A Conversation With Buzz Aldrin Regarding His Vision For Space Exploration

A Conversation With Buzz Aldrin Regarding His Vision For Space Exploration

Buzz Aldrin with U.S. flag on the MoonAstronaut Buzz Aldrin has published a new book titled “Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration” (National Geographic Books) which presents a bold plan to restore much-needed and long-overdue American direction and leadership. Of course everyone knows of Buzz as the second human to walk on the moon during the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969 with companions Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins. Fewer are aware of his truly major contributions to making that mission possible as the Gemini 12 mission pilot in 1966.

I have had the good fortune to know Buzz over a period of many years, and have marveled at other of his numerous contributions that are far less well known. One example is his innovative proposal for a “Mars Cycler” transportation trajectory, whereby spacecraft perpetually cycle between Earth and Mars, conserving huge amounts of propellant fuel in the process. We have applied this approach in many of our mission planning concepts at my SICSA center at the University of Houston.

Buzz has also been actively involved with us and others in broad aspects of planning and design of orbital and lunar/planetary space habitats. I have had the occasion to discuss many concepts with him during very late night calls and early breakfast conversations… he obviously requires much less sleep than I am accustomed to. His commitment to space development is uncompromising, and his scope of interests and knowledge are expansive.

Buzz, first of all, you propose in your book that a permanent human settlement on Mars should be prioritized as a destination goal, something that America can and should achieve within two decades. Why Mars?

Larry, Mars represents a new world of opportunity and discovery. Science about the planet has proceeded ever since 1960 telescope-driven talk about life has been augmented by voyages of numbers of automated spacecraft sent there by multiple nations have flown by, orbited, smacked into, radar-examined, rocketed onto, bounced upon, rolled over, shoveled, drilled into, baked, and even laser-blasted it…but has never been stepped on. The first footfalls will mark a historic milestone.

Robotic exploration of Mars has yielded tantalizing clue about what was once a water-soaked planet. Deep beneath its surface may lie trapped frozen water, possibly with traces of still-extant primitive life forms. The best way to study Mars is with two hands, eyes and ears of a geologist, first at a moon orbiting Mars…and then on the surface.

And you don’t just advocate going there…not only leaving footprints and flagpoles. You envision a new generation of true planetary settlers?

Yes, recent and ongoing robotic exploration of Mars is providing a window on a world that can be the home for new generations of colonists. This is far different than Apollo expeditions to the moon. Since great distance between Mars and Earth makes the window within which it is feasible for humans to return is very narrow, it makes sense to transport people there who plan to stay.

We need to begin thinking about building permanence on the Red Planet, not just have voyagers do some experiments, plant a flag and claim success. Having them go there, repeat this, in my view, is dim-witted. Why not stay there?

Who will these volunteers be? They will have to be a pretty adventurous breed!

No doubt about it. One-way Mars travelers will be 21st-century pilgrims, pioneering a new way of life. That will indeed take a special kind of person. Instead of the traditional pilot/scientist/engineer, Martian homesteaders will be selected more for their personalities…flexible, inventive and determined in the face of unpredictability. In short, survivors.

Going to Mars would evolve humankind into a two-planet species. At Mars, we’ve also been given two additional moons, two different choices, from which we can pre-position hardware and establish radiation shielding on the Martian surface to begin sustaining numbers of people…not just one select group of individuals. We cannot stop at a one-shot foray to the surface.

The idea of using Phobos and/or Mars’ other moon, Deimos for staging robotic Mars exploration has appealed to me and several colleagues for many years. It’s a concept we continue to explore.

Mars’ 17 mile-wide moon Phobos which orbits less than 4,000 miles above the planet would will be a perfect perch from which to monitor and control robots that can build infrastructure on the Martian surface in preparation for human visitors.

And what about revisiting the Earth’s moon? You certainly know a lot about that subject. Where should the U.S. fit into that next picture?

Going back to the moon is not visionary in restoring space leadership for America. Like its Apollo predecessor, it will prove to be a dead end littered with broken spacecraft, broken dreams and broken policies. While the lunar surface can be used to develop advanced technologies, it is a poor location for homesteading. It is a lifeless, barren world. Its stark desolation matched by its hostility to all living things. Replaying the glory days of Apollo will not advance the cause of American space leadership or inspire the support and enthusiasm of the public and the next generation of space explorers. I’m not suggesting that America abandon the moon entirely…but only that we forgo it as a destination priority in competition with other countries.

However, working with international partners we can use the moon’s surface as a testbed for tools, equipment and operations that will be needed for our ultimate destination…homesteading Mars by way of its moons Phobos and Deimos.

Buzz, China has announced plans to establish human missions to the moon. What are your views on that?

My “unified space vision” blueprint to maintain U.S. leadership in human spaceflight is to 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. I presented this at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Glen Lecture Series for NASA’s 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Some years ago I proposed the creation of a Lunar Development Corporation (LIDC) to encourage and enable nations of the Earth to join together, pool financial, technical and human resources of its member nations to build the lunar communication, navigation and transportation systems needed for human exploration of the moon. It would be a public/private partnership to make the moon accessible to all humanity. For example, the LIDC will build the communication and navigation satellites needed by future lunar travelers, develop fuel depots using lunar liquid oxygen (LOX) derived from recently-discovered lunar water…and deploy habitats to shelter travelers on the surface.

This sounds like the management and operational concept behind the International Space Station (ISS).

Yes, but it’s also very different. Unlike the ISS, which is governed by complex treaties, the LIDC will have the same flexibility as a non-governmental organization (NGO) in working with different nations and private entities to finance and build the facilities and equipment. America would help…but not exclude or dominate…the new lunar renaissance.

We should join in a consortium with international partners, China, Europe, Russia, India, and Japan, but let them do the lion’s share of necessary planning, technology development and funding for manned missions to the moon. That international moon program, which I envision making a first manned landing around 2025, would eventually have to pay its own way.

We should know after a few landings whether there’s any commercial potential…such as ice to make liquid-oxygen rocket propellant…helium-3 that my fellow moonwalker Jack Schmitt believes can be used to power future fusion reactors…maybe a lunar solar-power station will eventually prove feasible.

Buzz, NASA has recently embraced an asteroid retrieval mission to accomplish several objectives: to demonstrate technology useful for planetary defense, to create a large cache of materials in space that can provide in-situ resources to support space exploration activities and achieve the president’s goal of flying a mission to a near-Earth asteroid as a way of breaking out of geocentric space and demonstrating human deep-space capabilities necessary for subsequent missions to Mars.

One idea calls for sending a robotic mission to a still undetermined asteroid, capture it and return it to lunar orbit. From there, a team of astronauts would be sent to sample the asteroid sometime in the early 2020s, bring it to Earth, and ultimately mine it. Will you comment on this?

Larry, I believe that any asteroid mining plan is merely a distraction. I don’t think that such a mission would excite very many people. It would be a waste of time and money.

As for NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden’s proposal to test its Orion spacecraft which might be used to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s to “prepare efforts to prevent an asteroid from colliding with devastating force into our planet”, the idea seems to be to attach a propulsion system to change the asteroid’s trajectory. A more practical approach to change an asteroid trajectory might be to send a missile with a conventional nuclear warhead to give the asteroid a solid shove by blasting a small portion of its mass off its side. On the other hand, this might accomplish nothing, or worse, present danger of causing even more damage by putting additional ballistic fragments on collision trajectories.

In any case, America needs to develop new strategies, new launch vehicles and new spacecraft to bring us to the threshold of Mars, by way of progressive missions to comets, asteroids, Mars’ moons, and a permanent surface settlement.

We send exploration modules to cycle back and forth between Earth and the Moon…we fly by comets and intercept asteroids in Earth-threatening trajectories…we sweep the surface of an asteroid, sifting its rocky soil to discover what the building blocks of the Universe are 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 the Red Planet itself!

So what’s the first priority?

The first priority, as always, is real vision and leadership at the top.

As I stated at my Smithsonian lecture, it is time we sailed the sea of space once more with bold, expansive vision. To achieve this we need strong leaders, for to sustain a growing and momentous effort in space will require that we reject a defeatist mentality that mires us in second place, reject the loss of jobs that lack of leadership will cause, and that we set our sights higher, that if needed we sail against the wind. Not everyone will understand this need for America to lead the world in space.

I strongly urge that our U.S. president, whomever he or she may be, …on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing…on 2019 should take the occasion to direct the future of human exploration, pioneered by Americans, to state: “I believe that this nation should commit itself, within two decades, to establish permanence on the planet Mars.”

This will require determination, support and political will, just as did our mission to the moon four decades ago. With vision and commitment we can reach these destinations in two decades. If we persist on this pathway, we can reach Mars 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.

My dream is that the next generation will have good reason to feel as we did back when I was privileged to be part of the Apollo program. As my friend and Gemini crewmate Jim Lovell has noted, our Apollo days were a time when we did bold things in space to achieve leadership. It’s time we were bold again in space.

Buzz, your personal demonstrations of boldness and achievement have given my generation much to be proud of. They have also set wonderful examples for generations to come. Thank you.

Read the Original Article at Forbes.com

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