens, it will be a stunning achievement for sure. But as the last decade has illustrated, getting a person to successfully land and walk on another planet or moon is a secondary focus of space exploration.
Never before have unmanned spacecraft and landers generated so much excitement about extraterrestrial objects spinning around the sun. In the past 15 years, rovers whirring around on the surface of Mars have completely changed the way we look at the red planet. Pluto may no longer be classified as a formal planet, but New Horizons’ flyby of the little world has taught us more about it than more than 84 years of research from Earth. The landing of the Rosetta spacecraft on comet 67P was arguably more thrilling (and definitely more successful) than watching Bruce Willis and company crash-land onto a hunk of ice and rock.
The Apollo 11 moon landing gripped and dazzled the whole world. The only thing that will ever match that awe and wonder will be when humans finally make it to Mars — and elsewhere.