"This is basically like a bus that goes around its route and never stops," said Purdue University astronautics professor James Longuski, who is part of an Aldrin-led team that includes academics from Purdue, the University of Texas, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It's a conveyor belt to Mars."
The hotel would orbit the sun on a route that intersects regularly with the two planets, using inertia and the gravitational effects of the sun, Earth and Mars to power itself. It would use small jet thrusters to tweak its orbit or link to space taxis.
Aldrin, 72, has spent most of his post-NASA life pushing for more exotic space exploration.
The idea is at least 15 years from reality, Aldrin said.
Estimates of $500 billion sank President George Bush's 1990 plan to send people to Mars. Although Aldrin would not guess at his own proposal's cost, he and his colleagues said it would be much cheaper. On Monday, they will ask NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts for $75,000 in seed money to pursue it.
Aldrin foresees expeditions lasting as long as five years.
He makes the plan sound like catching connecting flights on a cross-country plane trip.
The planets and the sun are aligned for a possible mission to start March 25, 2018. Astronauts would leave Earth on a space taxi, similar to the Russian Soyuz capsule. A day later, they would reach a point about 250,000 miles from Earth and, in a delicate maneuver, dock with the hotel speeding by.
The hotel would reach the jump-off point about 250,000 miles above Mars on Oct. 12, 2018. The Mars taxi, possibly fueled from chemicals in the Martian atmosphere, would deliver the visitors to the planet's surface a day later.
The return trip would depart Mars on Aug. 8, 2020, and reach Earth on Feb. 16, 2021.
Seth Borenstein's e-mail address is email@example.com.