The Magazine

On to Mars?

An astronaut makes the case for exploration.

Oct 21, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 07 • By JOSHUA GELERNTER
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To ensure a continual stream of new arrivals, Aldrin reaches back to the orbital rendezvous research that got him started in space in the 1960s. He wants a series of spaceships constantly cycling between Earth and Mars, on a sort of continuous dual orbit of the two planets. Picture a bus on a beltway that travels 22,000 miles-an-hour and never stops. You get on and off by leaping to and from a rendezvous bus that matches speeds. By relying on gravity and the two planets’ predictable orbital patterns, this cycler would take minimal energy to keep on course and at speed. And by being reusable, it will keep airfare to Mars reasonable. The trip will take six months and a stout heart.

After the Obama administration shelved plans for NASA’s return to the moon, America’s manned space program appeared to be dying. A year later, the space shuttle was retired, and American astronauts had no way into space other than hitching rides on Russia’s decrepit Soyuz capsules. That seemed like the last nail in the coffin. 

Mission to Mars is a white paper for getting us back on track, complete with math, science, and diagrams—though Aldrin and his coauthor put it all together with clear and quick-moving prose. If you’re at all interested in space, this is a page-turner; and if you’re a Weekly Standard reader with a secret hankering for a new life on a new planet, Buzz Aldrin has got some real estate he’d like to show you.

Joshua Gelernter is a writer in Connecticut.