Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, outlined his plan to send humans to Mars by 2020 at a conference Tuesday.
Aldrin outlined his plan to send a series of “cyclers” to Mars, propelled mostly by the gravity of the solar system. Cyclers are proposed spacecraft launched onto a special kind of trajectory that encounters Earth and Mars on a regular basis. They could potentially transport people or materials to The Red Planet using very little fuel, flying between both planets once every 2.1 years.
Aldrin thinks with adequate political support, such a spacecraft could be tested before the 2020 elections, but would require NASA to use a rocket built by a private company instead of developing its own.
“I think we can send a very early version to an asteroid,” Aldrin said at the conference at George Washington University in D.C. “And they can do that in 2020 and get back here after the election of 2020. At least there’s an achievement of sorts that can be demonstrated…we’ll probably have to use SpaceX Dragons or New Glenn [Blue Origin’s rocket. That’s what we’re gonna need to do to do these things.”
The second man to walk on the moon speculated that such a system could be used not just to send a mission to Mars, but to gradually colonize the planet. Astronauts sent to the Red Planet would remain there for the rest of their lives, greatly simplifying the mission’s logistics. Aldrin concluded his speech by telling the world to “Get your ass to Mars.”
Aldrin also speculated that his plan could have astronauts flying by the planet Venus by 2024. He said that he has plotted trajectories to visit many of the inner planets and Mars. The plan would call for the gradual phase out of the International Space Station (ISS) and other NASA science missions and would eventually require a lunar base to refuel cyclers.
Aldrin visited the White House in March to speak with Vice President Mike Pence about space policy and presumably gather support for his plan. His meeting with Pence is another sign the Trump administration may be planning to send astronauts into deep space.
President Donald Trump reportedly asked NASA to return astronauts to the moon in 2018, potentially saving taxpayers $10 billion by speeding up the already planned mission’s timeline. During a speech to the Joint Session of Congress in late February, Trump said “American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.”
NASA already planned to send an unmanned Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with an Orion capsule to orbit the moon, but Trump wants to accelerate the program and add astronauts. A Trump adviser told The Washington Post in February that adding astronauts to the mission is intended to be “a clear signal” to the Chinese that the U.S. will retain its dominance in space.
Trump seemingly wants to return U.S. astronauts to the Moon, then send them onto Mars in space missions, which will require the giant SLS rocket currently being debated in Congress. The president vowed to “unlock the mysteries of space” in his inaugural address, lending credence to reports he discussed sending humans to Mars in a private meeting with billionaire Elon Musk.