Buzz is the Man With a Plan for NASA

Buzz Aldrin is approaching 80 years of age, and he’s decided it’s not time to mince words. Not only is he rapping about what he accomplished during his astronaut career, but in today’s online version of Popular Mechanics Buzz wrote an article outlining what he believes NASA’s path and vision should be — for the next few years and into the next few decades. He’s a man with a plan, and he calls it the “Unified Space Vision.” He will present his plan to the Augustine Commission, an independent council appointed by President Obama to review NASA’s human spaceflight objectives.

So just what does Buzz have in mind?

Buzz writes, “It’s 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 presence on Mars by 2035 at the latest. That date happens to be 66 years after Neil Armstrong and I first landed on the moon—just as our landing was 66 years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight.”

Buzz has proposed other plans in the past, but this one is different, so he’s not just singing an old tune. It’s also well thought-out and it has many facets that will appeal to both the Moon lovers, the Mars huggers and the asteroid devotees, as well as those of us that like big rockets and small space planes. Buzz’s plan has something for everyone – those that are practical and those that are dreamers.

Buzz wants to avoid the gap between the shuttle and Constellation, so he suggests stretching out the six remaining shuttle flights – not adding any, but flying just one mission each year until 2015. In the meantime he thinks the troubled Ares rockets should be scrapped and Orion should be fast-tracked by using Delta IV Heavy or the Atlas V satellite launchers, upgraded for human flight.

He also thinks NASA should take advantage of the upstart commercial space companies and upgrade the Commercial Orbital Transporation Services (COTS) program to include more flights and more companies.
Buzz says his medium-term plan is simple. “Scrap our go-it-alone lunar program and let international partners—China, Europe, Russia, India, Japan—do the lion’s share of the planning, technical development and funding.” Buzz wants to call off Space Race II with the Chinese and work together.

NASA's current plan for Constellation.  Credit: NASA
NASA's current plan for Constellation. Credit: NASA

He has some other ideas about the types of space vehicles to use – perhaps a mini shuttle based on the scrapped Crew Return Vehicle that the space station was going to use as a lifeboat, and instead of using an Ares I and Ares V, just use a mid-range “Ares-III,” as medium sized rockets would be an more efficient way to transport crew and cargo to the Moon.

The way to get to Mars, Buzz says, is to use comets, asteroids and Mars’ moon Phobos as incremental points to Mars. “No giant leaps this time,” Buzz writes. “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 be a big honkin’ rocket, and would include radiation shields, artificial gravity and food-production and recycling facilities necessary for a spaceflight of up to three years. Once launched, it would remain in space. The XM would carry attached landers designed for Phobos or Mars and an Orion capsule for astronauts returning to Earth.

An the astronaut explorers on these big ships would be like pilgrims and pioneers of old: Buzz thinks the one-way to Mars idea is the way to go. Those that want to go to Mars should commit to staying there permanently.

Check out Buzz’s complete plan in his article on Popular Mechanics. (It will also be published in the August edition of the print version of Popular Mechanics.) He’s got some ideas that are sure to prompt discussion.

10 Replies to “Buzz is the Man With a Plan for NASA”

  1. Hope this stirs a ‘buzz’ at White House.

    I’m not too keen on the idea of extending the Shuttle and delaying the ISS construction till 2015. Although it might give a few more years to the scores of employees out there, it just doesn’t seem practical. Instead of renting out a Soyuz, they can just start using the Falcon/Dragon option after a year or so. Hopefully by 2011 at least.

    The rest of the ideas are solid and well worth pursuing in my opinion. I always thought an XM type of spacecraft shuttling across the inner solar system was the way to go. That should be developed, constructed (possibly in orbit) and ‘shaken down’ in space by the end of the coming decade.

    One way trip to Mars? Count me in!

  2. Oh no!? This looks like a big “man in space” initiative that will be expensive. The problem is that a most important question needs to be addressed: For what reason do we need astronauts on the moon and even further out to Mars? If a real scientific answer can be argued for then I would be more predisposed to this return to the moon plan. A real argument needs to be advanced and not some vague idea of humanity moving into space and colonies.

    I have been setting up some interesting analysis on something. Cosmic rays have energies up to 10^6TeV, and I figure they must interact with ice moons around Jupiter and Saturn. The tracks of these cosmic ray events might be recorded in the frozen ice. With certain tomographic techniques we might be able to detect these and back out some high energy physics.

    I mention this because this could be accomplished with a probe on Europa or another moon, without humans in the loop. This might involve a rover probe on Europa with instruments capable of this detection. I find the prospect of this more exciting than sending astronauts to the moon in order to hunker down in a lunar base. So far I see little point in lunar base ideas. and less point in sending astronauts to Mars.

    I figured I would ping some funny bones here. 😉

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  3. Regarding Lawrence’s proposal: very interesting. Earlier this year, Japanese researchers used the Antarctic ice to check for chemical traces of supernovae. Gamma rays hit this atmosphere, which cause nitrates, which are preserved in the ice layers. Also, iron-60 found in ocean sediment has been used to track supernovae history. And of course, ice and water can be actively used to search for neutrinos. But remember, humans are always ‘in the loop’ on robotic missions, even if they are on earth.

    As for Buzz’s thoughts, I’m near JPL, so most of my thinking revolves around non-manned missions as well. Some people just keep looking for Apollo, heroic, huge undertaking missions – but that will never return. It keeps raising expectations for NASA and space companies that they can’t possibly meet. Unless we find a NEO heading our way, then we’ll get that Huge Mission.

  4. As I expected, coming from a pioneer of manned space flight, he puts way too much emphasis (for my liking) on further manned activities.

    I like his views on international cooperation. Cooperation every step along the way, imo, is the way to go.

  5. Wow whatever happened to the spirit of exploration? I don’t think science should be the sole factor for going into space. Accompanying it should be pure drive, curiosity etc. (They may as well be the same depending on how you look at it).

    On the other hand, flags-and-footprints missions are not worth all the money being pumped in if they can’t be built upon.

    The concept of carrying out research while being stuck on Earth doesn’t appeal to me. Wouldn’t any of you’ll rather *be* there physically? I’m sure the geologist, physicist, even biologist in any of us would love to tread martian or lunar soil instead of being posted at a terrestrial lab out here.

    Colonization of the moon would also lead to an outpost on the dark side where the radio skies are crystal clear. That’s something I’m rooting for.

  6. That is a great plan! He adapts tactics that fit the different timing stages of his strategy, and keeps it flexible while cutting off (I think) some of the development cost peaks. (Such as Ares.)

    Some caveats:

    – It is a practical and commercial plan only (i.e. manned, in the short perspective). In some respects it could be wise to keep flexibility and lower cost by the partitioning (think of shuttle constraints from satellite launching missions). In some respects a more coherent view besides “settling Mars” could be useful.

    – Solid rockets may be safer than many parts liquids. Even segmented ones, if we start from, or keep, the current fast track perspective. (But the actual record says otherwise I think.)

    – He calls Ares I “underpowered”, which I believe is untrue for its stated purposes.

    – He sacrifices flexibility and long term economy at one point, when he considers “Ares 3”. If Space-X is a healthy competitor, it benefits to look of how they do it (several rockets).

    – He sacrifices practicality and long term economy at one point, when he considers the Habitation Module for XM instead of the alternative Bigelow technology Transhab.

  7. Jake: thanks for that bit of news about the Japanese in Antarctica. It makes me think I am not a complete idiot.

    Listen, I am not against manned space exploration on the face of it. So I am not exactly a Robert Parks (What’s New) of the APS who sees it as a load of rubbish. Yet in part his opinion has strong resonance. In order to send astronauts back to the moon there MUST be a compelling reason for putting them there.

    A manned mission in space is at a minimum 10 times more expensive than a mission by a probe or robot meant to accomplish something similar. You can also do a whole lot more with robots. Our dear rovers on Mars have been plodding around giving tons of data without so much a whimper about the cold or lack of tons of provisions astronausts would require. My idea about putting a craft on an ice moon of a Jovian plaent to in part map cosmic ray tracks would have to be done robotically. I doubt that humans will ever go there. In fact it is almost impossible, the heat from the spacesuit would evaporate the ices and the astronaut would punge down into a cavern of their own creation. A manned martian mission would contaminate the region of exporation making the search for life or evidence of past life filled with data-noise.

    It sounds fine to talk about the spirit of exploration, with trumpets playing patriotic songs in the background 🙂 , but really if that is all there is then this amounts to a very expensive nationalistic show. A serious, credible and scientifically sound reason must be made for returning to the moon. I will also say that if we are to do this the program should be funded by cutting out things like the latest CVS (as I recall the name) super-carrier program and some of the other hugely expensive military programs. Yet, I think the chances of that are doodly squat.

    Besides, in case it has escaped anyone’s attention the United States is running totally in the red, and it is getting worse.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  8. If we as a species are to survive, be it here in our own biosphere, or beyond, we can only do it as a species.
    Get it together people!

  9. What did I say? Must of been that 3rd beer.
    What I meant to say is that, for the sake of survival as a species we better work (and live) together as a global community and pool our resources. We’re not going to fix the health of this planet nor can we even think about distant space exploration if we continue to be divided. I know this is altruistic but, we’re doomed otherwise.
    Think of the programs to better our planet and it’s people and the space exploration programs we could invest in if we had all the resources that the countries of the world are dumping into their war machines (both monetary and intellectual)?
    I know this should be posted somewhere else but….

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