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Buzz Aldrin really wants to send people to Mars — and leave them there for a long time

Buzz Aldrin has been on a mission to the moon. But these days, the legendary Apollo 11 astronaut is fixated on one thing: Getting humankind to Mars — and keeping them there for a long time. Aldrin has some ideas about what a human mission to the red planet should look like. And unlike his triumphant return to Earth, Aldrin wants the Mars explorers of tomorrow to stay there. Potentially, for a very long time. “It cost the world — and the U.S. — billions and billions of dollars to put these people there, and you’re going to bring them back?” Aldrin said during a panel discussion at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this week. “What are you going to do when you bring them back here that can possibly compare the value that they would be if they stayed there and Mars wasn’t empty? And then, they helped to work with the next group and it builds up a cadre of people. When we’ve got 100 — or whatever it is — then we start bringing people back.” This isn’t the first time Aldrin has posited the idea of having semi-permanent Mars colonizers. Earlier this year, in an interview with The Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach, Aldrin worried that the high cost of a Mars mission might deter public funders from sending enough people to Mars to make a difference scientifically. “If we go and come back, and go and come back, I’m sure Congress will say, ‘Oh, we know how to do that, let’s spend the money somewhere else.’ And everything we will have invested will be sloughed aside,” he said. Perhaps he was speaking from experience: Since the last manned Apollo mission to the moon, nearly 42 years ago, NASA hasn’t sent any astronauts back. In 2005, NASA announced “a new era in space exploration” with the Constellation program. The proposal sought to expand the human presence deeper into space, first by going back to the moon by 2020 and eventually landing on Mars. It’s no surprise that in the subsequent years, the program’s goal became increasingly distilled down to a simple objective: do more for less money than the last time. “We want to do it cheaper, and we want to do it safer,” Jeff Hanley, NASA’s Constellation program manager told SPACE.com in 2009. “That’s a pretty tough prescription for NASA to meet.” With the U.S. economy in the gutter, the program was eliminated the following year:
“It means that essentially the U.S. has decided that they’re not going to be a significant player in human space flight for the foreseeable future. The path that they’re on with this budget is a path that can’t work,” said, anticipating the Monday announcement. He said that, although he pushed for seed money for commercial cargo flights to space, he doesn’t believe that the commercial firms, such as SpaceX and Dulles-based Orbital Sciences, are ready to take over the risky and difficult job of ferrying human beings to orbit.
This July 20, 1969, file photo shows Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon near the leg of the Lunar Module “Eagle.” (NASA handout/AFP) Private donors have since demonstrated that they’re serious about commercial space flight. But Aldrin said recently that he believes space tourism conflicts with his firm belief in the need for a semi-permanent human settlement on Mars. And it isn’t just about the money; Aldrin is similarly concerned about the need to produce long-term scientific research in the most cost-effective way. “I have considered whether a landing on Mars could be done by the private sector,” Aldrin commented in a Reddit AMA in July. “It conflicts with my very strong idea, concept, conviction, that the first human beings to land on Mars should not come back to Earth. They should be the beginning of a build-up of a colony/settlement, I call it a ‘permanence.’” But while a return ticket from Mars may be expensive, so is figuring out how to keep humans alive in its inhospitable atmosphere for long periods of time. via The Washington Post.

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