I believe we can be well on our way to Mars by July 20, 2019 -- which just happens to be the 50th anniversary of my Apollo 11 flight to the moon. The plan I've designed, called a unified space vision, contains ideas for the development of a deep-space craft that I call the Exploration Module, and development of a true heavy lift space booster evolved from the existing space shuttle.
Many in Congress and elsewhere have expressed their concern that under the Obama plan, NASA will no longer be in the human spaceflight business, having turned over space transportation services to commercial firms. Under my plan, commercial carriers would fly our astronauts and cargo up to the space station, but NASA would stay in the human spaceflight business by designing and building the Exploration Module, or XM.
The prototype of this craft, which would operate only in space, could be built using excess modules and parts left over from constructing the station itself. Brought up as cargo aboard the space shuttle -- which I also propose we keep flying for several additional missions and not retire it as NASA is planning to do -- the XM would be docked to the station and outfitted by astronauts.
Once a rocket engine is attached to the prototype XM, we could take it out for a spin, cycling between the station and the moon. The XM wouldn't land on the moon but conduct a flyby, like the Apollo 13 mission did back in 1970.
I also propose using, say, three or four additional shuttle flights to bring up more equipment for the XM. At the same time, I also call for not abandoning the technology we've derived over the past 30 years of shuttle operations -- the first shuttle, named Enterprise, rolled out in 1976! -- but evolve the shuttle into an unmanned heavy lift booster.
That big rocket would greatly expand the shuttle's cargo capabilities but would still use the same facilities as today's shuttles do -- and, equally important, keep much of the current workforce working. Why should we abandon something before a replacement ship is available? Sure doesn't make much sense to me.
By building a deep-space craft, NASA can use much of their engineering know-how and put a form to Charlie Bolden's Mars mission dream. It allows the commercial folks their unfettered access to the station, as President Obama proposes. And it recommits America to leadership in space by aiming at Mars, using parts and equipment already paid for by the taxpayers.
My only question is: What are we waiting for?
Buzz Aldrin was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 11, and he and Neil Armstrong were the first two men to set foot on the moon. Aldrin is author of several book including, most recently, "Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home From the Moon" as well as two children's books, "Reaching for the Moon" and "Look to the Stars." Learn more at www.buzzaldrin.com.
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