The Mars Cycler – The Future of Mars Exploration and Colonization
In the early 1980s a celebrated astronaut and scientist began work that may one day make his initial concept a reality. His dream was to create a ‘cycler’ spacecraft that used the gravitational pull of the Earth and the Moon to perpetually cycle the craft in an orbit between the two bodies. The focus of this work has now moved to the red planet, Mars. To this day, this extraordinary man continues his work, and as time goes by the dream edges closer and closer to reality. This man is Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo 11 moonwalker.
During his days as an Apollo astronaut, Buzz Aldrin became known to his colleagues as ‘Dr Rendezvous’. No wonder. His considerable work in the development of orbital and docking manoeuvres made much of those missions possible.
Taking this knowledge and experience and combining it with countless precise calculations, Buzz determined interplanetary gravity-assist trajectories that would use the relative gravitational forces of Earth and Mars to allow a perpetually cycling spacecraft to cycle in an orbit between the two planets. The beauty of this project was that gravity assistance meant that this phenomenal feat could be completed using a fraction of the propellant that conventional missions would require.
Enter the “Aldrin Mars Cycler”. A spacecraft that would make the journey to Mars in five and half months, with a return trip around the same duration. Adding a slow rotation to the spacecraft throughout the journey creates artificial gravity, crucial if bone and muscle loss is to be avoided, which would otherwise be a consequence of weightlessness during these long trips.
When the cycler approaches the part of the journey that swings it around the Earth, another craft launched from the planet’s surface will bring crew and supplies into orbit and dock with the cycler to transfer its cargo before undocking while the cycler continues on it’s course back to the red planet again. Similarly, another craft would be used between the surface and the cycler as it swung around Mars. The cycler offers a sustainable and long-term solution to travelling to Mars and returning safely again.
Buzz envisages that the first explorations could commence in around 2030. The missions could likely last around five years each in order to establish a long-term presence on the planet. Five years sounds like a considerably long time, but Buzz doubts there’ll be any problem getting people onboard missions such as this, “Hell,” said the 79 year old in an interview with Wired magazine, “I’d go.”
The possibilities that such a craft could open up are incredible. Affordable exploration of Mars, followed by possible colonization and ultimately even terraforming of the planet (altering the atmosphere and environment to be able to support life as we know it).
Finally the reality of colonizing another planet seems within our grasp and the application of this type of interplanetary travel has possibilities for exploration further out in our solar system too. To quote a well known namesake of Mr Aldrin…..
”To infinity…….and beyond!”