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ALDRIN’S TROLLEY: Buzz Aldrin’s “Mars cycler” idea is making the news again. Here is the latest news item. While it’s a recap, there are a few points of note here in what is said and how they say it:

  • The article focuses on the grassroots and non-governmental work going on, while pointing out specifically that NASA is not even considering a manned Mars mission;
  • Aldrin specifically addresses the “flags and footprints” problem: “If we’re going to go to Mars with human beings, we need to do it in an evolutionary way, so that we can continue doing it”;
  • Aldrin sees humans-to-Mars as “inevitable”, and believes that the budding space tourism industry could help to pay the way.

I like this idea, but I hope that it turns out to be more than a viewgraph-and-press-release project. It certainly addresses some of the problems with Mars Direct, specifically that MD is a disposable vehicle, and that it is limited in crew size by the size of the launcher. If a crew of four or six could do a lot of exploration, think of how much a crew of fifty at a time could do, particularly if they were coming to stay long-term. Indeed, it’s tempting to think of these cyclers less as round-trip transports and more as one-way emigration ships.

On the other hand, one hundred people every two years won’t build up a sizeable population on Mars in the near term, one large enough to be capable of resource independence from Earth. While it’s an open question how many people would be required for a self-sustaining presence on Mars, I’d hazard a wild guess it would be in the low thousands. This would suggest that more than two cycler ships would be required (if the orbital mechanics could support more than two), and/or some form of modular design is required to allow the ships to be expanded over time to accommodate larger crews.

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