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PAGING EARTH! The Moon, Mars and that "potato-shaped" anomaly are calling!

European Space Agency
The Martian moon of Phobos.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – I would have to say that we have probably heard more from Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin in the past two or three years than we heard from him between 1969, when he set foot on the surface of the Moon and 2009 when he made a startling statement on C-SPAN about the existence of a “monolith” on the surface of the Martian moon Phobos.

"When people find out about that, they'll say 'Who put that there? Who put that there?" he said of the Phobos monolith during that C-SPAN interview. "Well, the universe put it there. If you choose, God put it there."


Aldrin is a weird cat. I can’t quite figure the old guy out. For instance, reported a few days ago that Aldrin stopped by the White House to talk with Vice President Mike Pence (and dressed in clothes reminiscent of hippie clown Wavy Gravy) about sending humans to Mars, or in the parlance of the times – “Get your ass to Mars,” to quote a T-shirt slogan Aldrin is fond of sharing to whomever will listen.

And it seems, as we have noted, that the Trump administration is planning to "go boldly" where no American has gone before, if early bets are on the money, particularly after Trump said in his inauguration speech that he wanted Americans to explore the "mysteries of space." And sp

This delightfully active octogenarian made headlines in December when he took a trip to Antarctica and developed fluid on his lungs, which led to him being evacuated from the ice-covered continent and sent to New Zealand where he was attended to by a doctor, incredibly named DAVID BOWIE! I wrote a piece about this odd synchronicity at the time, headlined "Hazy cosmic jive (Get your ass to Mars)."

Yeah, I know, cue “Space Oddity” or “Starman.” It’s weird all around and Buzz seems to be getting a buzz from all this space-related weirdness of late.

At the beginning of this piece I mentioned the Martian moon of Phobos. And there is a reason for that.

Last week we learned, via this story, that astronomers working at Jack Parsons’ little workshop – the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena (home of Big Bang Theory Way) – “helped save the MAVEN Mars orbiter from colliding with the red planet’s moon Phobos.”

So, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter, which has been circling Mars for two years now, was on a possible collision course with that little “potato-shaped” moon (to quote Aldrin, from his infamous C-SPAN interview) and would miss Phobos by “seven seconds.” 

And while Aldrin has been talking about returning to the Moon for quite some time now (we haven’t been back up there since December 1972 – allegedly), he is extra excited about going to Mars, as this USA Today story – published today – and has been pushing for the idea at least since 1985. 

And with Elon Musk talking about SpaceX taking two tourists to circle the Moon next year and bolder plans for the Moon and Mars constantly circulating, the master plan and money needs to be out there. And Aldrin has already put together a master plan for such a Martian mission.

From today's USA Today story, datelined Austin, Texas:

From his early years in New Jersey, Aldrin says he was fascinated by the outer space adventures of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon; his Mars plan is the latest reach for the stars. The project will take lots of money, an international partnership of countries, technology such as robotics and machine learning, and the support of the federal government, he says.

If all goes according to plan, Aldrin’s Mars mission will take launch July 20, 2019 – the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing – and send its first crew in 2021.

And like many of my more conspiratorially-minded pals, there may be something more going on. Perhaps Aldrin's real reason for going to Antaractica was to do some training for a possible Mars mission. Perhaps he is in good health not only for his well being but so he can be included in a trip to the red planet. That idea has not been batted down yet, from what I've seen.

As Aldrin says: "I don't want to be remembered for just kicking Moon dust."

But going back to the Moon is exciting as well. In fact, I just recently picked up a used copy of Back to the Moon, a book by October Sky author Homer H. Hickam, Jr. published back in 1999 and is essentially about a guy hijacking the Space Shuttle Columbia and flying it to the Moon, to the old Apollo 17 landing site, that last landing site I noted above back in late '72. It's an adventure thriller by a NASA insider and is very detailed, as it turns out. Dated now, with Columbia destroyed in an accident in 2003 and the shuttles no longer flying. But still, it's a neat idea for a story, using realism, rather than simply relying on sci-fi ideas.

But this Phobos story reminds me of another story, this one involving Russia's ill-fated Phobos-Grunt probe, which never went beyond Earth orbit, something I noted in this 2011 article, echoing the strange incident in 1989, when the Soviets sent Phobos 2 to check out this strange object circling Mars every seven hours, only to be "destroyed" and taking one last controversial photo.

In any event, all this talked about renewing our commitment - both public and private - to exploring space beyond low-Earth orbit is extremely exciting, but will obviously be expensive. 

But I'm on board with Buzz Aldrin. Whether or not you really believe he was the second man to step foot on the Moon, you have to admire his tenacity and the excitement in his face when he talks about American-led international missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. 

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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