Space is hard, but the human race has achieved some impressive feats over the past few decades. Men on the moon, a laboratory circling the Earth, exploration of the surface of Mars, and the list goes on. However, the task of getting people to Mars, let alone allowing them to stay and survive there, is extremely hard due to all the problems that need to be overcome first.
Well-known former engineer, astronaut, and man on the Moon Buzz Aldrin, suggested something rather radical this week to speed up our eventual trip to Mars. He wants NASA to retire the International Space Station and in the process save billions of dollars.
Aldrin made the comments as part of a presentation at the 2017 Humans on Mars conference held in Washington, D.C. According to Space.com, Aldrin said, "We must retire the ISS as soon as possible ... We simply cannot afford $3.5 billion a year of that cost."
Instead of ISS, Aldrin wants private industry to take over low Earth orbit activity, for there to be more cooperation with China in space, and that the focus should be on Mars and what he calls "cyclers." Cyclers are spacecraft whose sole purpose is to be constantly traveling back and forth between Earth and Mars. Built to last decades, cyclers would be our solution to getting people and cargo to and from our potential next home.
As a way of testing this tech, Aldrin suggests we use the Moon. Setup cyclers from Earth to the Moon, then create a lunar base to carry out all the required testing for Mars before evolving the then proven system to form a transportation system and base on Mars.
I suspect NASA will disagree with Aldrin on retiring ISS, which is currently funded until 2024 and may yet get a funding extension. ISS forms a valuable laboratory for carrying out hundreds of experiments, testing out equipment, and monitoring what happens to humans when they spend months at a time in space. You could also argue we already have a basic form of the cyclers Aldrin mentions operating between ISS and Earth.