Buzz Aldrin’s Mission to Mars: A Book Review

Buzz Aldrin’s Mission to Mars: A Book Review

I am reading the new book “Mission to Mars, My Vision for Space Exploration”, by Buzz Aldrin. The book is a very good read, and for those of us who know Buzz, it is pretty much as we expect and have heard from Buzz for years. There is some good information in the book and it is hoped that this will help to stimulate discussion on the subject. Following is my blow by blow review of the book while I read it….

The book opens with Buzz and president Obama on Air Force 1 headed to Florida for Obama’s one major speech on space. If you are a Mars or a Lunar advocate the speech was not satisfying as the focus of the speech was away from the Moon, but not to Mars, rather to an asteroid mission for humans. Those of us who know some of the inner workings understand that this is because there is no budget for any lander, lunar or otherwise.

Buzz does help to perpetuate the common myth and wrong interpretation of the Augustine 2008 commission that the Bush plan for the Vision for Space Exploration which morphed into the Constellation program was underfunded (p94). You have to look no farther than the NASA Concept Exploration and Refinement (CE&R) contracts of 2005 to see the original plans did not require this level of funding. In searching, I find it amazing that you cannot find the CE&R contract reports online easily anymore. However, this AIAA paper goes into some of the issues regarding how architecture choices drive the cost. The Constellation program that came after the departure of Bush’s handpicked leader (Sean O’Keefe), requiring multiple heavy lift vehicles and a Battlestar Galactica style lunar lander that killed the program and this must be repeated every time the Bush “unaffordable” myth is trotted out.

Buzz opens with a call for something that I completely agree with, which is his Aldrin cycler design. The Aldrin cycler is a true spaceship that continuously operates in space, cycling between the Earth and the Moon or the Earth and Mars. While others came up with this as well Buzz has done the heavy lifting to put this concept out over the last 20-30 years. He makes a great quote here… (p37)

Long ago the sound barrier was penetrated and tamed. Now we need to break through the reusability barricade, one that has been perpetuated, in my view, by the greed of government bureaucracy and corporate industry…
The problem is that he is relying on these same people and on positive political forces to set up a sustained vision for Mars colonization by humans. Our politicians today are for the most part incapable of understanding the value of this all important vision that Buzz and the rest of us have in this area.

Where I disagree with him, as he knows, is in his blunt evaluation that the Moon should be some part of an international camping trip where we bring all of the countries of the world together. He uses the Antarctic research sites as his analogs frequently but the fact of the matter is that this internationalism does not work even there. While there is a lot of cooperation, each nation has its own facility. Even on ISS the Japanese consider their Kibo module to be sovereign Japanese territory. What makes me crazy is that Buzz says this… (p89)

…In short, our celestial neighbor in gravitational lock, the moon, can be tapped to help create a sustainable economic, industrial, and science generating expansion into space…

YES!, however Buzz wants to hand it off to the rest of the world? Inconceivable!

Buzz Basics in Technology

Buzz has a laundry list of technologies that are a good start for Mars.

Aerocapture, which is using the atmosphere of planet to slow a spacecraft down.

Radiation protection, we don’t want to fry the humans, which is going to get more difficult with the coming extremely low solar activity over the next decades.

Life support, self evident yep and trying it out on ISS makes perfect sense…

Redundant Systems, absolutely, as well as advanced diagnostics and repair!

Inflatable structures, a good thing to have but possibly distracting

Landing systems, absolutely as gravity sucks and takes a lot of fuel as well as precision navigation for landing as he states.

However, this for Mars this is far more about the mission there than actually staying there. To add to his list.

Energy Systems, the life and death of developing Mars is how much electrical and thermal energy is available.

In Situ Resources, that this keeps getting left off the list is inconceivable!

In Situ Manufacturing, this is what turns a science project into mankind’s second home.

Robotics, mankind’s ultimate force multiplier for off planet civilization.

Buzz goes on to talk about some initial flights to Mars and some interesting information that I did not know, which is that the Martian moon Deimos has ten months a year in sunlight. This helps in the beginning with solar power. Buzz has some interesting graphics related to his plans in the color plates but unfortunately you need a magnifying glass to read them. I found a link on his site to at least one of them though.

Homesteading the Red Planet

I absolutely love the idea that Mars exploration and development by humans be a one way affair. After first hearing about this idea a few years ago I have grown to completely embrace it as a core value myself for Mars. Finally on page 174 Buzz mentions the word ISRU, without which colonizing Mars is a fools errand. In a very interesting observation Buzz recounts that that Bruce Mackenzie’s team at the Mars Foundation has investigated making plastics like ethylene, derived from the atmosphere of Mars along with hydrogen. That is very interesting (p181).

Buzz talks about Bob Zubrin’s Mars Direct architecture (p184) which I very much like as well as the use of in-situ resources starts in the beginning and is a core value, rather than something that comes later. This page is also where I get irked in that Buzz just offhandedly states (from Mars Direct) that;

In the first year of implementation, and Earth return vehicle is launched to Mars, arriving six months later. Upon landing on the surface, a rover is deployed that contains the nuclear reactors necessary to generate rocket fuel for the return trip.

This is another version of “then a miracle occurs” which so irks me so much when the development of Mars is discussed.


As a fellow space architect I really like Buzz’s book. It does not go much farther than other books of the genre but since it is written by one of the surviving 12 Apollo surface astronauts it carries his significant weight behind it. I have always admired Buzz over the years for his single minded dedication to teaching the world of the continuing value of the human exploration and development of space. While he and I disagree on what the initial target should be we share a common goal. I know that this book is written for the general reader and that details are to be left for interactions with stakeholders and politicians. However, I must discuss one final lament about the book.

What is needed now is a practical roadmap to getting to Mars and colonizing it in a sustainable manner. It is quite clear that unless a miracle occurs our current generation of political leadership does not think far enough ahead to understand the macro-societial benefits that Buzz talks about. This is tragic in that in microcosm the development of the Moon or Mars fits within a macrocosm of discussion related to our own terrestrial civilization. The problem of colonizing and building a sustainable Martian civilization has many commonalities with building a sustainable planetary civilization here on the Earth.

The first and most important resource for Mars or the Earth is energy. This is glossed over for Mars (just deploy the reactors!) or misunderstood here on the Earth (green fixations that solar panels and wind turbines can power a planetary civilization of 9 billion people). An in depth discussion of the Energy required to support a prosperous colony of 50, 100, or a thousand people on Mars is desperately required as it will start to bring clarity to Martian development as well as sustainable development here on the Earth. We need a discussion of how a manufacturing infrastructure would be set up on Mars as without it homesteading Mars is impossible. Then an examination in detail of what we know about the resources and how they would be developed. In the end this is why I advocate the Moon in that in my opinion it is the combination of lunar and martian industrialization that are going to be the critical advances that help us to build a sustainable and prosperous planetary civilization here on the Earth.

Buzz I salute you for your book and that it opens the door for a new generation to learn about Mars and why it is important. However, like Moses at Rephidim where Aaron and Hur had to hold up his arms in order for the children of Israel to win a fight, we need to hold his arms up and help to flesh out the vision presented. There have been so many crucial advances in the past five years in the areas of robotics, 3D printing/manufacturing, and computer resources that simply must be integrated into our planning for Mars and the Moon. Time for another book I guess!

Dennis Wingo is an advocate for the discussion of ways and means for the economic development of the solar system, to the benefit of the Earth. He writes the euphonious blog Dennis Wingo.

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