TR: The president’s plan also relies heavily on the commercial space industry to provide crew and cargo transportation to the space station. Do you think that’s a good idea?
BA: Yes, I do. Commercial vehicles will also help fill the gap, so we can develop new launch vehicles and spacecraft for landing on runways for the years beyond 2015 to bring us to the threshold of Mars.
TR: How will we get to Mars by 2035?
BA: We build the ultimate transportation system: a cycling spaceship called the Aldrin Cycler, which I first unveiled in 1985. It cycles between Earth and Mars. Spacecraft can hook up to it, and we could use it to fly by a comet as early as 2018. Then, in 2020, we could travel to a near-Earth object. We would need to build in-flight refueling and communication relays before and during this time, with more visits to asteroids.
In 2025, we land unmanned on Phobos [a moon of Mars] with some elements of habitation. We land people there in 2027 for a year and a half; in 2029 for a year and a half; and in 2031, we land three people who will not come back. In 2031, six people coming from Earth will join the three at Phobos and then continue on to become the first people to land on Mars by 2033 or 2035.
TR: But a consensus on Mars as the goal destination has not been reached. Have you spoken with other influential Apollo astronauts who oppose the termination of Constellation?
BA: I have long been open to discussions with other astronauts, especially the 24 astronauts, 18 of whom are still alive, who reached the moon. But that exclusive group does not have any coherent organization. I am forming a nebulous but much-needed concept for an organization that I call the Unified Strategic Space Enterprise. It would consist of highly respected people who would assist in the development of the national space policy.
TR: It seems like we’ve been arguing about the future of the U.S. space program for decades now.
BA: We really have only been debating the human spaceflight portions of exploration; where do we send U.S. humans? But there are robotics, the space station, technology developments like in-flight refueling, and all sorts of other things to think about.