Unified Space Vision

Buzz's plan to land humans on Mars by 2035

Buzz Aldrin’s Unified Space Vision (USV) is a blueprint that will maintain U.S. leadership in human spaceflight, avoid a counterproductive space race with China to be second back to the moon, and lead to a permanent American-led human presence on Mars by 2035. Fundamental to this blueprint for the future is a pathway of progressive missions in five-year intervals as portrayed in Buzz’s USV chart.

Below is an excerpt taken from the speech Buzz gave in July 2009 at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Glenn Lecture Series for NASA’s 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing:

“Come travel with me on a journey of the imagination. It begins in Earth’s orbit where America’s space entrepreneurs have opened up the possibility of space tourism for hundreds of ordinary folks.

We travel to Earth’s orbit aboard a new, reusable spacecraft capable of runway landings and a variety of missions. We send Exploration Modules to cycle back and forth between the Earth and the Moon. We fly by comets and intercept asteroids with names like Wirtanen, Hartley 3 and the Earth-threatening Apophis. As we look out from our ship we see the golden tail of an ancient comet, filled with the material from the birth of the galaxy. We sweep the surface of an asteroid, sifting its rocky soil to discover what the building blocks of the Universe were made of.

Step by step—just as Mercury and Gemini made Apollo possible—we move deeper into space to land on Phobos, the inner moon of Mars, all in prelude to a mission to the Red Planet itself!

Such bold missions of exploration will require determination, support and political will—as did our mission to the moon four decades ago. If we have the vision, we can reach these destinations on the pathway to Mars within the next two decades.

And if we persevere on this pathway, we can reach Mars itself before 2035—66 years after Neil Armstrong and I flew the quarter-million miles through the blackness of space to touch down onto Tranquility Base—which was 66 years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight.

But, to realize the dream of humans on Mars we need a unified vision. We need to focus on a pathway to the prize.”

For the past four years through 2009, NASA has been on a path to resume lunar exploration, duplicating, albeit more complicated, what Neil Armstrong Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin did four decades ago. The looming dilemma with NASA’s approach, called the Vision for Space Exploration, is the five-year gap between the shuttle’s scheduled retirement in 2010 and the debut of the Ares I rocket and the new Orion spacecraft in 2015.

“During that hiatus, we’ll be writing checks to the Russians in order to allow our astronauts to hitch rides on Soyuz rockets to the International Space Station, in which we’ve invested $100 billion,” according to Buzz.

Instead, Buzz proposes a new Unified Space Vision (USV)—a plan that will ensure America’s leadership role in space for the 21st Century. It doesn’t require building new rockets from scratch, as NASA’s current plan does, and it makes maximum use of the capabilities we have now.

USV is a reasonable and affordable plan that stretches out the six remaining shuttle flights to 2015—one per year. In combination with the extended shuttle schedule, the plan prescribes using the old, reliable Delta IV Heavy or the Atlas V satellite launchers for the next generation Orion spacecraft, in place of the troubled Ares I rocket, to fill the gap. This would give NASA the kind of continuity and flexibility that marked the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.

The plan renounces America’s goal of being first on the moon (again) in a new Space Race with the Chinese, but rather encourages America to initiate a lunar consortium where international partners—China, Europe, Russia, India, Japan—would do the lion’s share of the planning, technical development and funding for manned missions back to the moon.

In the meantime, America needs to develop new strategies, new launch vehicles and new spacecraft for the years beyond 2015 to bring us to the threshold of Mars, by way of progressive missions to comets, asteroids and Mars’s moon Phobos.

“No giant leaps this time. More like a hop, skip and a jump. For these long-duration missions we need an entirely new spacecraft that I call the Exploration Module, or XM. Unlike the Orion capsule, which is designed for short flights around the Earth and to the moon, the XM would contain the radiation shields, artificial gravity, food-production and recycling facilities necessary for a spaceflight of up to three years,” explains Buzz.

A prototype XM could be based on NASA’s canceled space station Habitation Module. It could be launched as early as 2014 and attached to the space station for a long-duration shakedown test. Extended flights around the moon with second-generation XMs would serve as dry runs for its first real mission in 2018: a one-year flight culminating in a 30,000 mph flyby of the comet 46P/Wirtanen.

In 2019 and 2020, the asteroid 2001 GP2 will come within 10 million miles of Earth, in position for a month-long rendezvous with the XM. In 2021, the mission would be a manned approach to 99942 Apophis, the asteroid that will just miss the Earth in 2029 and has a tiny chance of hitting man’s home in 2036. If a 2036 impact looms, the 2029 mission could be used to divert the 820-foot-wide rock.

The last step toward Mars, around 2025, would be a landing on the planet’s 17-mile-wide moon, Phobos, which orbits less than 4000 miles above Mars. A Phobos base would be the perfect perch from which to monitor and control the robots that will build the infrastructure on the Martian surface, in preparation for the first human visitors.

All of these ideas are part of Buzz Aldrin’s comprehensive step-by-step plan for America’s future in space, for mankind’s permanent footprint on Mars—his Unified Space Vision.