Aldrin Creates Buzz Opposing NASA Moon Plan

 
 
By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2009-06-29
 
 
 

Count former astronaut Buzz Aldrin among those who think NASA is off target with its current plans to reach the moon by 2020. Aldrin, the second human to walk on the moon's surface during the historic 1969 Apollo 11 mission, calls the new race to the moon a "glorified rehash of what we did 40 years ago."

Instead of targeting the moon, Aldrin outlines an ambitious manned spaceflight plan for NASA that uses the moon as little more than a staging area for a 2025 manned landing on the Martian moon Phobos. What exploration takes place on the moon, Aldrin has urged, should be jobbed out to an international consortium.

Writing in the August edition of Popular Mechanics, Aldrin said, "As I approach my 80th birthday, I'm in no mood to keep my mouth shut any longer when I see NASA heading down the wrong road, and that's exactly what I see today." Aldrin further wrote of NASA's lunar plans, "The agency's current Vision for Space Exploration will waste decades and hundreds of billion dollars ... Instead of a stepping-stone to Mars, NASA's current lunar plan is a detour."

Aldrin plans to lay out his vision for NASA's manned missions before President Obama's Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans, a special blue-ribbon panel ordered by Obama May 10. NASA has spent almost $7 billion on the plan to return to the moon by 2020 to establish a lunar outpost for future manned space explorations.

One of the most controversial parts of the return to the moon involves shutting down the space shuttle fleet by the end of 2010 and relying on Russian transport to the International Space Station while the United States readies its next rockets to power the moon expedition.

Aldrin emphatically disagrees with NASA about scuttling the shuttle.

"NASA's looming short-term dilemma is the five-year gap between the shuttle's scheduled retirement next year and the debut of the Ares I rocket and the Orion spacecraft in 2015," Aldrin wrote. "During that hiatus, we'll be writing checks to the Russians to let our astronauts hitch rides on Soyuz rockets to the ISS, in which we've invested $100 billion. I find that simply unacceptable."

Instead, Aldrin argued, NASA should stretch out the remaining shuttle flights to 2015 while stepping up subsidies to commercial spaceflight companies such as SpaceX to shuttle astronauts and cargo to the ISS. As for the moon itself, Aldrin recommended an international consortium to test the commercial possibilities on the moon.

As Aldrin put it, NASA should, "Scrap our go-it-alone lunar program and let international partners-China, Europe, Russia, India, Japan-do the lion's share of the planning, technical development and funding." Under Aldrin's plan, NASA would participate in the international lunar program by providing technological leadership.

"By renouncing our goal of being the first to the moon (again), we would call off Space Race II with the Chinese and encourage them to channel their ambitious lunar efforts into the consortium," Aldrin wrote. "We should also invite China to join the space station partnership. Its Shenzhou spacecraft would help transport cargo and U.S. astronauts to the station."

NASA, meanwhile, would spend its efforts on developing new spacecraft capable of duration flights to deep points in space and, in particular, Mars, using comets, asteroids and Phobos as stepping-stones. Aldrin suggested that by 2018 NASA could mount a one-year flight to reach the comet 46P/Wirtanen. That would be followed by a flight in 2019 or 2020 to the asteroid 2001 GP2.

"In 2021 we could try a manned approach to 99942 Apophis, the asteroid that will just miss the earth in 2029 and has a tiny chance of hitting us in 2036," Aldrin wrote. "If a 2036 impact looms, we could use this mission to divert the 820-foot wide rock."

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