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Aldrin Pushes Mars Landing in Lecture

By Ryan Ochylski

As part of the MIT/Harvard Mars Week program, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, ScD ’63 spoke Saturday on the feasibility of launching a manned Mars mission in the near future.

Aldrin, the lunar module pilot for Apollo 11 astronauts and the second man to walk on the moon, focused on the methodology of putting men on Mars. He offered a number of solutions concerning the types of propulsion systems and launch windows that could be exploited, and cited a goal of arriving on Mars by 2014.

Commercial support vital

Aldrin told many anecdotes, focusing on the differences between the space program of the 1960’s and today. A major example he used was the contrast between disasters and the amount of time it took to return to space following each disaster. After the Apollo fire, NASA launched again within a year. After the 1986 Challenger explosion, NASA waited three years before putting another shuttle into orbit. The conclusion he drew from this example was that the government would never again support the space program as it once did.

Instead, Aldrin presented “space hotels” as a solution to the funding problem. He offered an answer to the question of which paradigm the hotels would operate under: hotels could serve the very wealthy few or be tourist magnets for the masses. His answer was the question -- “Why not both?”

Aldrin championed the idea of a semi-commercial venture as the solution to the financial problems of putting men on Mars. The technology already exists for the most part, he said, but the funding is lacking; the way around this obstacle is to combine government funding with private sector tourism ventures.

Mission possible by 2014

The talk’s second half featured a technical slideshow with details on the types of rockets that Aldrin proposed for the joint venture. The single biggest necessity is the use of reusable rocket stages instead of single-use rocket stages like Saturn V’s. The costs associated with new rocket stages for every trip would completely defeat the the purpose of a semi-commercial venture.

While discussing the various propulsion solutions, Aldrin also analyzed the mathematics behind the windows of launch opportunity, arriving at ideal times that varied. Models varied used estimates of between approximately 18 months and 24 months between leaving Earth and arriving on Mars.

Taking into account the technology, funding, and launch availability, Aldrin arrived at 2014 as the approximate date by which manned Mars missions would be possible.

As a side note to the possible solutions he presented, Aldrin challenged the current team at MIT and Texas to beat Caltech to a definite solution.

Mars Week attracts professionals

Students as well professors and specialists from other fields attended both the Aldrin lecture as well as the other Mars Week events. Other presentations included NASA Astronaut Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz’s lecture on Plasma Propulsion Systems, Dr. Everett Gibson’s take on life on Mars, and MIT EAPS Professor Maria Zuber’s discussion of geology on Mars.

Also speaking was Jennifer Harris, a member of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who spoke of robots on Mars, including a description of the recent Mars pathfinder mission, as well as upcoming unmanned Mars missions.

Mars Week is sponsored by the joint MIT/Harvard group Think Mars.