Buzz Aldrin is on a Mission (to Mars), Part 1

by Nancy Atkinson on May 7, 2013

Moonwalker and space visionary, Buzz Aldrin. Credit: National Geographic.

Moonwalker and space visionary, Buzz Aldrin. Credit: National Geographic.

Buzz Aldrin, celebrated Apollo astronaut and an outspoken champion for the pursuit of space exploration has written a new book titled “Mission to Mars.” While the title focuses on Mars, the book covers much more. Aldrin says that while Mars is the destination, getting there is a journey that includes taking advantage of the efforts from commercial space companies, embracing space tourism, working towards planetary defense, developing technology, promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, and working together with international partners. What Aldrin calls his “unified vision” could provide a timeline of crewed missions to Mars is between 2035-2040.

“His point is trying to unify all of this,” said noted journalist and long-time Space.com writer Leonard David in an email to Universe Today. David is a co-author with Aldrin on this new book. “I hope the book is a good platform for moving the space exploration agenda forward.”

“Mission to Mars” is written from Aldrin’s perspective, and Aldrin and David spend little time looking back at the past achievements of Gemini and Apollo, and instead look forward of how the next steps in space exploration should be taken.

Universe Today had the chance to talk with Buzz Aldrin about his book and his plan. Following is part 1 of our interview:

Mission_to_Mars_CoverFINAL
Universe Today: Mr. Aldrin, it is an honor to talk with you – and congratulations on publishing another book. We really enjoyed getting the chance to read it and get your perspective on the future of space exploration.

Buzz Aldrin: Thank you very much. As far as the title, I really wanted to change the title to add an “s” to mission, as after thinking about it, it is the same title as Mike Collins’ book he wrote after we came back from the Moon, and it’s also the title of a not-so-successful movie! In this book, we also talk about much more than just one mission to Mars. We want many missions there, with a future-focused space exploration program.

Find out how to win a copy of Mission to Mars (contest open to US residents only)

Universe Today: Ever since you walked on the Moon, I think that Mars has been the ultimate destination that we’ve all dreamed about, and back in 1969, I think many people thought that by 2013, we certainly would have humans on Mars by this time. What do you think has been the biggest reason or roadblock that we’ve yet to achieve that goal?

Buzz Aldrin: There are probably a number of reasons. With Apollo, once having achieved the goal in a relatively intense parade of achievements, leading up to the crescendo of landing on the Moon six out of seven times, then it all ended. The events in the future are going to require much longer commitments to a pathway and a unified vision of what we should be doing and where we should go in space. I have always felt Mars should be the next destination following our landings on the Moon, but a unified vision is what we need to be able to increase the probability of being successful.

We are in a world that focuses on short term returns, and the politics these days is controlled by the desire to have an extraordinary portion of influence and control over the direction of the space program. That is probably one of the most important reasons for my embarking on a creating a foundation for the evolution of space policy, using what we’ve learned from the past to redirect some of our policies in the future for two things: the expansion of humans outward into the solar system and specifically for the US, global leadership in space as long as possible.

UT: You’ve long proposed the cycling system of having spacecraft almost on a railroad or bus lines of going regularly back and forth to Mars. Can you explain for our readers why this is the most efficient way of getting supplies and people to Mars?

Buzz Aldrin: When a spacecraft departs Earth, the main portion of it is rarely ever re-used. This one spacecraft contributes its one mission, as we did with the Apollo spacecraft. Now, if we can depart a spacecraft from the Earth that can carry some of the mass, in particular the radiation protection and other supplies for a brief 5-6 month trajectory of swinging past Mars, we can reduce costs.

Years ago I devised a method with cycling orbits of spacecraft on continuous trajectories between the Earth and Mars – a spacecraft going to Mars and then returning back to Earth at just the right time, angle and velocity to be able to repeat the process 26 months later when Earth, again, is in a favorable position. By using interplanetary cyclers, I feel, and other space experts agree with me, this is the most economical transportation system concept between the Earth and Mars.

When I first discovered this, it was studied and understood by the 1986 Paine Commission, a group who looked at pioneering space, led by the administrator of NASA who had directed us in our lunar landings, Tom Paine. This was, I think, one of the best and most complete studies ever really done.

Timetable of events proposed by Buzz Aldrin's Unified Space Vision. Via BuzzAldrin.com

Timetable of events proposed by Buzz Aldrin’s Unified Space Vision. Via BuzzAldrin.com

But since this Commission’s reference to cycling spacecraft, NASA officials and space companies have paid little attention to the advantages of cycling orbits — with the exception of the University of Purdue, which works with engineers at JPL and Caltech — and together with my pioneering ideas, we have discovered that if there are two cycling spacecraft, it gives us a bigger advantage and reduction in the fuel needed. In each cycle, the Cycler’s trajectory swings it by the Earth, and a smaller Earth-departing interceptor spacecraft ferries crew and cargo up to dock with the Cycler spacecraft, and likewise at Mars to reach the surface. So we’ve improved the cycling orbit potential. We now need to test the long-duration equipment that will be needed. Ultimately, this Cycler system of transportation offers a way to make travel to Mars sustainable for the long-term.

For the spacecraft, what I’ve done is taken my concept, which is based on some of NASA’s work of an interplanetary vehicle and put of them together side by side for redundancy, and perhaps adding a few other necessary elements, to become the Cycling spaceship. I also propose building a permanent base on the surface of Mars by actually landing on the moon of Mars Phobos, and building it tele-robotically from there, with various objects such as inflatable habitats, to be assembled into a Mars base. These missions should be international in nature.

All of this is very complex and we need to learn how to build up to it. But one of the most attractive ways would be, before finalizing the Mars base, we could execute an international lunar base. This could be based upon US leadership of what could be an international lunar development authority — much like Intelsat was developed for international satellite communications in geosynchronous orbit. We also have the International Space Station to do some of the initial testing of equipment, such as long duration life support systems.

Not only does NASA need this long-duration life support but also the recently announced Inspiration Mars Mission, which would send a married couple in January 2018 on a flyby of Mars. This would do much to stimulate the planning and testing of the progressive development of the interplanetary space capabilities.

Before we execute an international partner mission back to the Moon, we can test that assembly process on the Big Island of Hawaii where people have been working to select a site similar to where we might have a lunar base built and there we could practice building a base tele-robotically. Once on the Moon, we could develop lunar infrastructure, and allow for robotic mining that could be done for commercial development.

We’ll need cooperative activities between the government, NASA, other government agencies and the commercial companies executing their activities designed to evolve into profit-making businesses.

UT: You mention in your book that a space race with China would be counterproductive. Do you think there’s a way to work with them and have it be productive and beneficial beyond space exploration?

Buzz Aldrin: Right now, unfortunately, Congress forbids NASA personnel to even talk with China. The great opportunity of bringing China into the ISS, is that we could still do this during the lifetime of the space station. China is developing its own its space station, but there doesn’t seem to be an openness between our two countries to work on the big picture of space exploration. Everyone is out for their own return. But there could be a wonderful opportunity here for the US to exercise global leadership in space activities.

Tomorrow: Part 2 of our interview with Buzz Aldrin, where he discusses his thoughts on NASA’s asteroid-lassoing plans, space elevators, and future commercial mission.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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