WASHINGTON, DC – Apollo 11 Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin says there is no need for lunar orbital gateways that play a key role in NASA's vision of landing astronauts on the moon by 2024
Instead, it envisions a differently configured transportation system that uses commercial missiles under the guidance of the Space Exploration Alliance, which includes China, as well as NASA's current partners.
"I'm not a huge fan of Gateway," Aldrin said today during a panel discussion presented by the International Astronautical Academy in Washington in connection with this week's International Astronautical Congress. "I don't believe we need a permanent structure around the moon."
Aldrin sided with critics who said that the benefits of the Gateway as a road station for astronauts tied to the moon were greater than its limitations and its multi-billion dollar value.  NASA countered this criticism by insisting that the Gateway is a key piece of the moon mission puzzle that also includes its Orion space capsule and the rocket that is yet to be launched, called the Space Launch System, or SLS. To meet the White House deadline of 2024 for the moon landing, NASA will first rely on a torn gateway and add to the structure in the coming years.
In order to reach the moon's surface from the Gateway, NASA will need to provide a moon lander as well as a transfer vehicle to bring the lander from the strongly eccentric lunar orbit of the Gateway into a lower, circular orbit.
Aldrin saw this as a bug, not a function. "SLS cannot launch Orion into lunar orbit with any specific maneuverability – so we must enter an orbit that is not close enough and now we have to build a large spacecraft," he complained. "Three spaceships are required for landing."
Alternatively, Aldrin proposed to build a reusable trans-orbital ship that would transfer astronauts and their hardware from low Earth orbit to low moon orbit. "I call it Buzzcraft," he said.
The concept is similar to the spacecraft cycling system Aldrin has long advocated for Mars missions.
Falcon Heavy missiles, or Blue Origin still to be built, New Glen heavy lift rockets, can be used to send astronauts to the craft and the space system launching can be used to send freight as needed.
Aldrin acknowledged that it would be difficult to make such a radical change in the architecture of NASA for the upcoming missions of Luna Artemis.
"We can't undo SLS, we all know that," Aldrin said. "The politics and perseverance of big companies … lobbyists … Congress … this is a messed up program."
In the long run, he said, it would make more sense for world space nations to join forces under the auspices of a governing body he called the Space Exploration Alliance. According to Aldrin, such an alliance should involve NASA and its traditional space partners, including Russia, the European Space Agency and Japan. He said it should also include China, which has largely remained out of space efforts because of US legislation.
China has its own plans for missions to the moon and Mars, as well as SpaceX.
"I think this will require a larger international organization to reach a consensus on a plan," Aldrin said. "What is the plan for the study? Who can offer what? … How to make decisions? I don't think the US is a good model for that. I don't know what it is, but it's a big challenge. "
He said the alliance could use private space companies – including billionaire Ilon Musk's SpaceX billionaire, James Bezos's Blue Origin space company and United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture – to make its consensus vision a reality .
"I'm not sure SpaceX working with NASA or Blue Origin working with NASA will change much. They'll go do their thing, "Aldrin said." But if the Space Research Alliance … is working on something, there are now increased markets, there are increased reasons for SpaceX and Blue Origin to share and work with the rest of the world. " After all, the alliance "Must make room for India, Australia, the Emirates" and other organizations that have the capability to develop space exploration, Aldrin said.
"Obviously SpaceX has that ability, as does Blue Origin, but it is pretty narrow-minded, based on a desire to return, "he said.
However, as the international climate for cooperation evolves, the 89-year-old space pioneer says time is of the essence.
"At almost 90 … I can tell you, time is a valuable resource," Aldrin said. "We have spent a great deal of time over the last 40 years for desirable thinking. I think if you had every lunarist and astronaut Apollo today, everyone would say, "Thinking enough! Let's get back in action! High national goal, Moon and Mars!" "
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