Nov 17 2010

Over the Moondust and Through the Rille is NOT the Way to Phobos

I highly recommend Buzz Aldrin’s recent, compelling book Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon (2009). After describing their monumental Moon landing in 1969, Buzz highlights the challenges (depression, alcohol) he faced upon return to Earth, and how he overcame them. Of particular interest is his re-emergence as a major force in NASA space planning in recent times.

Buzz Aldrin’s United Space Vision features Phobos as the key to Mars system colonization by 2025.
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(by C. Wm. House)

The “best scientific mind in space”
That’s what Life magazine once called Buzz, and he proved it again in the 1980s when he re-emerged as one of America’s foremost space visionaries. He initially focused on developing his concept for “cyclers” that travel in repetitive, trolley-like orbits between the Earth and Moon.

In 1982 Buzz attended meetings at the California Space Institute in La Jolla (then led by UCSD chemist Jim Arnold) as well as at General Dynamics in San Diego. Although I joined GD a couple of years later, I assume Buzz’s initial GD adventures involved Ed Bock, who had led a pivotal, 1979 study for NASA on lunar resources for construction in space.

Can Your Lunar Cycler Go to Mars?
A couple of years later Buzz visited legendary, former NASA Administrator Tom Paine in Santa Monica, who counseled him that the Moon …

… will never motivate the American people again. We need something bigger, something beyond the Moon.”

That was of course Mars. And by June, 1985 the Aldrin Mars Cycler was born.

I met Buzz about this time during one of his Friday trips from SAIC down to GD in San Diego. He’d chat with us about how to use cyclers to get to Mars. The stimulating morning meetings were usually followed by even more stimulating lunches at a local Kearny Mesa restaurant.

In July, 1987 the Case for Mars III Conference in Boulder featured Buzz, Tom Paine (the conference general chair), Cornell’s Carl Sagan, and over 400 other scientists and engineers who explored the intriguing potential of going to Mars “together” with the Soviets. CFM III was my second Case for Mars conference and I was involved in the Phobos/Deimos Workshop (chaired by Fred Singer).

We Need a “comprehensive vision, a master plan” for Space
By the 1990s Buzz began advocating an “integrated”, “evolutionary” plan for the human exploration and settlement of space. Although his powerful 2009 book does not mention Phobos, the larger moon of Mars, his current website features a human outpost on Phobos and the use of Mars cyclers as the centerpiece of his long-term strategy for the exploration and colonization of Mars.

Recently I had the pleasure of lunch with Buzz in Westwood, not far from UCLA where I had been a graduate student. He explained his current plans for a “think tank” on space futures as well as his new Phobos/Mars initiative.

The Smart, Safe Road to Mars Goes Through Phobos
Buzz’ exciting “United Space Vision” (USV) is a “comprehensive step-by-step plan for America’s future in space, for mankind’s permanent footprint on Mars.” It features establishment of a manned outpost on Phobos as the key step toward early Mars colonization for many of the same reasons I identified in my recent Space News commentary.

According to Buzz,

To reach Mars, we should use comets, asteroids and Mars’s moon Phobos as intermediate destinations … For these long-duration missions, we need an entirely new spacecraft that I call the Exploration Module, or XM … the XM would contain the radiation shields, artificial gravity and food-production and recycling facilities necessary for a spaceflight of up to three years. Once launched, it would remain in space. The XM would carry attached landers designed for Phobos or Mars and an Orion capsule for astronauts returning to Earth.

Although the Moon is deemphasized in his plan, Buzz envisions missions to comet Wirtanen in 2018, to asteroid Apophis in 2021, and to comet Hartley 3 in 2023 — all prior to the first manned mission to Phobos in 2025. Because the 2015 Maslow Window is likely to close by 2025 or before, I suggested to Buzz that it would be prudent to accelerate the schedule. For example, postponing one (or both) of the comet missions would enhance Mars program viability. On the other hand, Apophis would provide some practice for the very low-g, manned operations that would be required near Phobos.

Are Maslow Windows Fatal?
Although the momumental first manned lunar landing was still 3 years in the future, by 1966 — because of Vietnam — the Apollo Moon program’s days were already numbered. Is it possible to survive closure of a Maslow Window?

This will require: 1) recognition of the Maslow Window challenge, 2) a manned outpost in deep space (i.e., beyond Earth orbit), and 3) program continuity as far beyond 2025 as possible.

One of the important strengths of Buzz’ USV is that it possesses all these attributes, including impressive program milestones culminating in humans actually on the Mars surface itself by 2035. This is the type of bold program that can survive the historically likely crash — in the early-to-mid- 2020s — of the 2015 Maslow Window.

With apologies to Lydia Maria Child (see post title above) — Happy Thanksgiving!

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Over the Moondust and Through the Rille is NOT the Way to Phobos”

  1. Joseph Friedlanderon 17 Nov 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Hi, Dr. Cordell, I contribute to http://nextbigfuture.com/ at times though it is Brian Wang’s website, as a guest poster. I wanted to prep a summary of your thoughts (with your permission quoting from a number of your pages) and I wanted to see if I understood the definition of “Maslow Window”.

    I take it as kind of a launch window, a definite time slot that has a fuzzy edge either side during which you had better conduct your business if you want to ‘ride the wave of history’ rather than be swamped by it. (Just like a real ballistics launch window, the performance penalties become extreme once you leave the optimum middle of the window by very much…)

    My understanding of why you call it a MASLOW Window is after the Maslow Heirarchy of Needs
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs (which though was stated for the individual, would analogously apply to society as a whole)
    where for a brief period each long wave cycle (by your reckoning as understood by me) society feels secure enough, not grappling with problems of bare survival, to reach for higher aspirations ordinarily neglected during more pressing times. In Jerry Pournelle’s phrase, not just survival, but survival with style. During a Depression equivalent, space travel can be an imaginary escape, but during a Maslow Window, it is an exciting actual prospect.

    Could you, I wonder, respond to this perception checking? Would you add subtract or change anything? Because the phrase Maslow Window is used a lot on this site, and understanding it is kind of key.

    Respectfully,
    Joseph Friedlander

    Hi Joseph,

    Thanks for your interest.
    I’ll get back to you soon via email.

    Best regards,
    Bruce

  2. […] with Mars, 21st Century Waves talks about astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s recent book and his ideas about martian colonization. […]

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