Buzz Aldrin – Space Daily, November 3, 2003.
The year 2003 marked three significant events in the annals of aviation and aerospace. In America, there was a year-long “First Flight Centennial Celebration” that would culminate in the re-enactment of the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight on the Outer Banks at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17. In stark contrast, the Columbia Shuttle accident claimed the lives of all seven crew members on February 1, leaving NASA no choice but to ground the remaining three Shuttle Orbiters pending investigation. It would be 2 ½ years before the program’s return to flight. On October 15, China launched its first “taikonaut” into Earth orbit, joining the United States and Russia in the elite club of human space-faring nations.
Having served two weeks as NBC’s exclusive news commentator on the Columbia tragedy, Buzz recognized that America’s spaceflight program was in crisis and that it did not have a clear direction or focus for human space exploration. While many goals had been proposed – exploring Mars, returning to the moon, developing solar power from space, establishing space settlements, and mining asteroids – none won a majority of support from Congress or policy makers.
Taking the onus off of Mars and the moon, Buzz advocated a potentially unifying goal for America that would serve as a gateway to all future human space exploration via a new outpost in space: the “L1 Gateport.” It would be a human-tended station and spaceport just over 2/3 the way from the Earth to the moon (about 200,000 miles) in a region of space known as the Earth-Moon Lagrangian point “L1.” It would have a central hub with two cylindrical modules on either side attached by cable that would spin and create an artificial gravity environment.
At L1, the Gateport would maintain a stable orbit – being held by the relative gravitational pulls of the Earth and the moon – and require relatively little fuel. From the L1 Gateport manned spacecraft could fly directly to the surface of the Earth’s moon, the moons of Mars, and to asteroids for mining purposes or to deflect them from impacting the Earth.
Buzz envisioned a cost-effective “monolithic approach” to constructing the L1 Gateport in only two or three launches utilizing a heavy lift transport launch system, such as the Aquila launch vehicle designed by Buzz and his Starcraft Boosters team of engineers. NASA launched America’s first space station Skylab in the 1970’s with the same approach using the heavy lift Saturn V rocket in just a few launches – while the International Space Station has been constructed with the “modular approach,” requiring dozens of launches and still only approaching its completion target date in 2010, seven years since its inception.
The expected cost for the L1 Gateport? Preliminary cost estimates suggested a $10 billion to $15 billion range – significantly less than the ISS total cost estimated from $35 billion up to $100 billion. Additionally, the opportunity exists to share costs internationally, for instance, by cooperating, rather than competing, with China’s rising space effort in developing the L1 Gateport.
The L1 Gateport could be the first step to moving NASA and America’s human space program beyond low Earth orbit and onward to Mars and beyond. It could be humanity’s gateway to the solar system.