Interviewer: Dr. Aldrin, you have written and spoken eloquently about the importance of establishing “human permanence” on Mars, including deployment of a series of “cyclers” that would transport humans to and from Mars over time. Can you elaborate on why humans should go to Mars, why they should stay there rather than just visiting, and how the cycler system might work?
Dr. Aldrin: Certainly. There is growing interest in a manned mission to Mars – one that is transformative, and begins mankind on a path toward eventual permanence on the planet. There are scientific reasons to undertake the journey, but another big reason may be mankind’s curiosity. America also has a legacy of leadership in space exploration. I am a believer that America has a rendezvous with destiny, and part of that is reaching outward.
As for doing an out-and-back, there are arguments against that. We raise our return on investment by staying. Manned exploration of Mars must be more than leaving footprints on the Martian soil, and planting the American flag.
Such expeditionary missions are also extraordinarily expensive. Just to provide one illustration, each time we send a crew of six people to Mars using NASA’s so-called Minimum Mars approach, we need seven launches of the massive SLS launch vehicle. Each time we send a mission to Mars, we will need a new set of in-space habitation modules, each costing billions of dollars. Such a program cries out for cancellation after the first mission or two. Flags and footprints is all we would get.
Contrast that with my Cycling Pathways approach, which only requires a single launch of an SLS, or perhaps two launches of an existing launch vehicle, like the Atlas, Falcon, or Delta to send a crew of six to Mars. Moreover, since the cyclers orbit continuously between Earth and Mars, it would be many decades before we needed to replace the cycling spacecraft.
If the quest to settle Mars is intergenerational, we should accept the role of pioneers. The idea of a cycling means of transportation is relatively simple. It could be tested in transits to and from the moon. It essentially turns on placing a series of spacecraft in cycling orbits between the Earth and Mars. This will allow periodic return trips to and from either location at shorter intervals. While a first mission to Mars will be challenging, the return on investment for all mankind promises to be great: in science, wonder and achievement. That is one reason we should set benchmarks and move forward. We must ask ourselves, if not now, when?
Interviewer: How would this mission compare with your path-breaking and perilous first mission to the Moon in July 1969? When Apollo 11 reached lunar distance, and you and Neil Armstrong headed for the Moon’s surface, with Mike Collins in the orbiting Command module, you must have felt quite removed from Earth. Could you explore similarities and differences for a moment?
Dr. Aldrin: Well, the two missions are very different in important ways, with Mars lying almost 45 million miles from Earth, and the Moon just a quarter of a million miles from home. Mars raises obvious technical and human challenges, such as staying fit for an extended time in space, but the rewards will be enormous. Like Apollo 11, the first trip to the surface of Mars will be unprecedented and daunting. Extended time on the surface would also be perilous. But this effort, like ours to the Moon in 1969, would capture the public imagination as nothing to date … and for good reason.
For Americans and all mankind, the mission would trigger new appreciation for space exploration. It would bring a revolution in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. A cascade of innovations would follow. They would be valuable in space, and on Mars, as well as on Earth. The eventual presence of mankind on Mars will be an intergenerational quest. But all great journeys begin by taking the first – and then second – steps. If the Apollo Moon missions were America’s first steps into space, Mars must be our second.
Interviewer: So, as you see it, how do we get there – to the point where we are placing human footsteps on the surface of Mars, and thinking about permanence?
Dr. Aldrin: Needed at the front end of this grand and inspiring undertaking is detailed, practical thinking, and a national commitment. We must, as a nation, put our minds, hearts and resources into a truly ambitious space exploration agenda for the 21st Century. That agenda begins with the commitment to get to Mars. A drive to Mars also has the potential for uniting all mankind, the nations of this fragile planet, in a unifying quest. It would allow the future to be defined more by unity of purpose, than the default to human hostilities. On major undertakings in space, there is room for human cooperation and shared accomplishment.
The Apollo missions gave us a template for finding common ground in space. The development of joint missions with Apollo-Soyuz, followed by the International Space Station, has helped mankind understand the importance of preserving our species, and the value of cooperation in adverse settings. From robotics to satellite placement, science of the Earth to understanding the Universe, American leadership and international cooperation in space have been a positive.
The way we get there, in practical terms, is to unify as Americans around a commitment to make the next big step. That commitment may begin with the president and Congress, but must reflect an American desire to embrace risk again – for the goodness of the quest.
Interviewer: You have founded the path-breaking educational organization called the Aldrin Space Institute. Can you help our readers, many of whom lived through your spectacular Moonwalk in 1969, understand some of what the Aldrin Space Institute is accomplishing?
Dr. Aldrin: Yes. The Buzz Aldrin Space Institute at the Florida Institute of Technology is the realization of a dream that dates back to my doctoral work in astronautical engineering at MIT, and extended through the Apollo Moon landings into recent writings. Our goal is to spur wider understanding of space exploration, from the Moon to Mars and beyond, but also to trigger a deeper understanding of the STEM disciplines, and encourage long-term thinking, plans and experiments – the combination of theory and practice that will eventually assist mankind in establishing permanence at Mars.
From there, future generations will have to follow the research, progressive achievements, and human curiosity where they lead. But I firmly believe that those of us who have lived in this day, been privileged to be alive at this time in human history, and especially those of us who were able to participate in some of these events, must assure that progress is not lost. We must rekindle enthusiasm, risk taking, planning and achievement in space for the future.
America’s destiny is both at home on Earth and in the stars. We all owe a debt to those who have brought us to this point. We carry a burden. My hope is that, with inspiration, greater unity and a sense of high calling, we will unite in the years ahead to press human space exploration to its next logical step – Mars.
Interviewer: Dr. Aldrin, you are a source of enormous inspiration, insight, and guidance for those of us who recall your historic walk on the Moon, and also for those who never saw it, but will learn of it in the future and draw enthusiasm for space exploration and risk-taking from your extraordinary missions. I cannot thank you enough for being a strong supporter of STEM education, of American leadership in space, and of all that we aspire to as a People.
The entire leadership of AMAC thanks you for taking time for this interview, and for also being a voice for the future. Our rendezvous with destiny, as you have called it, rests squarely on the heroic efforts of yourself and those who were part of the Apollo program, and all that came before it. Thank you, and stay strong. You inspire us all.