The National Space Society vision is people living and working in space

19 May 1997
Prepared Testimony of Dr. Buzz Aldrin, NSS Chairman of the Board of Directors, for hearings before the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Subcommittee on International Affairs and Criminal Justice on defining NASA's mission and America's vision for the future of space exploration

Thank you for having me back to continue where I left off last week. Today I would like to introduce a brief statement and then expand upon some of the concepts I feel are significant to the future of our space program.

This summer, the planet Mars receives its first visitors from Earth in over two decades and the space program will once again capture the world's attention and headlines for a brief few days. But let me suggest that the time has come to expand our vision and begin developing a strategy to best capitalize on the 40 year investment we've made in our space endeavors. The time has come to focus our efforts and to build a program that brings space benefits down to earth, that address and solve the problems of our home planet, and at the same time, expand freedom and commercial opportunity to the far reaches of our solar system.

I believe that early in the 21st century, men and women will call Mars a second home for humanity. But my vision evolved from a can-do spirit and resolve, a projection of American prowess, as well as foresight to establish a visionary plan that incorporates and maximizes reusability in our space program.

By resuming our investigations of Mars, we are adding new brush strokes to the picture that will ultimately become our future in the Cosmos. The picture I now see is of an undeveloped frontier that must be opened to human enterprise and settlement. To do so means pursuing an evolutionary, step-by-step, building block agenda that leads to a sustained space program that guarantees we tap the wealth potential of our solar neighborhood and in so doing, transform our spacefaring civilization into a multi-planetary civilization. It is becoming clear to me, as we approach the new millennia, how to do this best.

However, it is also clear that the steps being taken by our government's space planners do not have this longer range vision in mind. For instance, the Dept. of Defense is pursuing a strategy using all expendable, throw-away rocketry. Meanwhile, NASA has set its future on a high-technology solution embodied in a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle. While each has merit, neither satisfy the need of the private sector for near-term lower launch costs to access and exploit the frontier.

Within a few decades, space can be an open frontier for all people. I see a near-term future where economical, two-stage space launchers place passengers and cargo into Earth orbit with the efficiency and routine-like nature of today's airline traffic. A booming tourism industry will be cultivated as space hotels become a point-of-arrival and departure above our planet. This burgeoning business enterprise will bring about heavy-lift rockets enabling grander steps of exploration, back to the Moon, to the distant dunes of Mars, and beyond.

I envision long-haul transportation systems, deep space cruisers that not only continuously cycle tourists between the Earth and Moon, but constantly transfer explorers and settlers between Mars and the Earth. A fully reusable lunar and interplanetary system is the ultimate way of transporting people and cargo across the vast vacuum void of space.

My own personal involvement as an Apollo 11 astronaut on the first lunar landing mission taught me an important lesson. Everything that went with us on Apollo was thrown away -- such as all the stages of our giant Saturn V booster -- save for the return capsule that brought us safely back to Earth. There was nothing wrong with Apollo. Its characteristics were born of the time. It was a Cold War, oneupsmanship approach to out distance the former Soviet Union. The Moon was the finish line. Apollo was founded on a straightforward, "space race" strategy: "Get there in a hurry and don't waste time developing reusability."

Today, I cannot conceive of another global race, or cooperative effort for that matter, that would prompt an effort to get to Mars, accomplish the goal, then abandon the program. Yet the mind-set of toss-away space hardware still dominates our thinking. We have gotten used to a throw-away space program, perpetuated by a low volume of traffic from Earth into space. Long ago, we tamed the sound barrier. Now we must penetrate the reusability and recycling barriers to shape our 21st century space endeavors.

But how can we rekindle the spirit of Apollo, and match it with a sustainable, evolutionary space program for the 21st century?

I see an action plan for the future - call it 2020 vision based on years of training and experience this country so graciously invested in me.

As our next step, lowering the cost of space access with a reusable two-stage-to-orbit launcher is critical. Incorporating a "flyback" reusable first stage, this type of launcher would hurl another rocket-powered vehicle that can reach space with greater economy than if purely self-propelled. By dropping the expense of attaining Earth orbit, many new industries are waiting to develop, one of which will be space tourism. Soon, tens of thousands of citizens will have the opportunity to travel into space, gaining a sense of øparticipationÓ in opening the frontier of space to enterprise, exploration and eventual settlement.

From this step, an add-on to the reusable space program philosophy is building a øbridge between worlds.Ó Through a system of reusable spacecraft that I call "Cyclers", traffic routes -- first between Earth and the Moon, then Mars and Earth -- should be put in motion. Very much like ocean liners, the Cycler system would perpetually glide along predictable pathways, moving people, equipment, and other materials to and from the Earth over inner-Solar System mileage.

A sequential buildup of a Full Cycling Network could be in place within two decades of a go-ahead, geared to the maturation of lunar and Mars activities. The Earth, the Moon, and Mars will form a celestial triad of worlds - busy hubs for the ebb and flow of passengers, cargo and commerce traversing the inner-Solar System.

My schedule for accomplishing these objectives is practical, achievable and affordable, drawing from decades of space expertise already honed by our early exploits, including the Space Shuttle and Space Station projects.

I call for a strong and vibrant space tourism business and a return to the Moon by 2010, then reaching Mars by 2020. Frankly, I think we can beat this schedule. The common link between steps in this time table is a progressive set of reusable boosters, reusable access to space, then reusable interplanetary Cyclers.

This vision spans two decades of enterprise, exploration and settlement. It should be wisely enunciated by a new U.S. President in the year 2001. By the year 2030, I see the same people looking back and cherishing the moment that a leader of our country committed us to a gradual, but progressive plan of permanent settlement of space, not just occasional visits that leave little more than flags and footprints.

The surface area of Mars is equivalent to the land area of Earth. Once a human presence on this planet is established, a second home for humankind is possible. A growing settlement on Mars is, in essence, an "assurance" policy. Not only is the survival of the human race then assured, but the ability to reach from Mars into the resource-rich bounty of the Martian Satellites and the nearby asteroids is also possible. These invaluable resources can be tapped to sustain increasing numbers of Martian settlers, as well as foster expanded interplanetary commerce and large-scale industrial activities to benefit the home planet-- Earth. Of course, some will insist on building outer-Solar System Cyclers as humanity continues outbound into the Universe at large.

My 2020 vision is a call for a sustained space program with long-range acuity. We can now chart a course that returns us to the Moon, then allows humanity to strike out for the New World of our future - the planet Mars. But our near-term space efforts, both manned and robotic missions, must be tailored to support the longer-range purpose of opening the frontier. Step by step, program by program, we can construct a future of limitless potential. I must ask you gentlemen, if not for these bold endeavors, then what is our space program for?

Please allow me to address four significant points that Congress, as a governing oversight body, can do to help guarantee the vision I have described here today can come to fruition for future generations.

  • First, the highest priority of NASA and Congressional oversight into NASA's activities must be to develop lower cost to orbit systems. Congress should continue its leadership role in this direction by expanding the spectrum of development options beyond single-stage-to-orbit systems, to include the gamut of Reusable Launch Vehicle options including two- stage-to-orbit systems.
  • Second, continue to identify and eliminate those stifling regulations that inhibit the private sector from competing in the commercial launch vehicle market to facilitate the development of low cost space transportation system options.
  • Third, focus near-term activity both in NASA and the private sector by adopting the long range national goal to expand human presence throughout the solar system and tap the unlimited power and resource potential of solar space.
  • And finally, charge NASA to study in depth these recommendations and the reusable cycling transportation system I have described for economical exploration and development of the moon and Mars.

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