Forty-five years after his iconic moon landing, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin reunited with the ship that recovered the Apollo 11 crew from the Pacific Ocean when they returned to Earth from their historic space mission.
Aldrin, 84, visited the USS Hornet Museum on Saturday to participate in Splashdown 45, an event celebrating the July 20, 1969 moonwalk when Neil Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon.
The USS Hornet, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, was charged with recovering astronauts Aldrin, Armstrong and Michael Collins after the crew returned from space.
"The Hornet is significant to me," Aldrin said. "I've been there twice before."
Aldrin said he wants to help humans on the next big mission--to land on the planet Mars.
"Now, we're setting a commitment to begin doing that on another planet in the Solar System, and that's the ultimate pioneering adventure for humanity," he said.
On Friday, he was at Facebook headquarters where he posted a selfie from Instagram's anti-gravity room in Menlo Park. During a Q-and-A session there, he said he thinks a mission to Mars could happen by 2040.
Saturday's event gave visitors an opportunity to meet not just Aldrin, but also Bay Area astronaut Yvonne Cagle and other NASA and Navy personnel.
Cagle, 55, of Novato, said she vividly remembers sitting in a tree as a child and staring up at the moon, wondering what it was like to be weightless.
"My father called me inside, pointed to the TV and said 'that's a man walking on the moon,'" she said.
Cagle said the boldness and vision of those first astronauts paved the way for her generation and for future generations.
"These guys got it started, and they've passed the torch to us," she said.
She said she wants to see the next generation of space explorers include citizen astronauts.
"Space is big enough for all of us," she said.
Aldrin, who was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 11, called that first moon landing a "historic time" but added it was a great feeling when the crew safely returned to Earth four days later, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean in the Apollo Command Module, albeit upside down.
"You knew you were home because you could smell the salt air," he said.
Aldrin said the crew was immediately placed in isolation suites when divers reached the floating module. They were then brought to the Hornet, where they entered a quarantine facility constructed from a converted Airstream trailer.
While in quarantine on the Hornet, the men were visited by President Richard Nixon, who was aboard the ship to personally welcome the astronauts back to Earth.
The Hornet, decommissioned in 1970 and now berthed in Alameda, is famous in its own right, having played a major role in the Pacific battles of World War II and serving in the Korean and Vietnam wars and as the recovery ship for the Apollo 11 and 12 space missions.