Buzz Aldrin: Why We Must Go To Mars - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather

Buzz Aldrin: Why We Must Go To Mars

HUFFINGTONPOST.COM - As we flip the calendar to 2012, we get the first blast of space news, and the resurgent relevance of human space exploration. China just announced plans to lead humanity in to the moon and beyond, the tail of their comet a strong defense mindset. 

The Chinese challenge comes at a time of a dangerous convergence, the international debt crisis and a contentious, highly consequential presidential election. In short, 2012 is an inflection year -- the year we will and must decide whether the U.S. has the will and ability to lead the world in human space exploration.  For me, I am betting we do -- and here is how I suggest we begin.

In 1969, Neil Armstrong and I walked on the moon. Shortly thereafter, I participated in work on the "next generation of space transportation systems." Without getting too technical, my strong tendency was to support a two-stage reusable launch system, with crew only in the second stage, allowing a first stage to return to Earth unmanned. This seemed both efficient and safer than the alternatives. I found myself on the minority side of the discussion, and relented. Over the past forty years, I have had multiple of occasions to regret that decision.  We are now at another turning point -- and this time, we must resolve to do it right.

In short, to make a real difference -- from an exploration, science, national security and international leadership perspective -- our Nation needs to commit to seeking a permanent presence on Mars.  This idea has already been widely supported by leaders in both political parties -- and seems central to the vision many Americans have for the country. While the goal uniquely protects U.S. leadership in space exploration, provides insurance for our national security, uniquely presses the envelope of science, and is certain to trigger a fusillade of economic opportunities here on Earth, there are big questions that loom -- and now compel answers.  Specifically, two questions leap off the page: When and how. If China's ambitions help create new urgency, the how becomes central.

Space architectures capable of supporting a permanent human presence on Mars are extraordinarily complex, with many different interdependent systems. It is too much information for one short article. But for now, I want to focus on just one element: crew transportation systems. click here to read more