Home' Technology Review : July August 2010 Contents q&a
In April, President Obama flew to Ken-
nedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral,
FL, to reveal details of his new strategy
for NASA and the future of U.S . space-
flight. Sitting next to the president on Air
Force One was Buzz Aldrin, who in July
1969 became the second man to walk on
the moon. The seating arrangement was
appropriate, since both men share a com-
mon goal for the nation’s space program:
reaching Mars by the mid-2030s.
Like Obama, Aldrin opposes the
strategy set by President Bush in 2004 to
return humans to the lunar surface by
2020. The cornerstone of Bush’s plan for
NASA was the Constellation program,
which included building two new
rockets—Ares I to ferry humans into
orbit and Ares V to transport heavy
cargo—and a manned exploration
vehicle called Orion. But the program
fell behind schedule and was over
budget (see “The Future of Human
Spaceflight,” January/February 2010 and
at technologyreview.com). In January,
Obama released a new budget proposal
that increased NASA’s budget by
$6 billion over the next five years but
terminated the Constellation program.
Technology Review reporter Brittany
Sauser recently asked Aldrin about
his ideas for the future of U.S . human
TR: Why not go back to the moon?
Aldrin: We explored the moon 40 years
ago, and now it should be developed by
robots for scientific, commercial, and
security reasons. Basically, I don’t see a
financial return to justify the cost of send-
ing U.S. humans and rockets back to the
moon; it’s a waste of decades and hun-
dreds of billions of dollars.
Apollo astronaut says: forget the moon, let’s colonize Mars.
Photograph by GreGG SeGAL
What should NASA focus on instead?
The objective should be a permanent
presence on Mars by 2035. That’s 66
years after Neil Armstrong and I first
landed on the moon, and our landing was
66 years after the Wright brothers’ first
flight. Mars is clearly the best permanent-
residence location other than earth, and
we can go there in case somebody or
something blows up earth. We will have
a place that ensures the survival of the
human race. That means humans who go
there commit to staying—one-way tickets
will be technically easier and less expen-
sive and get us there sooner.
But that will take years. What should
NASA’s transition strategy be?
Ares 1 and Ares V should be canceled,
and in their place we [should] build
an evolutionary shuttle-replacement
launch system that could be called
something like Ares III [and would
transport both people and heavy cargo].
Orion should continue to be developed
as an emergency vehicle for the space
station, as the president stated. Mean-
while, I also very strongly suggest that
instead of retiring the shuttles [in late
2010] and buying rides with the rus-
sians for five, six, or seven years to get to
our $100 billion space station, a highly
undesirable situation, we stretch out
the flights of the five remaining shuttle
orbiters to 2015.
The president’s plan also relies heavily on
the commercial space industry to provide
crew and cargo transportation to the space
station. Do you think that’s a good idea?
Yes, I do. Commercial vehicles will also
help fill the gap, so we can develop new
launch vehicles and spacecraft for land-
ing on runways for the years beyond 2015
to bring us to the threshold of Mars.
How will we get to Mars by 2035?
We build the ultimate transportation
system: a cycling spaceship called the
Aldrin Cycler, which I first unveiled in
1985. It cycles between earth and Mars.
Spacecraft can hook up to it, and we
could use it to fly by a comet as early as
2018. Then, in 2020, we could travel to
a near-earth object. We would need to
build in-flight refueling and communica-
tion relays before and during this time,
with more visits to asteroids.
In 2025, we land unmanned on
Phobos [a moon of Mars] with some
elements of habitation. We land people
there in 2027 for a year and a half; in
2029 for a year and a half; and in 2031,
we land three people who will not come
back. In 2031, six people coming from
earth will join the three at Phobos and
then continue on to become the first
people to land on Mars by 2033 or 2035.
But a consensus on Mars as the goal
destination has not been reached. Have
you spoken with other influential Apollo
astronauts who oppose the termination of
I have long been open to discussions
with other astronauts, especially the 24
astronauts, 18 of whom are still alive,
who reached the moon. But that exclu-
sive group does not have any coherent
organization. I am forming a nebulous
but much-needed concept for an orga-
nization that I call the Unified Strate-
gic Space enterprise. It would consist
of highly respected people who would
assist in the development of the national
It seems like we’ve been arguing about
the future of the U.S . space program for
We really have only been debating the
human spaceflight portions of explora-
tion; where do we send U.S . humans?
But there are robotics, the space station,
technology developments like in-flight
refueling, and all sorts of other things to
July10 Q&A 26
6/9/10 3:13:54 PM
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