Science & Technology

To Mars or Bust!


Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon and the first man to collaborate with Snoop Dogg on a rap song about it, writes in today's Washington Post about the woefully misguided direction of NASA's plan to return to the moon. Not one to aim just for a repeat, Aldrin has his eyes on the Red Planet. We could be there within two decades, he claims, if only we had that vision thing down:

For the past four years, NASA has been on a path to resume lunar exploration with people, duplicating (in a more complicated fashion) what Neil, Mike and our colleagues did four decades ago. But this approach—called the "Vision for Space Exploration"—is not visionary; nor will it ultimately be successful in restoring American space leadership. Like its Apollo predecessor, this plan will prove to be a dead end littered with broken spacecraft, broken dreams and broken policies.

Instead, I propose a new Unified Space Vision, a plan to ensure American space leadership for the 21st century. It wouldn't require building new rockets from scratch, as current plans do, and it would make maximum use of the capabilities we have without breaking the bank. It is a reasonable and affordable plan—if we again think in visionary terms….

Now, I am not suggesting that America abandon the moon entirely, only that it forgo a moon-focused race. As the moon should be for all mankind, we should return there as part of an internationally led coalition. Using the landers and heavy-lift boosters developed by our partners, we could test on the moon the tools and equipment that we will need for our ultimate destination: homesteading Mars by way of its moons.

The piece gives few plausible justifications for bankrolling Mars mission preparations during the worst recession since the 1930s, and just after the federal deficit has crossed the trillion-dollar threshold. It's not clear how "thinking in visionary terms" will make a trip to Mars at all "reasonable" or "affordable."

Aldrin's cliché-as-argument approach is nauseating, and there ought to be a law against repeated, non-ironic Star Trek puns. But how is this schlock any worse than the ideas that have driven space policy for 50 years?

In obviously related news, today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission launch. As Reason's Ron Bailey pointed out, the total cost of the Apollo program was about $150 billion in 2008 dollars. The return on our investment: half a ton of moon rock (and some kick-ass photos).

For further reading, check out the Reason space policy archive.