Spacelift Washington: Aldrin’s vision of space may have at last found a home

By frank_sietzen
November 27, 2001
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Spacelift Washington

Spacelift Washington Archive

WASHINGTON -On a chilly and overcast Tuesday in the heart of the Nation’s Capital the second American to tread the dusty lunar surface found a home for his vision of space.

At the first hearing of the U.S. Aerospace Commission, Buzz Aldrin’s case for what, in essence, could become space tourism supported by a national commitment was greeted with enthusiasm by his fellow commissioners. If such a view winds up in the commission’s final autumn 2002 report – or just possibly in an interim version early next year – the Bush administration may have its roadmap for development of a new, reusable space launch vehicle.

What Aldrin urged on his colleagues was the development of a federally-supported effort to develop “high volume human space transportation” whose uses spanned all space sectors – civil, military, and commercial. In Aldrin’s view, such a capability could be exploited in service to more ambitious national goals-such as humans to Mars.

But the aging Apollo 11 astronaut was careful in marshaling his supporters and making his case, and in the process found true believers. He used the words ‘space tourism’ only towards the end of a long day (and never spoke the words ‘Star Booster’ or Mars missions), and made the case that a reusable booster – a first stage – could begin the process of establishing a new reusable launch capability in a incremental fashion.

When some scoffed at the commercial viability of a single-stage RLV, or at its usefulness in the space age to come, Aldrin spoke movingly of the role of vision in establishing space goals. “I can tell you what vision can do, I can show you where my shoes stood, thanks to some people who had vision,” Aldrin said during a break in the Tuesday proceedings.

Often, Aldrin’s advocacy of advanced human spaceflight goals have been met with either derision or fallen on deaf, cash-starved ears. But after September 11th, Aldrin’s cogent case for launch vehicle advancement had a new ring- and received a new appraisal – even from some of the more cynical space policy wonks.

According to Aldrin, reducing the cost of access to space by a new reusable launch vehicle that had significant federal and space policy support could both inspire a new generation – and establish the means for a nascent space tourism or manned space industry. Aldrin also gave the commission and its (sparsely attended) audience a historical parallel for such an effort. Aldrin reminded the group that the development of the first American commercial jet passenger-carrying aircraft (the Boeing 707) had its origins as an Air Force tanker. This happened at a time when that same Air Force was flying piston-powered aircraft. “It took a vision, a national commitment to make that (the commercial passenger jet) happen,” he told the audience.

As the old spacer spoke, the sun, invisible in the cloudy Washington skies, was setting on one of the last days of an old order. Its invisible rays illuminated a national space policy construct likely to be swept away in the years immediately ahead. Space, so long now an isolated element of the nation’s aerospace industry, was about to return to the fold in a fusion of sectors unseen since the Space Age began a half-decade ago.

And why is this happening now?

A new U.S. president has come to office with both skepticism about the way air and space matters have been managed, and anger about the federal agencies involved in its stewardship. Ahead lies an historic realignment that may redefine what constitutes a space agency. Despite the denial now being practiced by some in Washington over the change to space that is about to ride a tidal wave across the bow of NASA and other agencies, the “Rumsfeld-ization” of space policy is fully underway. And the future of NASA itself is about to become next in the line of Bush agency remake-overs.

Look for new interest by the Air Force in a reusable launch vehicle. Not a fully reusable vehicle at the start, but as sort of an EELV II. Buzz didn’t say it Tuesday, nor did anyone else, but if one mated a spaceplane atop a reusable booster, one would have. ..a vehicle that could carry weapons to orbit, or satellites, or. ..tourists, just as the airborne jet tanker gave way to the first passenger jetliner. All such notions will ride the tidal wave of change about to wash over clueless Washington.

And what will be the implementation of this tidal wave ? Can you spell “O-K-E-E-F-E”?

Of course, a reusable booster is just a first step along the pathways to space tourism.

But Buzz knows the giant leaps that can follow such steps … Just ask him.

More about this, and who came forward to support Aldrin’s space views, in articles to come…

Related Links

  • 30 October 2001: The Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace
    Industry Begins its Task
    , SpaceRef

  • 8 July 2001: Spacelift Washington: Bush Delays Threaten Aerospace Commission, SpaceRef

  • 18 July 2001: Space Tourism Hearings on Capitol Hill, SpaceRef

  • 26 June 2001: Testimony by Dr. Buzz Aldrin on “Space Tourism” Before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, SpaceRef

    Articles in the Spacelift Washington “The Future of Space” series:

  • 13 February 2001: Part One: Air Force Space Leaders Prepare for Weapons in Space

  • 13 February 2001: Part Two: The Future of Space: President’s Space Advisory Board to be staffed with outside experts

  • 13 February 2001: Part Three: Commercial Space cooling trend continues

  • 13 February 2001: Part Four: A Thriving Commercial Space Now Key to All Sectors

    The information contained herein are the authors own and are not affiliated with any other society, organization, or institution. Publication does not constitute endorsement of either editorial content or sponsoring web site. Have information about space transportation? Email the editor at sietzen@erols.com