On his excellent blog, Selenian Boondocks, Jon Goff seems surprised when he finds that the current NASA exploration architecture is really geared towards Mars. That revelation came from a discussion thread on NASA SpaceFlight.com’s forums, where one of the key authors of the ESAS study, Doug Stanley, makes the point that the architecture’s key elements are designed to support human missions to Mars, not just the Moon. (Stanley adds that, in his personal opinion, lunar exploration “will be the ‘tar baby’ we will be stuck with that will keep us from going to Mars in my lifetime.”)
Now is that really such a revelation? Back in August NASA administrator Mike Griffin, speaking at the Mars Society conference in Washington, said that the decision to develop the two different launch vehicles for the Vision, the Ares 1 and 5, were motivated in part by long-terms to go to Mars. In his words, “if I want to go to Mars, and I believe I need something like a million pounds in low Earth orbit to do that, then I want to do that in five or six launches, not 10 or 12.”
In his forum comments, Stanley also says, “If the next administration wishes to re-focus on Mars, all of the building blocks will be there.” True, but if the next administration isn’t fond of Mars exploration, it would be easy for them to terminate the Ares 5 and focus on the Ares 1 and/or other vehicles for Earth orbit or lunar operations.