The second man to walk on the Moon is urging NASA to stop funding the International Space Station (ISS) as quickly as possible and instead put the money allocated for it toward a crewed mission to Mars planned for the 2030s.
At the 2017 “Humans to Mars” conference in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, May 9, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin said the US can no longer afford to spend $3.5 billion a year on the space station and should contract its activities to commercial spaceflight companies, such as SpaceX, Boeing, and Orbital ATK.
Companies such as Axiom Space and Bigelow Aerospace should be encouraged to construct other space stations in low-Earth orbit and cooperate with China, which plans to build its own space station during the 2020s, he added.
NASA is already contracting with private companies to transport cargo and eventually astronauts to the ISS, which is funded through 2024.
Discussions are underway among NASA, the Russian space agency, and other partners to keep the $100 billion space station operational through 2028.
The ISS is viewed by NASA as an important component of its “Journey to Mars” program, which aims for a 2030s crewed landing on the Red Planet.
But Aldrin outlined a different plan, which relies on “cyclers”–spacecraft that regularly transport both supplies and astronauts from one location to another.
“The foundation of human transportation is the cycler. Very rugged, so it’ll last 30 years or so; no external moving parts,” he said.
His vision calls for the international spaceflight community to come together to construct the cyclers, then use them to build a crewed base on the Moon, where techniques required for survival on Mars, such as the manufacture of propellant from local resources, can be tested.
The cyclers would initially transport people to and from the Moon. Eventually, a more advanced version would be built to transport cargo and astronauts from Earth to Mars and back.
In a series of steps, the cyclers could be used in a crewed mission to a near-Earth asteroid in 2020 and a Venus flyby in 2024 before launching to Mars in the following decade.
Astronauts on the Mars missions will not be visitors but settlers, Aldrin emphasized.
“Let’s be certain that we’ve developed a sustainable plan to stay on Mars. No flags and footprints this time.”