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Buzz Aldrin On Our Future In Space

June 25, 2009
Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin

Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin, who really did have his name legally changed to “Buzz,” wrote an article for Popular Mechanics recently that criticizes the current path our national manned space program is going and offers an alternative.

Aldrin doesn’t like the solid boosters. Neither do a lot of other folks. He’s a proponent of the Delta IV Heavy or the Atlas V as a possible launch vehicle for the Orion spacecraft. He also proposes that the commercial launch vehicles like the SpaceX Falcon 9, using the in-development Dragon manned vehicle, could take up a lot of the slack.

As far as going to Mars, he’s for smaller steps, using a modified version of the canceled ISS Habitation Module that he calls the Exploration Module. He proposes doing an asteroid mission first, then using Phobos as a base for Mars landing missions. It’s pretty much the opposite of Zubrin’s Mars Direct, except for using robot spacecraft to help prepare the way.

Aldrin proposed his own flyback booster concept about ten years ago, the StarBooster. He has an MIT doctorate – he literally wrote the book on in-orbit rendezvous procedures – and has been active in a lot of pro-space exploration groups. I think he’s worth listening to.

SpaceX Falcon 9 on the pad

SpaceX Falcon 9 on the pad

The problem is, of course, that we’re about five years into this thing. The Ares solid/liquid booster is going to be test flown in a few months. The Orion capsule, while it’s been growing in weight as it develops, is pretty much finalized, at least to Block I. I don’t know how hard it would be to man-rate a Delta IV Heavy. It didn’t seem like a bad idea a couple of years ago. Why didn’t it get more consideration.

Jerry Pournelle would argue that it’s too simple and wouldn’t keep all the federal employees working, and NASA has become a federal jobs program, not a space program. He could very well be right. SpaceX seems to be running things with far fewer people because they can’t afford more. When we were going to the moon – at least in the early days of Mercury and Gemini – if we needed another guy at another desk, we added it.

Granted, we can monitor things more easily by far using today’s c omputers and instruments than we could in 1966. Still, the Ares are still supposed to be using the Pad 39 launch systems. Do we need something so extensive, including a crawler, for the Stick? The Russians have been loading out their Soyuz launchers for fifty years using a railroad car and a crane. Maybe we could learn something from their example.

Soyuz on the cradle

Soyuz on the cradle

I don’t know if Ares is the way to go, if Delta or Atlas would be better, or if the DirectLaunch guys, using hardware leveraged even more from the Shuttle program, is the right answer. I hope the Augustine Commission can make some sense of this and the Obama Administration can get on with it. Something tells me that’s not going to be the case, though.

What I don’t want to see us do is waffle. Every time we stall to rethink this stuff, we spend more money with no result. I’d love to see a booster that takes 100 people to set up and launch, not 10,000. That by itself will drop the price of launches enough that maybe we can get some hardware up there, and maybe a few more people, too!

DirectLaunch with Aries

DirectLaunch with Ares

And yes, Buzz Aldrin recently did a rap tune. I didn’t link it because you shouldn’t have to listen to it. Great thinker, American hero…not a rapper. Really. Dude, what were you thinking?

By the way, remember that the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon is less than a month away.

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