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Friday, June 26, 2009

Buzz Aldrin's Starmap for NASA

Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin is not happy with NASA's present agenda. He thinks they're trying to repeat the past. He suggests focusing on more forward-thinking goals. Here are his immediate concerns:

...the five-year gap between the shuttle’s scheduled retirement next year and the debut of the Ares I rocket and the Orion spacecraft, which will take us no further than the moon—a place we’ve already been. Aldrin thinks NASA can do better. His plan is to scrap Ares I, stretch out the remaining six shuttle flights and fast-track the Orion to fly on a Delta IV or Atlas V. Then, set our sites on colonizing Mars.

In this many-faceted article in Popular Mechanics, Aldrin (now 80) speaks of a few regrets, mainly not speaking out against what he thought were bad decisions while an active astronaut. He speaks of the short-term issues created by the five-year gap between the shuttle program’s retirement and arrival of its Ares I and Orion replacements.

Medium-term issues that he addresses include
returning to the moon with an international consortium rather than a unilateral program; and developing an affordable runway lander craft based on something like the Air Force's robot X-37B spacecraft scheduled for orbital flight this year. He'd like to commercialize use of such a spacecraft.

Aldrin's more far-reaching plans include:

Develop [an] Exploration Module for manned flights of up to three years to comets, asteroids and Martian moon Phobos, where robots prep nearby Red Planet outpost for human settlement.

To see the details of these proposal, see Buzz Aldrin's article in Popular Mechanics.

Bonus!: Here is some unfortunate, related news that could retire one of the shuttles early, worsening the short-term issues that Buzz Aldrin addressed. In a bizarre mishap during Atlantis' last flight, a floating bolt was lodged between a windshield and a dash. It can't be easily removed and may take up to six months to disassemble that part of the craft to repair the situation. They may choose to retire the craft early, instead.

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