Martian Flight of Fancy? Astronaut and Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin Gives the State of Plans to Populate Mars. He Tells How He Believes Occupying That Planet Could Be Done and Should Be Done
Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration, by Buzz Aldrin with Leonard David, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2013, 258 pages, hardcover.
by James D. Heiser, M.Div., S.T.M.
For two generations, the Apollo Moon missions have been a touchstone for technological achievement, giving birth to a host of aphorisms beginning with the words, IT we can send a man to the Moon ... ," and ending with a point of comparison that is something far less ambitious than the earthshaking accomplishment of July 20, 1969, when two Americans became the first human beings to walk on another world. But for one of those men who once trod the lunar regolith a proposed goal would set America's sights even higher: If we can send a man to the Moon, why not send a mission to Mars?"
For Dr. Edwin ("Buzz") Aldrin, the historic Apollo 11 flight that brought him and Neil Armstrong to the Moon was not the end of the journey; instead, the Moon was only a first step. In a recent book that he coauthored with Leonard David entitled Mission to Mars: My Vision Pr Space Exploration, Aldrin sets forth his vision for man's .and the United States' future in space.
While Aldrin is setting forth his plan for a mission to Mars, the former Apollo astronaut makes it clear that what is not needed is another government-funded space race to the Moon: "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." It is not that Aldrin does not see an ongoing role for government in space exploration, but he views that role as more analogous to that of the Lewis and Clark expedition or the various exploratory missions conducted by the U.S. Navy throughout the 19th century: Government-funded explorers were usually followed by Ovate individuals and businesses eager for new land and resources.
When it comes to the moon, Aldrin is adamantly opposed to a new government-funded "space race" because it detracts from the basic work of exploration: "Consequently, great care must be taken that precious dollar resources needed for the great leap to Mars are not sidetracked to the moon." It is not that Aldrin is opposed to a return to the Moon; it's that he envisions that return to be the work of private interests, with government concerned with matters of infrastructure:
America should chart a course of being the national leader of this international activity to develop the moon, but not by spending money placing U.S. government people on its surface. There's no need to spend our money on landers and other things that we've done before. Our focus should be limited to robots on the lunar surface that are dutifully employed to do scientific, commercial, and other private-sector work. We need to provide the nonsurface lunar infrastructure and make that available to other governments--China, India, and others--in exchange for an occasional seat on their landers.
America Can Manage
However, as commendable as Aldrin's stand for "private-sector work" on the Moon truly is, his willingness to see American assets utilized by other nations for occasional access to their landers runs contrary to other aspects of his vision. One is left wondering whether his "internationalism" is a sop to those within NASA (and the current presidential administration) who are seemingly incapable of envisioning a future in space that is dominated by American industry and ingenuity. In short, if other elements of his vision come to pass, when the government wants to buy passage to the Moon (or elsewhere), there will be American companies ready to sell them access.
Aldrin's third chapter, "Your Space: Building the Business Case," offers an overview of the opportunities for private industry in space, and it is a chapter that makes it clear that American corporations are usually leading the way in the development of such capacities. …