Time to Eat the Dogs

On Science, History, and Exploration

Planning Our Trip to Mars

I’ve been grousing here and at HNN about NASA’s goal to return to the Moon and Mars, a plan that does not offer, in my opinion, a mission compelling enough to warrant its multi-billion dollar price tag.

Trolling around the blogosphere, I am beginning to realize that grumpiness about NASA’s Mars mission runs deep, extending to the ranks of policy makers, aerospace engineers, and space scientists.

For example, John Marburger, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, gave a speech at the Goddard Memorial Symposium recently in which he considered the big picture of U.S. space policy. Marburger is generally supportive of space exploration, but warned about the ad hoc nature of space exploration to date:

The one big question any vision of space exploration must answer is “Are we going to do it at all?” As I put it in my speech two years ago, “Questions about the vision boil down to whether we want to incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere, or not.” If we are serious about this, then our objective must be more than a disconnected series of missions, each conducted at huge expense and risk, and none building a lasting infrastructure to reduce the expense and risk of future operations. If we are serious, we will build capability, not just on the ground but in space. And our objective must be to make the use of space for human purposes a routine function. [full speech].

Engineers have also been speaking out about the ad hoc quality of planning the mission. From Gravity Loss:

So how is it that an agency getting 15 billion dollars a year is failing to pin down the mass numbers any better? … What will the payload landed on the moon be? What propellants are used? What is the Altair’s or Orion’s mass?…It has seemed that a certain cycle has formed. First a solution on Ares I is based on some logic linking it to Shuttle hardware, infrastructure or Ares V with common elements, which should save a lot of money and time and keep the workforce etc etc. Somewhat later, rumors about a severe performance shortfall on either launcher start circulating. Then after a while NASA announces a new configuration where the commonality is disrupted. And again forward we go. [full post]

And a similar economic criticism (with a free-market tilt), from Jon Goff at Selenian Boondocks:

Having NASA develop its Constellation architecture means that 20 years from now, it will be just as hard for a commercial entity to get to the moon as it would be if Constellation was cancelled tomorrow. Nothing that is being done “reduces the risk or expense of future operations” or “makes the use of space for human purposes a routine function.” I’m glad that at least someone is trying to tie this all back to actual benefit to the nation. I’m also glad that John pointed out that the whole “NASA only spends less than 1% of the federal budget” line does not give NASA carte blanche to spend that money however it darned well pleases. That money is supposed to be spent in a way that furthers the national interest, preferably in a way that makes space more accessible for everyone. [full post]

If I find happier opinions, I will report them here, scout’s honor. The cheeriest news, as you might expect, can be found at the NASA website.



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