Buzz Aldrin: Returning to moon is not enough
By Tariq Malik
(SPACE.com) -- Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin told a presidential commission Thursday that the challenge facing NASA today is unlike any other of its past human spaceflight missions.
Despite the space agency's success with programs like Apollo, Skylab and even the International Space Station, NASA must come to grips with the inherent long-term sustainability required by any future human missions to the moon or Mars, the former Apollo astronaut told the President's Commission on the Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy.
"We need to have a plan that goes 30 to 40 years into the future," Aldrin said. "And I really think we need to simplify things."
Appointed by President George W. Bush, the commission is conducting a series of meetings with space experts and analysts in order to determine how to best implement NASA's new space vision to return humans to the moon and send them to Mars and beyond. The President's plan also calls for the retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet by the end of the decade.
Thursday's hearings are being held at the Georgia Centers for Advanced Telecommunications Technology at Georgia Institute of Technology.
Aldrin, who landed and walked on the moon with fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, told commissioners their first task was to decide what to do with the space shuttle's launch system of solid rocket boosters and an external tank.
"When we retire the ... system, will the whole system be thrown away or just the orbiter," Aldrin asked. "The external tanks are new every time, the rocket boosters are almost new...they can be upgraded."
Aldrin recommended the gradual evolution of a heavy-lift space launch system that could eventually launch a crew of eight astronauts by 2009. In the beginning, the launch system could rely on a hybrid between the current booster-external tank and an evolved expendable launch vehicle that could be modified into a larger, more powerful launcher over time.
The evolution of future crew vehicles could evolve in much the same way.
"I'm looking at the evolution of crew modules much in the same way the evolution of aircraft airframes has progressed," Aldrin said.
Aldrin told commissioners that NASA must learn from its past to push forward in exploration and must strive for a permanent presence in space.
"Mars should be a growing commitment to permanence or we shouldn't even bother sending humans," he said.
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