When President Obama rolled out his vision for space exploration at the Kennedy Space Center, Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin was in the audience, nodding with approval. Aldrin, at that time, did not see any purpose for a lunar return.
While other Apollo astronauts, such as Aldrin’s Apollo 11 crewmate Neil Armstrong, denounced the Obama space plan, Aldrin lent his voice to support it. The Moon was passé, Aldrin maintained. Mars should be the ultimate goal for American space exploration. Indeed, President Obama mentioned Aldrin in his speech, in which he said, “Buzz has been there,” to explain why Americans should no longer return to the Moon.
Fast forward six months later. It appears that Aldrin, perhaps examining the full implications of what the Obama space plan entails, has altered his position. According to Fox News:
“President Obama recently green-lighted a brand new mission and a new budget for NASA, including a grand long-term goal: a manned mission to Mars. But Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, says the moon is much more essential to American space efforts.
“In its haste to make new policy, Aldrin and other experts say, Obama is overlooking a critical component of space travel: a permanent, manned base on the moon that would make reaching Mars a much easier task.
“Establishing a lunar base could provide a safe source of water and a site for fuel depots, which would reduce the cost of transporting fuel from Earth for an eventual Mars mission, Aldrin told Fox News.com.
“He said returning to the moon 38 years later should be at the heart of NASA’s plans, and he said he fears domestic politics may be playing with our goals for space.”
Dr. Paul Spudis and other space experts have maintained that deep space exploration would be made far more sustainable if a lunar base could be built to extract the large amounts of water present in deep craters and chemically bonded to lunar regolith and create rocket fuel from it. Aldrin, who hitherto had disdained a return to the Moon, has now come to that conclusion as well.
Aldrin claims that the insertion of a lunar return into future space exploration plans is a “minor course correction.” It is in fact a major change in the timeline of the Obama space plan that includes visits to Earth-approaching asteroids, a Mars orbital mission, and a Mars surface mission, bypassing the Moon altogether.
Aldrin’s new support for a return to the Moon is part of a growing realization of people within and outside NASA that the Obama space exploration plan is essentially unworkable and unsustainable. The question arises, what will the Congress that will be elected next month do about it? Since President Obama is hardly expected to alter his position, since he has so publicly made it, Congress may need to mandate that a lunar return take place first before any other destination is considered. This in turn would provide ammunition for the next President to repair the damage Obama has inflicted on our space effort.
Sources: Why Mars? Buzz Aldrin Wants a Lunar Base First, Gene J. Koprowski, Fox News, October 15th, 2010
Lunar Resources (Part 2): Changing our approach to spaceflight, Paul Spudis, Air and Space Magazine, June 5th, 2010