- NASA Watch
- February 22, 2023
Houston, We Need A Mars Plan
Houston, we have an opportunity, OpEd, Lamar Smith and Ed Perlmutter, Denver Post
“We need a detailed plan to put an end to the uncertainties that could delay a mission to Mars. NASA and American space companies must focus their engineering and scientific expertise on the great task before them. Americans will feel a renewed sense of pride and curiosity about their space program. And they will be able to celebrate another historic first as we plant the American flag on Mars. This could be a turning point in the history of our great space-faring nation. We can do this.”
Indeed we do need a Mars plan — or a back to the Moon plan, or an asteroids-exploration plan, or a you-pick-a-destination plan.
But this is an election year, an especially contentious one, with alliances shifting unpredictably. And that, my friends, is sucking up all the oxygen available.
My guess is that nothing substantive on these matters will emerge until roughly a year from now, when a new administration is fresh in office and setting out an agenda.
Specific plans made before then — the kind that could win broad support and which have believable timetables — will be exercises in futility. And everyone knows it. Mars and the rest of the solar system are all on hold until January and after.
In one moment, they promise American can do and negotiate anything–even land on the moon. Yet, they stall and delay. A moment later, they claim that the costs to produce clean energy (methane leaks, less CO2) are insurmountable — they have no solutions, no experience to address problems, issues ignored for decades, and support keystone and ethanol.
They claim they can negotiate, but they cannot control the other major polluters in the world. Anything the US does in conjunction with 200 other countries will be ‘futile’ — then lose credibility by relating climate to weather–they speak for their ‘owners’.
They claim that multiple engine/capsule programs will enable Exploration and its critical for national defense, yet they provide no funding for missions and leave 2/3s out of the story –the cost is 10X the SOA and the numbers do not add up– no specifics.
A plan is only as good as the desire and ability to implement it. I expect most of the posters here could put a plan together. Plans are a dime a dozen and the web is full of links to plans for human missions to Mars. The problem is not the plan, its having the complete commitment and support of multiple Administrations and Congresses to implement it. That will determine if any NASA Mars plan succeeds or fails.
Project Apollo worked because it was started and basically finished under the Kennedy/Johnson Administration, and President Johnson was 110% supportive of it. President Johnson also knew, along with NASA Administrator Webb a long time Washington lawyer, how to keep the Congress in line and were willing to expend the political capital to do so. Yes, the landing took place under President Nixon’s Administration, but it was going too strong for him to stop it. But of course he did end it with Apollo 17.
Rather than plan for Mars, give Mars a rest. As you have said before (and I’ve condensed your quote) the Mars Underground hijacked our space policy and see Mars as a second earth. They continually shout down any rational space strategy with the outdated Manifest Destiny. Use our limited budgets to build capabilities of space tugs, orbital refueling, and lunar lox. The infrastructure that will give us many destinations beyond earth rather than Mars that has already been well mapped and explored. Oh and note ISS is only one Soyuz failure away from being abandoned.
Yes, the Moon should be the next step, not Mars, if NASA was thinking rationally. A partnership with private industry would bring the Moon within reach by making it possible to do it in an eight year Presidential Administration and within the current budget of NASA, the two criteria needed for any NASA plan to succeed.
Once established it would be as hard for NASA to abandon a Moon base as it is to abandon the ISS. Actually more so as their are more ways for the ISS to fail forcing it to be dropped in the ocean versus a Moon base where even the need to abandon if due to a failure would allow it to be restored to service at a later date.
Of course this is the fear of the Mars Underground, that and folks finding out just how interesting the Moon would be, especially when folks see astronauts exploring it in HD videos 🙂
But by partnering with private Industry NASA would have an exit option once a Moon base is established, and be better positioned for going to Mars or beyond.
The moon has nothing to do with going to Mars since NASA must test as you fly, and 1/2 the GCR and 1/6th g ~= full GCR and microg. Further, rovers in lunar dust are not the vehicle for the 1 year (or less) trip.
“Use our limited budgets to build capabilities of space tugs, orbital refueling, and ….” wait for it …asteroid ISRU–substantially more resources that avoid expensive gravity wells.
So please provide rationale and details on how lunar first solves the Space Grand Challenges, especially if it will be hard to abandon a lunar base long after the public interest.
The choice is not between the Moon or Mars. It’s never been except in the minds of Mars advocates. The real choice is between the Moon or No Where.
For the last 45 years (from the Agnew Commission) American presidents have shown no interest in expending the political capital to make Mars a realistic goal. They may state it as a space goal when they make their Kennedy like appearance to announce their new space vision, but it is always so far down the road they will never be held accountable for not achieving it. There is zero evidence that will change in the foreseeable future.
Similarly for the last 45 years no Congress was been willing to make the financial commitment to NASA to send humans to Mars. There is also zero evidence they will change in the foreseeable future.
So the question to you is why you prefer going No Where under the guise of “Space Grand Challenges” rather than picking up where Project Apollo left off and continue the exploration of the very interesting world known as the Moon. What is your rationale for pretending NASA is going to Mars instead of its actual destination of No Where?
NASA today is no longer the NASA of Apollo, it is no longer capable of doing those “Space Grand Challenges” because neither Congress nor presidential administrations are willing to give it the resources to do so. That is reality. The other reality is that the Moon is in reach financially now, not several decades in the future.
Really, it is far better to be “bogged” down on a new world to explore then to continue pretending that NASA will be sending astronauts to Mars in the next 45 years while actually going No Where.
While I agree with your points regarding Mars, I don’t necessarily) share your enthusiasm for a moon base.
MB has the advantage of ISS, which is chiefly inertia. On the other hand, NASA has shown very little ability to develop the ISS as a research base and there’s little reason to think they’d do better with a moon base. Additionally, assuming that the MB would be multi-national, current international politics don’t look promising; finding a suitable partner with the depth of experience the Russians bring isn’t possible.
The MB has another big advantage in that NASA can twitter the world with pictures of the base.
In point of fact and as pointed out elsewhere in the discussion of suitable engines and fueling alternatives, out fundamental level of technological knowledge; elevating this base should be priority #1 but it sure ain’t shiny.
My own sense is that we are, as many have reiterated, many decades away from successful operations within gravity wells, even lunar. But that’s fine: there are so many industrial-level issues to resolve that NASA could be fully employed for – well, decades.
But again, this ain’t shiny. #pathToSpaceTugs! Lacks a certain ring.
It’s hard to imagine even NASA could place astronauts in a Moon base without doing science, even picking fresh lunar samples and testing them in an uncontaminated environment. Its not like the ISS where there isn’t any reason to go outside except to fix something that broke. Its a whole world waiting right outside the airlock.
Also I wouldn’t partner with other nations as with ISS, that would only make it unnecessarily expensive. I would have NASA partner with private industry. There are several firms with a interest in returning to the Moon, and doing it inexpensively in a way that would fit in the NASA budget. That is the logical path to a Moon base, not creating an ISS on the Moon.
As part of the Mars Underground, back when it existed, I guess I should speak up. I’m interested in a sustainable presences _somewhere_. Given the costs, that means minimizing supplies from Earth. Bulk consumables are the first and easiest thing to produce locally. The moon gives you oxygen and, maybe and in a few places, hydrogen, but you have to dig. Mars gives oxygen, nitrogen/argon and water, all from gas/wet chemistry. The water takes some extra effort, but that involves running the intake fan longer. That’s much easier than shoveling regolith into a bucket. (Note that, in places were water comes from shoveling and melting snow, most men don’t shave, and that is their stated reason.)
Except that there now appears to be water on the Moon, at least in quantities enough for a Moon base. That was unknown before. Also the Moon is close enough you are able do the shoveling telebotically, something Mars is too distant for. And finally, the Moon is close enough, as Astronaut John Young pointed out in a talk at ASCE Earth and Space 2006, if something goes wrong with your use of local resources new supplies are only days away, not a year away.
In short the Moon is doable now, not decades in the future.
“We need a mission statement from NASA …..”
NASA will begin venturing deeper in space to explore Mars and beyond. Stepping stones missions have been established to demonstrate that the crew and hardware can survive the long trips. An efficient, cost effective, L2-to-Mars transportation infrastructure consisting of chemical and electric tugs and gas stations with common hardware elements combined with the goal of reuse will efficiently meet the challenging Exploration goals.
A balance of operations and R&D is essential in the flexible path forward as NASA has established the right plan that fits within the budget. Advances from R&D programs addressing the Space Grand Challenges will lead to technology maturation programs and numerous precursor missions to retire risk and guide future detailed mission planning for Mars in the early 2030s, as NASA must test-as-you-fly to reduce the risks.
Recent studies have shown that the depot centric, launch vehicle independent, architecture featuring reusable tugs between L2 and Mars will best enable this bold new vision that includes significant International Participation. NASA realizes that providing a stable flight rate to industry will further lower launch costs for both military and commercial customers thereby offering a significant potential for new space markets. The super heavy lift capacity based upon shuttle derived hardware will proudly, yet reluctantly, be retired, as will Orion, as NASA shifts $ from redundant capability to missions and R&D.
NASA’s bold new architecture and plan featuring a consolidated set of launch vehicles along with IPs delivering propellant and supplies will significantly reduce the costs of reaching space for DOD and NASA.
Lower launch costs will bolster our national defense, enabling superior advanced space assets/capabilities, including reduction in space debris. Most importantly, this plan enables new emerging markets. Industry envisions low cost, high speed, global, internet coverage will be the first spin-off to benefit *all*. The benefits will be self-evident.
Further cost reductions are anticipated because 70% of the mission mass is dirt cheap, Class D propellant providing a high value reward for LVs based on reuse, as well as providing an alternative approach to certification.
The lower launch costs will enable the scientific community to expand discovery, including gravitational wave satellites and stepping up the Asteroid Grand Challenge to detect, track, and characterize all asteroids that will lead to mitigation and/or ISRU.
Without this science partnership, HSF can only realistic reach to Mars unless ISRU technology can be shown to be practical and cost effective. Further, asteroids near Mars offer significantly more cost reductions than earth or lunar based resources. This bold new plan may even warrant a plus-up to enable more missions and destinations for the entire NASA community.
Detailed roadmaps are available at http://www.nasa.gov and plan can be implemented immediately upon Congressional approval, unless Congress wants NASA to continue to build decades old, expendable hardware that is at least 10X the cost of the SOA with inadequate budget for even a single mission, and let all this innovative planning be an exercise in futility, for example specifying 70 and 130 t, err, mT.
I think before we make a plan, before we decide on a plan, we had all better nail down and agree on exactly why we should be going to Mars. Setting aside all partisanship, all egos and all miss-comparisons to funding expenditures here on Earth. See: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/a…
You, sir, are a trouble maker 🙂
Distrust the obvious, suspect the traditional…
To-Mars is quite simple: to address *all* of the NASA Space Grand Challenges rather than ignore them for special interests and expensive 28 day lunar missions at zero ROI.
High Mass Planetary Access (with an atmosphere), Long Duration Space Health ( in the proper radiation/gravity, AVOID GRAVITY WELLS to fit within the budget), Long Duration In-Space Transportation, economical ISRU, …
NASA’s steady demand for to-Mars launch mass will reduce costs to Space. Industry will be free to start a space tourism market using as much or as little Apollo or shuttle derived hardware that their ‘free markets’ decide.
Rather than look for a needle in a haystack on the moon, NASA will actually seek in-situ resources on the actual source: asteroids, which are near and beyond Mars.
So, no reason to actually go to Mars itself then, just using Mars as a cause to rally around to push development of technology and infrastructure for other purposes.
Maybe better then to just go directly after those goals and skip Mars, if that’s all you can come up with.
Maybe, but it’s a shrewd understanding of human nature.
No, not at all..its simply a matter of economics to meet the objectives established in NASA’s charter–long-range potential benefits to be gained from aero/space for peaceful/scientific purposes combined with *decades* of neglect raising the TRLs. Many factors combined.
In the post below…”a balance of ops/R&D”. For example, “Landers” are not ignored, but rather directed to landing heavy objects on Mars getting them there ‘economically’. Robotic engineers are *struggling* to increase landed mass. Pre-positioned propellant enables the chemical approach, but NASA can do better. http://www.4frontiers.us/de…
On the flip side, the moon offers such limited value to deep space–if you disagree, let us know what you come up with–don’t forget rationale. Recall NASA continued to send men to the moon long after the public lost interest in your considerations–its not sufficient IOW.
Once the infrastructure is in place with the goal of *reuse*, significantly more science+HSF missions fit within the budget. It includes substantial contributions from IPS ( 70% of the mass is dirt cheap propellant)–it may even warrant a plus up.
The infrastructure costs are dwarfed by ops costs of SLS/Orion, not to mentions ISS, which now exceed 8B/yr. Congress planned on spending 3B/yr on the LV/capsule. Illogical.
Worse, by designing for the moon only, the LV and capsule design ended up expendable and unable to reach an asteroid-> rock retrieval. Look at ACES, while much improved, it can now only limit boil-off for a few weeks.
Indirect spinoffs and moon first with expendable hardware are not sufficient. One cannot establish new markets or explore gravity wells or venture beyond Mars without Economic Access to LEO and in space. By shifting SLS/Orion dollars to missions and R&D, the stable demand for IMLEO lowers launch costs likely enabling cheap global high speed internet–not too shabby! NASA needs more programs run more efficiently–overlapping bell shaped curves.
Distrust the obvious approach and recognize that if would be great if capitalism and tax cuts solved all ills.
Why plant an American flag – on Mars? That is not a long term plan or a strategy.
Why do we need a plan? We have a hashtag!
The biggest roadblock to Mars is cost. SLS/Orion isn’t helping to solve that problem. I look forward to SpaceX testing Falcon Heavy. An operational Falcon Heavy would drive launch costs down further, putting even more pressure on ULA to do the same. Market forces will drive down launch costs far faster and with far less development costs than the SLS program ever could.
No. The biggest roadblock to Mars is: we don’t have a clue how to leave earth, how to land on mars, or how to maintain a Mars base.
Not as I price we can afford, at any rate. If we just want “boots on Mars” we can send a pair on an unmanned lander.
NASA needs to decide what it wants to be (when it grows up). Maybe just planting a flag on Mars and kicking up the dust is enough.
On the moon, during Apollo, just planting a flag and kicking up the dust, was all that was needed and Americans grew tired of it immediately after the first landing. But, most of the people of the space program were left wanting a lot more. Even most of the astronauts who had walked there felt NASA should have been allowed to do a lot more. So the recent NASA management’s desire to simply do another flags and footprints mission is not a plan or strategy that I would support. Once we would finish, everyone would be wondering, what’s next.
We’ve been sending people into orbit for fifty-five years, but we wanted to establish an outpost, which the Russians did with Salyut and Mir and more recently, an orbiting base which we’ve done with the International Space Station,
We are missing the cost effective earth-to-orbit transportation system that the Apollo engineers went a long way towards trying to put in place. It is still needed. Picking up where they left off in 1981 ought to be step 1.
Then it will be time to establish outposts and later bases on other worlds. The moon makes far more sense initially, because it is so much closer and so much more easily supported. And then, eventually, we should move on to Mars.
This is the basis of a plan and a strategy.
The idea that we should trash ISS, or Shuttle-which the previous NASA Administrator spoke so un-intelligently and in-eloquently about; and which had previously been done with every other manned American spacecraft, that went before, is nonsensical.
NASA management is in too much of a hurry to try and make a name for themselves so they routinely feel that trashing their predecessors’ work is appropriate. NASA managers need to get beyond their generational “not-invented-here” psychological issues. It has been costly.
Fortunately the problem appears to be a uniquely American issue, and our international partners seem much more sensible and have learned to embrace their predecessors’ accomplishments.
When you and I call the Moon a stop-over to Mars, folks think we mean a rest or refueling stop of some kind for the mission itself and think it’s silly. Moon First is to build and test and evolve the tech infrastructure for long-duration, interplanetary travel that a Mars mission will need. I doubt that the phrase “Flags and Footprints” can even apply to Mars anyway, or is there a “stay a day and leave” trajectory that I don’t know about?
I view “Flags and Footprints” on Mas to be a goal to reach Mars with no strategy or plan to establish a semi-permanent presence and without a stated long term objective. I think this is what the current NASA Administrator is espousing.
Proof of concept, basically. Many space advocate hate the “flags and footprints” approach, because we want to see development and utilization and see f&f as a cheap substitute. But in this case where NASA is maybe just kicking in the door for Commercial Space, perhaps we need a rethink.
There are “stay a day and leave” trajectories to Mars. Well, stay a couple weeks. If you want to use a Hohmann transfer both ways, a typical launch window has the spacecraft arriving at Mars a few weeks before the return launch window opens. So it can be a choice between 18 months in transit for a few weeks at the destination, or staying for a bit over two years. (To be honest, that’s oversimplified, since ideal Hohmann transfers don’t exist, but the real, near-ideal solutions tend to give these results: A short stay or waiting for the next window.)