Aldrin arrived in Israel this week to participate in the 66th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Jerusalem, the largest annual event designed for the study and development of the space industry, which is being hosted by the Israel Space Agency.
Referring to the Apollo 11 spaceflight which landed the first humans on the moon, Aldrin said: "I feel very fortunate to come along at this time in human history." He joked that Neil Armstrong was the first person to walk on the moon "because he was standing closer to the door," making the audience laugh out loud.
Aldrin remains very active in promoting initiatives in the area of space discovery and travel. These days he is promoting a "master plan" for NASA consideration for astronauts with a "tour of duty of 10 years," to colonize Mars before the year 2039 - 70 years after man first walked in space.
While in Jerusalem, he also helped launch a new initiative together with the Israel Space Agency, the Israeli Ministry of Science and the Heinlein Foundation, which would promote interest in space education amongst Israeli youth. The Foundation presented three original space suits that will be displayed in Israeli schools.
At the start of the press conference, Aldrin received Dead Sea scrolls from the director-general of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space, Ido Sharir.
Aldrin, 85, is considered a colorful figure in the world of space exploration. Over the years, he has appeared as himself on many television shows and movies, including "The Big Bang Theory," "30 Rock," "Dancing With the Stars," "The Simpsons" and "Futurama." Toy Story's Buzz Lightyear character is named after Aldrin.
Over 2,000 people from 58 nations gathered for the 66th Annual International Astronautical Congress this week. The choice of Jerusalem is generally regarded as a testament to the growing role that Israel has come to play in space initiatives.
The IAC features a five-day program with some 2,600 academic papers presented. Among the attendees are the heads of all the major space agencies, including NASA Administrator Charles Bolden who was to announce a new working agreement with the Israel Space Agency. Speaking with reporters, Bolden focused on the recent New Horizons mission that reached Pluto in recent months and returned remarkable images, grabbing the the world's attention.
Minister of Science, Technology and Space Ofir Akunis said in his opening remarks: "This gathering is a remarkable salute to the advancement of science and the space industry here in Israel. This conference in Jerusalem at this time is the ultimate proof that no violence or terror will defeat us. The best response that we can offer today is through this demonstration through thousands of guests filling the halls of this conference and the streets of Jerusalem."
President Reuven Rivlin said: “When I look up to the stars I think of our dear son Ilan Ramon, who died in the Columbia disaster, who was a man who looked to discover the mysteries of science.”
Kiyoshi Higuchi, president of the International Astronautical Federation, stressed a theme of cooperation echoed by many delegates, saying that "international networking is becoming more essential than ever before to build a global infrastructure."