Friday, July 10, 2009
Buzz Aldrin: We need to forget about the Moon and go to Mars.
As the second man to ever walk on the moon (he stepped out of the lunar module about 15 minutes after Neil Armstrong), Buzz Aldrin knows a little something about space exploration, about bold ambitions and great risks. Now, Aldrin is speaking out about NASA, and declaring loudly that the space agency has lost its boldness.
The next step in humanity’s exploration of space must be a bootprint on Mars, he says.
Says Aldrin: “As I approach my 80th birthday, I’m in no mood to keep my mouth shut any longer when I see NASA heading down the wrong path. And that’s exactly what I see today. The agency’s current Vision for Space Exploration will waste decades and hundreds of billions of dollars trying to reach the moon by 2020—a glorified rehash of what we did 40 years ago. Instead of a steppingstone to Mars, NASA’s current lunar plan is a detour” [Popular Mechanics].
Aldrin says that while the moon is interesting scientifically, it’s not promising for commercial activities. Mars, on the other hand, holds much more potential for a human colony, Aldrin says. “It’s much more terrestrial. It has a thin atmosphere and a day/night cycle that is very similar to ours. It has seasons. Russia perhaps is still entertaining the possibility that the moons of Mars might have access to ice or water” [The New York Times], says Aldrin.
His comments come at a significant time, as the Obama administration recently ordered a review of NASA’s human spaceflight program. Aldrin hopes that the review committee will listen to him and other NASA critics and scrap the Ares rockets currently under development, which are expected to bring the next generation of astronauts into space. It would be cheaper, Aldrin says, to adapt existing satellite-launching rockets to carry a crew capsule, which would allow NASA to spend its time, money, and energy on establishing a Martian outpost.
Taking a lesson from the ups and downs of NASA funding over the years, Aldrin says “we shouldn’t be dependent on a program that can be cancelled once we’ve gone and returned. We need to start something that has a self-sustaining nature. Six people can’t get that done. But 40, 50 or 60 can. You need to build a thriving, self-sustaining settlement that doesn’t need extensive re-supply from Earth” [The Wall Street Journal]. Aldrin says we ought to send the first settlers to Mars by 2035, which would be 66 years after the first steps were taken on the moon.
Aldrin Permanent Space Station
By SABRA CHARTRAND
Published: February 15, 1993
EDWIN E. (BUZZ) ALDRIN JR., who walked on the moon as an
astronaut in 1969, last week received a patent for a permanent space
station he designed alone in his home office. Mr. Aldrin, who went to
the moon with Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11 mission, wants his
space station to be the core of a "complete family of spacecraft that
The United States has issued more than five million patents since
1790, but space stations joined the ranks only in 1964. About two
dozen such patents have been issued, most for stations that must be
launched in pieces and assembled in space or that are small enough to
be carried aloft inside the space shuttle.
Mr. Aldrin's design, though large enough for a crew of 8 to 10
astronauts, can be launched in one piece and then unfolded in space.
But he said it would rely on "a larger launch vehicle like the Saturn 5
rocket," which the United States no longer uses. He hopes for
eventual cooperation with the Russian space program, which still has
a powerful rocket capable of putting a heavy payload into space.
A Tube Shape
Mr. Aldrin's space station is shaped like a tube with cylindrical crosssections
that house pressurized modules of living quarters and
laboratories; the modular construction means it can be expanded in
size. The interconnected modules are surrounded by struts and
trusswork in a "cube octahedron," having eight sides, to protect them
from things like collisions with docking spacecraft.
The design also calls for fixed solar panels.
"It's a lot tighter, and there's less movement" than in space stations
with solar panels that rotate, he said. He contends that rotating
panels cause too much vibration. "Whenever panels move, it disturbs
the micro-gravity, and that interferes with scientific experiments and
His plan is quite different from the linear architecture of the space
station Freedom, which the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration plans to start launching, in pieces, in 1996. Freedom
also uses rotating solar panels and is configured so that shuttles can
dock with it directly.
Mr. Aldrin's space station has 14 berthing zones for small transfer
spacecraft that would travel between it and larger craft like a shuttle.
Mr. Aldrin also envisions other smaller, unmanned stations devoted
to zero-gravity experiments deployed around his space station. He
acknowledges that manufacture of his space station is probably a long
way off, but he says he may market his design as a toy. He received
I had a splendid career at NASA as an astronaut in the Gemini and Apollo programs. The capstone, of course, was my moonwalk on the Sea of Tranquility 40 years ago. I have only two regrets from my NASA days, and both were my own fault: I failed to speak out when I saw bad decisions being made. The first came in 1966, when NASA, in a fit of excessive caution, canceled the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit (AMU), the Buck Rogers–style jet backpack I was scheduled to try out on Gemini 12. Despite difficulties with the AMU on Gemini 9, I was very confident I could make it work. But like a good astronaut, I kept my mouth shut, and I’ve regretted it ever since. As it turned out, it took 18 years for NASA to develop another jet pack, the Manned Maneuvering Unit, used on three space shuttle missions in 1984.
My second bout of wishy-washiness, however, had more far-reaching implications. In the early ’70s I was part of a NASA committee to establish the basic architecture of the space shuttle. One of the approaches we considered was a manned booster that would have its own pilot and glide back to the Cape after giving the orbiter its initial push. It was a silly idea—way too expensive. But I didn’t object strongly enough, and we wasted a year and millions of dollars on it.
That delay and expense eventually forced a hurried decision. Instead of the customary liquid-fuel boosters like the Atlas, Titan and Saturn, which had flawless track records on Mercury, Gemini and Apollo flights, the shuttle committee decided to go with cheaper solid-fuel boosters, which had never been used for manned spaceflight. Solid-fuel rockets are lower in performance and can’t be shut off once ignited—and when something goes wrong, it tends to be catastrophic. Fifteen years after that decision, a solid-booster failure brought down Challenger, and the unhappy legacy of solid boosters lives on today in the underpowered, vibration-prone Ares I, the crew-launch rocket NASA is developing.
As I approach my 80th birthday, I’m in no mood to keep my mouth shut any longer when I see NASA heading down the wrong path. And that’s exactly what I see today. The agency’s current Vision for Space Exploration will waste decades and hundreds of billions of dollars trying to reach the moon by 2020—a glorified rehash of what we did 40 years ago. Instead of a steppingstone to Mars, NASA’s current lunar plan is a detour. It will derail our Mars effort, siphoning off money and engineering talent for the next two decades. If we aspire to a long-term human presence on Mars—and I believe that should be our overarching goal for the foreseeable future—we must drastically change our focus.
Here’s my plan, which I call the Unified Space Vision. 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.
NASA’s looming short-term dilemma is the five-year gap between the shuttle’s scheduled retirement next year and the debut of the Ares I rocket and the new Orion spacecraft, in 2015. During that hiatus, we’ll be writing checks to the Russians to let our astronauts hitch rides on Soyuz rockets to the International Space Station, in which we’ve invested $100 billion. I find that simply unacceptable.
READ THE REST AT http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/air_space/4322647.html
Forty summers ago, the world was transfixed by the sight of you walking on the moon. Have we made any progress since the Apollo 11 flight?
Not a whole lot. We shifted our attention to low-earth orbit.
Meaning the shuttle program, which is about to end?
We’ve been concentrating on the shuttle, the space station and laying the groundwork for returning to the moon. The disturbing part is that, all this time, Russia has been concentrating on Phobos, a moon of Mars, and a number of us have recently realized just how significant that would be as a stepping stone to Mars.
Do you think Mars has more to offer than the moon?
Yes, much more. It’s much more terrestrial. It has a thin atmosphere and a day/night cycle that is very similar to ours. It has seasons. Russia perhaps is still entertaining the possibility that the moons of Mars might have access to ice or water.
Are you saying the moon has become passé?
It is not promising for commercial activities. It’s got science, it may have strategic values but I don’t believe it’s a requirement for Americans to be present to take advantage of the resources. Their viability can be determined by robots.
Are the days of American pre-eminence in space over?
Is it true that Buzz Lightyear, the cartoon astronaut, was named after you?
Apparently, but there’s no evidence in my bank account to substantiate that.
Do you know Charles Bolden, the former astronaut who has been nominated by President Obama to head NASA?
I know him quite well. I was a little puzzled when I realized that his major champion is Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who flew with him.
Right, Nelson was a congressman when he flew on the shuttle. But isn’t that a good thing, making it easier for Bolden to muster Congressional support for NASA? Why were you puzzled?
I’m in favor of changing the destination of humans. There are a lot of manned missions that can be done, but not in the direction of the moon. I am not sure about Bill Nelson. I haven’t heard him say, “Let’s junk the NASA plan to send humans to the moon.” He’s not about to say that. That would not be very popular.
You were the second person to walk on the moon, after Neil Armstrong. Was it annoying to go second?
No. At that time I wasn’t looking for more laurels.
You gave yourself communion on the surface of the moon. Are you still a churchgoer?
No. My Sunday mornings are spent in a recovery meeting in Pacific Palisades.
In your new memoir, “Magnificent Desolation,” which comes out this week, you recount a period of ruinous drinking and clinical depression following your time in space.
I inherited depression from my mother’s side of the family. Her father committed suicide. She committed suicide the year before I went to the moon.
Was your mother’s maiden name really Marion Moon?
Yes. I didn’t feel NASA needed to know that. Somebody would think I was trying to get favored treatment because my ancestors had the name Moon. And that’s a joke.
Do you find it odd that we’re observing the 40th anniversary of both the moonwalk and Woodstock?
I don’t think I’m going to journey to Woodstock.
What sort of music do you like?
I just did a rap session with Snoop Dogg and a rap composition called “Rocket Experience.” It’s going to be an online video. The Web site is funnyordie.com.
Do you actually sing on the video?
I relate. It’s not singing, it’s rapping.
How old are you now?
On July 20, the anniversary of landing on the moon, I will be precisely 79 and a half. It’s nice to be on this side of troubled waters.
INTERVIEW HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED.
Forty years ago next month, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. Now Mr. Aldrin, 79, has authored a memoir, "Magnificent Desolation."
Buzz Aldrin's moon walk July 20, 1969.
.The book begins with that historic walk ("a virginal experience"), segues to Mr. Aldrin's battle with alcoholism that followed ("Beverly pleaded with me to stop drinking"), and then explores the possibilities of a meaningful second act in life (as a space exploration advocate, "I was sixty-nine years of age, but I felt more energized than ever").
The Apollo 11's lunar landing on July 20, 1969 transformed both Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Aldrin into national heroes. Mr. Aldrin's walk on the Sea of Tranquility followed Mr. Armstrong's by about 20 minutes. But Mr. Aldrin also paints a somewhat withering self-portrait of an intelligent man with a substantial ego who grappled, sometimes unsuccessfully, with career and life disappointments.
This is Mr. Aldrin's second memoir, which he wrote with Ken Abraham. His first, "Return to Earth" (1973), discussed in part his decision in late 1971 to seek psychiatric help for depression. Mr. Aldrin was interviewed by telephone.
WSJ: What prompted you to write this book?
Buzz Aldrin: The first book, "Return to Earth," told the story of the challenges I faced. But it was incomplete. I'm quite a bit different today. In that book I dealt with recovery from depression. But then I found I had a more extensive problem [alcoholism], and that recovery, which took years, was very challenging.
The Aldrin Collection
.WSJ: You say that people often took advantage of your fame. Were you ever able to turn that fame to your advantage?
Mr. Aldrin: Probably not as much as others have. I was essentially non-functional from ages 45 to 55. I lost out on a good number of opportunities.
WSJ: If you were in charge of setting the nation's space agenda, what would it be and how would you accomplish it?
Mr. Aldrin: I wouldn't want to be in that position of having to explain everything all the time to Congress, and being beholden to the wishes of corporate America. But if I could be an advisor, I would say that we need to develop a lifting body, a spacecraft that, as it returns to the atmosphere, has lift and can maneuver and then can line up on a runaway. That's the way we've been doing it since the Wright brothers. I'm in favor of a flying spacecraft, and it's not in our future right now.
WSJ: Do we need a settlement on Mars?
Mr. Aldrin: Yes, we shouldn't be dependent on a program that can be cancelled once we've gone and returned. We need to start something that has a self-sustaining nature. Six people can't get that done. But 40, 50 or 60 can. You need to build a thriving, self-sustaining settlement that doesn't need extensive re-supply from Earth.
WSJ: Do astronauts today have a chance for true exploration?
Mr. Aldrin: I hope they will. I hope they'll have a different long-term objective than going to the moon a couple of times, retiring and playing golf. We ought to have settler astronauts who can touch down on Mars by 2029 or 2031, or certainly by 2035, which will be 66 years after we landed on the moon.
.WSJ: Does the recession put an end to your dream of space tourism?
Mr. Aldrin: No. We need something to inspire hope in people. This country is lagging in engineering, science and math. We need to inspire teachers and students to get into productive areas, not just thinking about making money. That's the evil that got us into this situation. We're in deep trouble because of greedy people who used the system only to promote themselves.
WSJ: Have we lost our willingness to take risks?
Mr. Aldrin: You bet. It's all about, what's in it for me? But this is an opportunity for us to rid ourselves of that. Instead of debt, let's have inspiration and achievement.
WSJ: Why do people sometimes believe that science and religious faith are incompatible?
Mr. Aldrin: I don't know. One of the best guides of philosophy is Einstein's essays in which he talks about religions of fear that evolve into religions of morals and ethics. Then he discusses a higher level of cosmic awareness of the universe, and the possibility of dealing with other living creatures in an increasingly mature way. Unfortunately, we aren't very mature, for selfish, greedy reasons.
Write to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at email@example.com