Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dr. Buzz Aldrin and the Aldrin Cycler

I attended a Space Studies seminar yesterday up on campus in which they were watching a private video of a speech given by Dr. Buzz Aldrin to a group of PISCES members and supporters during the annual PISCES conference. This last year featured Dr. Aldrin speaking at the Waikoloa resort about a number of ideas, but mostly focused on the ideas of a united space policy, across all sectors and countries, as well as a tour and discussion of the Aldrin Cycler, again with some political asides on the part of Buzz being Buzz.

Artist depiction of an Aldrin Cycler. via
Throughout the video Buzz seemed lively and excited, often pausing to collect his thoughts and really appear to be speaking with genuine interest about the subject. He remarked early on about how he was without a teleprompter and took this opportunity to make his first jab at the President. Most of his remarks were off the cuff and of good-natured humor but he clearly has some gripes with the administration, past and present, and the lack of continued interest in the space program in general and things like the Apollo Missions in particular.

The talk was split into two main areas, the first in which Dr. Aldrin spoke in general terms about his ideas for space exploration going forward. As he stated, the idea is to "explore commercially developed and permanently settled space" He started right out by citing three core ideas of any space policy going forward: 1) strong leadership, 2) a sustainable path, and  3) long-term ambitions. Interestingly enough, I thought Dr. Aldrin's discussion about strong leadership and a united space policy, while all around interesting and full of nothing that be considered negative, still seemed to be confused, almost pandering to both sides about what a space program should look like going forward. And what are those two sides Buzz is pandering to? On the one hand, he repeatedly used words like "united," "collaboration," "coming together," and "cooperation" while speaking of public, private, international, and, frankly, all sectors and peoples that will be interested in space in the coming century. And everything he calls for is sound and logical, as it is important that we have united in policy and ideas going forward.

Yet, on the other hand, most of his speech was essentially about how the USA can maintain "leadership" in the coming years, and about how we don't want to send astronauts to the Moon, "only to find the Chinese already there." Overall, his general idea was that while other countries are focused on returning humans to the lunar surface, we need to start concentrating on how to get to Mars, thus staying one step ahead of the competition, as it were. Interestingly, Buzz, having had his chance to leap about the lunar surface, does not advocate directly sending humans to Mars although that is definitely part of his long-term plan and a critical feature of the Aldrin Cycler. But, "if we're not sending people [to a planetary surface]  than how can we be leaders? We do it by knowing more than anybody else."

Here Buzz seemed to be spot on in his assessment, namely that we are going to fail, we are going to make mistakes, but we just need to start trying. We (here implying the USA) need to maintain our leadership with this ability to try and fail, while all the while learning.

The first half of the talk was filled with these kind of  practical orations. "Today, collaboration [international, public, government, state, private, etc.] is an essential element for our success." We must, "[take] into account all the other countries space policy objectives." "I'm going to talk to you about a unified space exploration."

PISCES was also given its requisite amount of fan-fare: "As the space faring community comes together to embark...PISCES will lead in a unique and critical role in this vital new enterprise in space." "Begin with PISCES and extend to cislunar space and beyond." "But even more important, PISCES is to lead the construction of the lunar base."  And so on.

The second half of the talk Buzz focused on the Aldrin, or Mars Cycler, and practical attempts and methods to actually start getting to Mars. Dr. Buzz Aldrin actually has his PhD in Orbital Mechanics, so it's not just some guy who has walked on the Moon speaking here, he does actually know what he is talking about. Again, the central theme here seemed to be that we just need to start doing it and stop being afraid. There was a fair amount of modestly technical information about the Cycler, which refers both to the synodic period as well as the actual spacecraft Buzz envisions. [Details can be found on  Buzz's site.]

There was actually a lot more to the talk and I have a good page of pithy quotes given by Buzz. All in
all, it was actually a very interesting talk and always good to see an 80-year-old Buzz Aldrin still just as excited about humans getting into space.

A few items to share:

  • On unity: Buzz wants to create a United Strategic and Space Enterprise foundation to foster this internal and global unity. That's right, it does have the name USS Enterprise, and this is, obviously, on purpose.
  • On outreach and the public: "We really need to get philosophers, [and] people that are historians, to really think and look at what the earth is capable of doing. It is capable of taking humans beings and putting them on another surface in our solar system."
  • On our legacy: "Thousands of years from now we will look back on the leader that committed a group of people to [reach the surface of Mars]."
  • And, "That's why they're going to be the pilgrims."