Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023
Buzz Aldrin, to President Obama's left, visited the Oval Office in 2014.

Buzz Aldrin, to President Obama’s left, visited the Oval Office in 2014.


Of all the Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon, none has achieved greater fame than Buzz Aldrin, who followed Neil Armstrong to the lunar surface in 1969. But long before he danced with the stars and inspired Buzz Lightyear, and even before he served as a pilot of the Apollo 11 lunar module, Aldrin was known as an expert in orbital rendezvous.

In recent years, Aldrin has used his space travel expertise and fame to promote a biker concept that he believes would be the best way to visit and eventually inhabit Mars. In his public lectures, however, Aldrin has largely avoided criticizing NASA’s current approach to developing the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft and its two-decade “Journey to Mars.”

That changed at this week’s Humans to Mars conference. In his remarks, Aldrin said NASA needs to change the approach it’s taken since the 1960s, designing and managing the development of its own rockets. He aimed directly at the SLS vehicle, which he reminded listeners was based on 1970s technology and the space shuttle rather than more modern concepts. “It competes with the private sector,” Aldrin said. “I thought most of us were learning that government shouldn’t be doing that.”

Aldrin was referring to SpaceX’s efforts to develop the Falcon Heavy rocket, which has a launch capacity of 54 tons to orbit (the SLS has an initial capacity of 70 tons). Independent estimates suggest that the SLS will cost at least a factor of 10 more per launch than the Falcon Heavy.

During his remarks, Aldrin also suggested that he didn’t think NASA’s Orion spacecraft served much of a purpose for a Mars exploration program. “It’s quite marginal for its use on Mars,” Aldrin said, adding that he considered commercial spacecraft to be better options for transporting astronauts to low Earth orbit and to the Moon as a staging point for Mars missions. “I’m not sure I see where Orion fits there,” he said.

Aldrin, who came to NASA in 1963 as a member of the space agency’s third astronaut class, also reflected on what NASA’s goal should be in the 21st century. Before NASA existed, there was NACA, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics. This government agency was responsible for testing US-developed aircraft and promoting the aviation industry through applied research.

“We were NACA before we were NASA,” Aldrin said. “I think we should slowly return to the NACA consulting model, and maybe a NASA center that competes with the private sector would do much better in the very exciting field of space propulsion and spacecraft, including how we get from one place to another. others are coming.”

Further, Aldrin advised, NASA might be better off focusing on breakthrough technologies, such as how to land on Mars, how to refuel in space and on the surface of the Moon and Mars, how to harvest water ice on those worlds, and how to develop nuclear reactors for use in space.

Aldrin ended his comments on NASA’s current programs by saying, “Someone needs to say some of these things and get them out in the open.”

In doing so, he has become the second high-profile figure from the Apollo era to suggest that NASA might have to stop building rockets after more than five decades.

That leadership had previously been led by Chris Kraft, NASA’s first flight director and a key mission planner during the Apollo lunar flights. Kraft has expressed concern for several years that NASA cannot afford to fly the costly SLS rocket more than once every two years and that a lack of missions will have dangerous consequences for the rocket’s reliability. He has said NASA should hand over rocket manufacturing to private companies such as United Launch Alliance and SpaceX, which have demonstrated their ability to launch safely and at a lower cost. Kraft, in turn, has been criticized by NASA leadership for his views.

In 2010, Congress ordered NASA to build the SLS and has increased funding for the rocket far beyond the space agency’s requests. Senators have said they pushed for this funding because they believe it is essential that NASA retains the ability to design and build rockets because private industry cannot do it completely alone. Now, however, it appears that a growing number of Apollo veterans have seen enough of the private industry to suggest that it’s time for NASA to move forward with new technology development programs.

By akfire1

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