Buzz Aldrin writes with the passion of a man who has traveled to the moon. In this National Geographic book, he sees humans on Mars in the 2030s and boldly advocates continuing exploration of our solar system at a time when America stands at a critical crossroads in its space program. He outlines past triumphs, analyzes recent setbacks, and cheers us on to greater accomplishments, with a message that will ignite a new wave of support and participation across the country for a renewed and ambitious space program. Our journeys into space can once more capture the imagination of new generations of scientists, engineers, astronauts, and the general public.
Buzz Aldrin, best known for his Apollo 11 moonwalk, holds a doctorate degree in astronautics and, at the age of 82, continues to wield influence as an international advocate of space science and planetary exploration. He has written three nonfiction books, two science fact/fiction novels, and two children's books. Co-author Leonard David is a veteran space journalist and winner of the 2010 National Space Club Press Award.
Excerpt from Chapter 2: Time for Decision-Making: Call for a Unified Space Vision
There is angst regarding the future of U.S. space exploration. Given tight budgets, and the vagaries of U.S. congressional support, human destinations beyond low Earth orbit seem more distant than actual mileage. On the international front, America’s space leadership is arguably up for grabs. Russia is reformulating its space schedule, touting interest in establishing its own lunar base. China has already set in motion its human spaceflight program, methodically leading to modular buildup of an independent space station program and robotic lunar exploration, and seems intent on dotting the moon’s surface with footprints of Chinese astronauts.
There was a time when the U.S. trajectory in space flew straight and true, with no question about direction. To reach beyond low Earth orbit requires a progressive suite of missions that are the vital underpinningsa foundationfor a Unified Space Vision. Putting in place and staying on track with a unified approach to space program activities must begin now.
So travel with me on a journey of the imagination.
It starts in Earth orbit, where America’s space entrepreneurs have opened up the opportunity for hundreds of citizens to participate in the growing business of space tourism. Space adventurers are rocketing into space aboard a new, reusable spacecraft capable of runway landings and carrying out a variety of missions.
Meanwhile, early Block 1 exploration modules travel back and forth between Earth and the moon, as well as transit between Earth and Mars.
We fly by comets and intercept Earth-threatening asteroids. As we look out from our ship, we see the wispy tail of an ancient comet, full of dust, rock, and gasa “dirty snowball” left over from the formation of the solar system billions of years ago.
We sweep the surface of an asteroid, sampling its rocky soil to delve into the nature of the early solar system and to study the essential building blocks that led to life here on Earth.
Step by stepjust as Mercury and Gemini made Apollo possiblewe move deeper into space to land on Phobos, the inner moon of Mars, all in prelude to a first human mission to touch down on the red planet itself!
My Unified Space Vision (USV) is a blueprint designed to maintain U.S. leadership in space exploration and human spaceflight. Let me be clear. I think exploration by itself is an incomplete specification of what a future vision should be. In my deliberations with the Augustine Committee in 2009, I outlined a Unified Space Vision, one that brings together five items: exploration, science, development, commerce, and security, with security meaning both defense and planetary defense of our planet from near-Earth objects.
There is great need to steer clear of a counterproductive space race with China in their admitted goal to be second back to the moon. Getting caught up in such a race would derail a far greater objective and destination: An American-led, permanent human presence on Mars by 2035. My USV plan for the future calls for establishing a pathway of progressive missions in roughly two-year intervals. These bold journeys of exploration will require determination, support, and political willas did our mission to the moon over four decades ago. If we have the vision, we can reach these destinations on the pathway to Mars within the next two decades.
And if we persevere on this path, we can reach out some 200 million miles to Mars before 203566 years after Neil Armstrong and I flew the quarter-million miles through the blackness of space to touch down onto Tranquility Base. There’s a historical milestone in the fact that our Apollo 11 landing on the moon took place a mere 66 years after the Wright brothers’ first flight.
But to realize the dream of humans on Mars, we need a unified vision. We need to focus on a pathway while keeping an ever vigil eye on the prize.
Several years ago NASA was put on a technical trajectory to resume lunar exploration, duplicating, albeit in more complicated ways, what the Apollo 11 flight did some four decades ago. The looming dilemma that stemmed from that approach thencalled the Vision for Space Explorationwas a five-year gap between the shuttle program’s slated retirement in 2010 and the debut of the Ares I rocket and the new Orion spacecraft in 2015.
During that gap the United States set in motion the writing of checks to Russia in order to allow our astronauts to hitch rides on Soyuz rockets to the International Space Station, a facility in which we’ve invested $100 billion. That’s quite a deal, with the United States on the short end of the transaction.
My Unified Space Vision is a plan that will ensure America’s leadership role in space for the 21st century. It doesn’t require building new rockets from scratch, as NASA ’s current plan does, and it makes maximum use of the capabilities we have now.
The USV is a reasonable and affordable plan, one that prescribes using the reliable Delta IV heavy-lift launcher to boost the next-generation Orion spacecraft, in place of the troubled Ares I rocket, to fill the gap. This would give NASA the kind of continuity and flexibility that marked the legacy missions of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.
The plan renounces America’s goal of being first on the moon (again) in a new space race with China. Rather, it encourages America to initiate a lunar consortium whereby international partnersprincipally China, Europe, Russia, India, and Japanwill do the lion’s share of the planning, technical development, and funding for human missions back to the moon.
In the meantime America will be developing new strategies, new launch vehicles, and new spacecraft for the years beyond 2015 to bring us to the threshold of Mars, by way of progressive missions to comets, asteroids, and Mars’s moon Phobos.