It hit the news, and social media over the last few days – the story about Buzz Aldrin’s plans for a mars mission (not for him obviously, even though I bet he’d like to, he’s that kind of guy, but it’ll happen by 2040 in his vision) the new association is with the Florida Institute of Technology, and Buzz is relocating there (OMG take sandbags!)
While it’s great that there’s a lot of chatter about Mars finally filtering through to the mainstream media, let’s try to take a slightly more critical look at this – this is a new association with F.I.T, not a new idea – but what the heck, let’s start talking about it!
I’m guessing the mainstream interest is mostly because of the ‘Martian’ movie featuring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott. The Martian is a great book, and inspiring to people thinking about Mars missions; it contains many themes that are current, and unresolved.
So, what’s this brand new plan all about? Well, the first thing is that it’s not so new, in a way it’s actually a few years old – that’s fine, it probably didn’t get mainstream attention in 2013, but the original details are here. It’s good stuff, from one of the most credible space advocates alive. In the document (produced in association with Perdue Univeristy, Indiana) Aldrin slams NASA’s goals, lack of funding, and also lack of cooperation with China. This is an interesting theme, expect to hear more about this, and indeed in The Martian (spoiler alert!) cooperation with China is a crucial element. He also advocates shelving NASA’s SLS system – it’s flagship program – but does endorse the Orion as the primary crew vehicle.
In addition to Orion development, Aldrin’s plan envisions a NASA-crafted manned Mars Exploration Vehicle (MEV). MEVs ultimately would be placed on orbits that regularly cycle between Earth and Mars, allowing for relatively routine round-trip transportation to the Red Planet.
Companion modules, called exploration modules (XMs), would accompany both Orion and the MEV on most of their missions. XMs would provide much of the living and storage space necessitated by long-duration spaceflight. This would all involve the cancellation of NASA’s plans for manned missions to asteroids, but it would mean a return to the moon. In the past Buzz had said that going back to the moon was unimaginative, but there is a growing argument for the fact that outposts from Earth could be more easily tested on the moon as a stage in the Mars process.
Let’s hope we hear more about this plan; possibly an advocate with the profile of Buzz can actually change opinion sufficiently, but don’t forget that significant figures such as Robert Zubrin (The Mars Society) have been at it for years already. And, before we leave that topic Mars fans, don’t forget there’s only a couple more days to save the Mars Society’s GreenHab through their crowdfunding campaign because when you go to mars, you’re gonna need that!