The moonwalking astronaut offers a passionate but not always persuasive manifesto encompassing space tourism and the inevitability of inhabiting Mars within a couple of decades.
Though Aldrin (Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon, 2009) again shares some impressions of his historic Apollo 11 mission, here he’s far less focused on the past than the future. For the author, who wrote the book with the assistance of veteran space journalist David, the moon is the past, at least as an American governmental priority—“a dead end, a waste of precious resources”—while Mars is the future. His vision for bringing space exploration back to the launching pad includes international cooperation rather than competition, private enterprise augmenting public subsidy, and space travel within the reach of citizens who win a lottery, a game-show competition or have deep pockets—“the pay-per-view seat price is $200,000,” he writes of one proposed expedition that has already attracted “hundreds of customers.” Aldrin envisions a cruise-ship model of commercial space travel: “Loop around the Moon, return to Earth, sling-shot around the Earth, and return to the Moon again. The round trip will take just over a week. And every time the Lunar Cycler swings by Earth, it’s met by a supply ferry, maybe even restocked with champagne, and boarded by a fresh group of travelers.” Maybe this seems feasible, but he then proceeds to his more audacious proposal: settling Mars as an outpost of human habitation, not merely exploration. It would be a six-month, one-way trip, and he sees no reason to provide those initial explorers with a return ticket: “What are they going to do…write their memoirs? Would they go again? Having them repeat the voyage, in my view, is dim-witted. Why don’t they stay there on Mars?” What he terms the “deposit, no return” nature of those voyages awaits a generation ready to go where no man has ever gone before…and to stay there.
You may say that he’s a dreamer; celebrate him as a visionary, or dismiss this as futurist fantasy.