Perhaps it is because it was so late, or it could be the long flight on Air Force One, but Buzz Aldrin’s performance during an interview this evening on MSNBC’s Countdown with Lawrence O’Donnell, sitting in for Keith Olbermann, was one of incoherence of argument, an interesting prediction of the progress of future lunar exploration by China, and perhaps a misunderstanding of the state of Constellation. The interview with Aldrin begins at 15:26 of the linked video.
When asked why he differed with his colleagues, former Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong, Apollo 13 Commander Lovell and Apollo 17 Commander Cernan, over the merits of the President’s plans for NASA, Buzz indignantly snapped that it was they who disagreed with him and that they should be put onto the show to explain why they support returning to the Moon. We second the idea, though it is doubtful the White House would, of an interview with Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan to talk about their opposition to the Obama Administration’s two space plans.
Aldrin went on to say that while he initially liked President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration, his support for Constellation dwindled because it wouldn’t have its first lunar landing until after the Chinese had already reached the Moon. Which really grabbed our attention because we were unaware that the Chinese were expected to reach the Moon by the early 2020’s.
One of the more interesting points brought up by Aldrin was that after watching the Shuttle land for 30 years, part of his opposition to Constellation was that it would go back to landing spacecraft in the Ocean as was done with Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo? He contends that landing on the ocean is not a demonstration of U.S. leadership in space.
The Colonel did state that we didn’t need a gap in our human space flight program that forces us to employ Russian workers just to get us up to the ISS space station. Left unsaid by Aldrin was the solution to close the gap between the retirement of the Space Shuttle and first flight of its replacement. We assume the undercurrent is that the commercial launchers will take the lead on getting our crews up to the ISS.
There are two groups that make up commercial launchers, those with a great deal of experience and those who have 1-2 launches under their belt. The experienced group, lead by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, have made it clear recently that they will not fund development of either new rockets or new spacecraft unless that program is part of a cost-plus contract, the same type of contract under which Lockheed and Boeing are building the Orion spacecraft and Ares I second stage respectively. The less experienced group promises, according to testimony by SpaceX President Shotwell, to launch astronauts within 3 years of signing a contract because SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket were built according to NASA’s human rating standard. Only, NASA has yet to release even a preview of its human rating standards. It does not exactly build confidence when senior management of a commercial launch company does not even know what they are talking about.
Buzz also stated that both rockets under Constellation were not living up to expectations for their role space exploration. Given that NASA has only been working on Ares I for the past few years and that Ares I just passed its preliminary design review (PDR), that statement stood out. We are unaware of the “other” rocket to which Aldrin was referring. It could not be that Colonel Aldrin was referring to the Constellation program’s Ares V rocket because, while it is still half on paper, it is progressing well.
What Buzz Aldrin did not deal with were the concerns expressed by Armstrong, Lovell, Cernan, Kraft, Kranz, Thompson, and…well, the list is large. However, Aldrin did have a model of Phobos he wanted to talk about.