What’s the travel buzz?

As Jackie Gleason said, to the moon! How about a space tourism industry, operated by private businesses in partnership with the U.S. government and military? This is the best way to pay for manned flights to Mars, according to Apollo 11astronaut Buzz Aldrin, still famous as the “second man on the moon.”

Aldrin presented the innovative travel concept in an address to the second annual meeting of The Mars Society in Boulder, Colorado last weekend.

“Going to the moon was the object of a holy war,” Aldrin told the 700 delegates to the international meeting. “It was driven by the exciting newness of the technology, the resolve of the United States government and people, and our intense competition with the Soviet Union. Those were unique circumstances that may never occur again.”

The founding declaration of The Mars Society (1998) says that the time has come for humanity to journey to Mars: “We’re ready. Though Mars is distant, we are far better prepared today to send humans to Mars than we were to travel to the Moon at the commencement of the space age. Given the will, we could have our first teams on Mars within a decade.”

A noble and exciting sentiment,ampered only by that old bugbear: money, or the lack of it. The trip to Mars and its eventual settlement would require a “heavy lift” space vehicle that is too costly for even the U.S. government to develop on its own. According to Aldrin, space tourism offers a solution.

The former astronaut sees tourists making suborbital tours in a Boeing 737-sized ship, powered by a two-stage reusable rocket that would take about 50 passengers to an altitude of 50 miles and a speed of about Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound).

This sounds like the vacation of a lifetime to me, and the profits would go to a worthy cause, namely the Mars Society’s efforts to reach the red planet. An added bonus would be that we would finally know the truth about Mars, and could laugh easily at old episodes of My Favorite Martian, confident that the show was indeed fiction. Or was it?