Shuttle to mars

Apollo 11 astronaut buzz aldrin leads a research team to develop new types of spacecraft

In his science fiction novel co-written with john barnes "encounter with tiber" apollo 11 pilot buzz aldrin launches the first human being on the 25. December 2018 landing on the moon of mars phobos – exactly 50 years after apollo 8 reached the moon for the first time. Aldrin doesn’t want to leave it at fiction, however: he has now put together a research team to develop spacecraft for regular shuttles between earth and mars. The maiden flight, according to aldrin, could take place in 2018.

Sandstorm on mars

Aldrin had developed the basic idea already in the middle of the eighties and ten years later in "meeting with tiber" continued:

"If the timing was right, a spacecraft returning from mars on the long trajectory could cross the earth’s orbit from behind a short time before the next opposition. Because it was already moving faster than escape velocity, it could not be pulled into orbit around the earth; gravity simply shifted its orbit into a rough ellipse around the sun. But the spaceship got some of the momentum of the earth (…). The thrust propelled the ship into a new orbit around the sun, on which, if the timing was right, it headed straight for mars without using any more fuel – apart from small amounts for corrective maneuvers."

One difficulty with such a shuttle is the calculation of the trajectory. Because while the earth moves on an almost circular orbit around the sun, mars describes a strong elliptical orbit, so that the distance earth-mars is subject to strong fluctuations.

"If both planets were in circular orbits, the spacecraft could fly back and forth perfectly in the same orbit all the time", says james longuski, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at purdue university in west lafayette, indiana. "The mars orbit, however, is somewhat eccentric. This makes the whole design much more complicated."

In addition to purdue university, the massachusetts institute of technology and the university of texas are also involved in the project. In a report for nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory, researchers write:

"We believe that these regular planetary flybys can open up a completely new economic and philosophical approach to the exploration of space. Reliable and reusable commuters can be the key to propelling humanity into the next era of exploration, expansion, settlement and multi-planetary commerce."

The flight from earth to mars with such a commuter was taken six to eight months. The first spaceships could accommodate about 50 passengers. They were slowly rotated to create artificial gravity.

"These commuters were like space hotels", says longuski. "They were offered the usual comforts of life."

Upon reaching the destination planet, the passengers in "cab"-change spaceships, which they request on the surface. "It’s like a bus that doesn’t stop", says longuski. "When it comes, they have to run with it and jump on it."

A single commuter is not enough to make both outward and return flights possible in a reasonable time. With three spaceships on skillfully chosen trajectories, however, a regular good and passenger traffic between the two planets can be established.

"We will submit a proposal for a more detailed study to narrow down the number of possible commuter types and see which are best suited for regular use", says aldrin. Other ideas from his novel will also be considered, such as using the space shuttle’s external fuel tank as the central structural element of the shuttle spacecraft.

And, who knows, maybe his name suggestions will be accepted as well. In "meeting with tiber" two mercs (mars earth return cycler) are in operation. The one lifts "collins", after apollo 11 astronaut michael collins, the other with whom the first humans fly to mars, "aldrin". However, the third apollo 11 member, neil armstrong, is not forgotten: aldrin and barnes had a crude space station named after him.