As the lunar module pilot for Apollo 11, Buzz Aldrin remains the most recognized figure in the aerospace industry today and a consistent advocate for human exploration of Mars. He has long pushed for the concept of a “cycler,” a semi-permanent spacecraft orbiting the sun that would regularly carry cargo and crew between Earth and Mars.
But in recent years, Aldrin has begun to embrace the thing that made him famous – the moon – as a crucial waypoint on the road to Mars. This includes collecting lunar ice, believed to be accessible at the poles, for use as a propellant to send astronauts deeper into space.
As we get closer to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, the momentum behind this idea seems to be building. Several Trump administration officials have expressed their preference for moon landings before attempting to send astronauts to Mars, and after six years of advertising the “Journey to Mars,” NASA has also begun to consider a human return to Mars. the moon.
This week, Aldrin made a clear call for a return to the moon as the first step toward sending humans to establish a permanent presence on Mars. He encouraged the new National Space Council to work with the Trump administration to formulate a plan and announce it on July 20, 2019 — the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
To achieve this, Trump should take a closer look at NASA, Aldrin argued. In an opinion piece published in The hillAldrin exclaimed the expensive hardware programs that now eat up NASA’s entire budget for human exploration, including the International Space Station, the Orion spacecraft, and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
“It must be reduced if we are ever to achieve anything new,” Aldrin wrote. “People, companies, NASA itself, don’t like to cut things down. But if we don’t, we’re going to keep spending money to keep the International Space Station running. We’re going to keep the Orion piloted spacecraft, a project that’s too expensive and overdue. And we’re going to fly the Space Launch System once a year for a hefty multi-billion dollar price tag. Again, we’re not going anywhere if we don’t do anything about these matters.”
Talking to Buzz
Ars called Aldrin after reading the op-ed to work out the details of his plan. As always, the 87-year-old astronaut was full of energy and eager to talk about all things space. As the commercial space industry has grown and evolved, Aldrin said he has taken that into account in his ideas. “I’m very impressed with the commercial space station ideas,” Aldrin said, referring to Bigelow Aerospace and Axiom Space.
Aldrin said he’s not advocating the outright cancellation of the SLS and Orion — at least not yet. If the programs become part of NASA’s reconnaissance strategy, they should be notified. They need to perform on schedule, in 2019, and their budgets need to be reduced. And if NASA is serious about deep space exploration, it should consider ending the International Space Station in 2020 to free up $3 to $4 billion in annual funding.
The international partnership behind the station, which includes Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, should grow to include developing countries like China and instead aim to develop lunar bases, Aldrin said. This will start with polar satellites around the moon and lunar rovers to detect ice, then move on to a commercial “cycler” between low Earth orbit and the moon, perhaps two of Bigelow’s B330 modules. In time, robots and humans will build lunar bases to mine this ice, turn it into water and return it to low Earth orbit.
By learning to live and work on the moon and collect fuel for Mars missions, NASA will gain the experience needed to go deeper into the solar system, as well as the rocket fuel needed to dramatically reduce the cost of getting there .
Aldrin said he’s not a fan of NASA’s current plan to develop a “Deep Space Gateway” in lunar orbit because it doesn’t go far enough to promote human exploration to the surface of the moon or Mars. Like some critics of the Deep Space Gateway, such as Robert Zubrin, Aldrin seems concerned that a cislunary station is a dead end rather than a highway to deep space.
You get the sense of Aldrin acknowledging that this may be his last, best chance to influence space policy. With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing looming, there is an opportunity to steer space policy toward more ambitious goals, like those he played a part in long ago. And the Trump administration, Aldrin believes, offers an opportunity to shake things up between the incumbent aerospace companies, with their large cost-plus contracts, and the newer commercial companies.