[Update 2/26 12pm: The House Science Committee has posted the charter for the hearing, and it confirms some of the speculation that this would be a discussion of a crewed mission to fly by both Mars and Venus: “This hearing will explore the need for a roadmap of missions to guide investments in NASA's human spaceflight programs, how a manned mission to flyby the planets Mars and Venus launching in 2021 might fit into a series of missions and how the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle could contribute to that mission.”]
The House Science Committee has announced plans for a hearing at 10 am Thursday, February 27th of the full committee with an intriguing title: “Mars Flyby 2021: The First Deep Space Mission for the Orion and Space Launch System?” The only details provided so far is the list of witnesses, which includes some familiar names:
- Dr. Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute, George Washington University
- General Lester Lyles (ret.), Independent Aerospace Consultant and former Chairman of the Committee on “Rationale and Goals of the U.S. Civil Space Program” established by the National Academies
- Mr. Doug Cooke, Owner, Cooke Concepts and Solutions and former NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Mission Directorate
- Dr. Sandra Magnus, Executive Director, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Exactly what this mission concept is, and whether it would include a crew, are unclear. Last November, at another hearing of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, Dennis Tito pitched members on using SLS and Orion as part of a revised mission architecture for his Inspiration Mars mission concept, which would send a married couple on a Mars flyby mission. At that hearing, he said there was a backup mission architecture that could launch in late 2021; it would take 88 days longer than the 501-day mission in the 2018 plan, but would feature flybys of both Mars and Venus.
An individual familiar with Inspiration Mars’s activities said earlier this month that the organization was now focused on studying that 2021 mission opportunity. It’s unclear, though, if that is the same mission concept the House Science Committee will consider in Thursday’s hearing.
None of the four witnesses are known to be affiliated with Inspiration Mars. (Update: a reader notes that Doug Cooke is listed as a member of the “IM Advisory Board” in the Inspiration Mars architecture report released in November.)
Also, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), a member of the committee, posted a note to his Facebook page about the hearing, saying that the committee would “hold a hearing on an exciting mission to send Americans to flyby both Mars and Venus in 2021.” If correct, that sounds very much like the alternative mission architecture Tito mentioned in November.mission architecture Tito mentioned in November.