Congress, NASA

House Science Committee plans hearing on “Mars Flyby 2021” SLS/Orion mission concept

[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.

142 comments to House Science Committee plans hearing on “Mars Flyby 2021” SLS/Orion mission concept

  • Coastal Ron

    I guess the hardware is already going to be used to do something, and the ARM proposal doesn’t seem to be attracting much backing. Another positive is that it could end up being a public/private partnership, which I think would be overall for NASA.

    The bad is that Congress hasn’t realized yet that they are having NASA build the largest rocket in the world and that they (Congress) have not funded any use for it beyond test flights (which this flight of the SLS and MPCV qualify as).

    And certainly a big risk would be if something goes wrong on the flight and the crew dies – will NASA be blamed for the shortsightedness of Congress for not funding them properly and encouraging such risks? Or will NASA be applauded for trying something risky, even if it doesn’t succeed? And will any of this change the willingness of Congress to fund a use for the SLS and Orion/MPCV?

    More questions than answers…

  • Sounds like someone wants to pass a law mandating NASA send astronauts to Mars in 2021, regardless of funding and regardless of whether we’ve solved the bone loss / radiation / eye damage / food and water / you-name-it problems.

    Just another excuse to justify SLS.

  • Hiram

    I was originally assuming this was a set-up by the Inspiration Mars folks, but it’s true that the witnesses aren’t associated with that project, so it would be difficult for them to make any kind of commitment on behalf of the project. In fact, it’s pretty obvious that what this hearing is all about has little to do with organizing a Mars mission, but about accelerating development of SLS. Such acceleration needs a deadline, if not a notional goal, and Mars provides nice ones in 2021 (and another nice one in 2017 that will never be met). The courting of NASA by Inspiration Mars is probably of little relevance to this hearing. In fact, I have to wonder if these witnesses are just hoping that NASA will mount its own mission, and leave Inspiration Mars in the dust.

    I’m not aware that any “Mars 2021″ mission concept has been formally proposed, so it sounds like something that was just pulled out of a hat. One would like to believe that we’d have heard it presented at the IAA Space Exploration Conference a few weeks ago. It could be that no such thing exists, and that we’re looking at the inception of a HMM (House Mars Mission), to go with the SLS (Senate Launch System).

    One has to wonder what the prospects would be for international collaboration in such a mission. It isn’t like ISS, where every country gets to eventually fly its own astronaut.

  • James

    If I recall, it was the House that had language preventing the ARM. And the Senate was ‘study more before commit’ language. But I’ve lost track of such meaningless drivel.

    Perhaps this is a replacement for the ARM, as Hiram states, because it’s kind of hard for the House to waste, er spend, billions on a SLS mission that has no purpose. # face palm

    NASA: Chicken, stumbling, head cut off,,,,any moment now…..plop

    • E.PGrondine

      Hi James –

      I need to take a moment to remind everyone here that “Crazy” (keith’s term)
      Dan Goldin had plans in 1987 for a manned fly-by in 2018 using the NLS. But that was before vicious political attacks.

      The manned Mars flight “enthusiasts” now want us to spend how many billions of dollars so they can satisfy their curiosity?

      Well, as my guess is that the rest of the world is going to be working on Planetary Defense in the immediate future, I think that it may be hard to find partners for this until after 2022.

      • Hiram

        “Dan Goldin had plans in 1987 for a manned fly-by in 2018 using the NLS.”

        I remember another version of perhaps the same story. In 1996, Bob Zubrin claims he pitched his “Athena” concept to Dan Goldin. This would send a crew to orbit Mars (where they would teleoperate surface equipment) for a year. Somewhat more than a “flyby”, but not a landing. Goldin rejected it, because he thought humans needed to land. Neither NASA nor Goldin have confirmed this contact. But Zubrin did do a writeup about Athena for a 1996 AIAA meeting.

        Actually Goldin was Administrator from 1992-2001. He was at TRW in 1987. Now, what happened in 1987 was that the Ride commission proposed a Mars landing, but the Reagan administration was uninterested in that idea, and put off by the price tag.

        Goldin was a smart and innovative guy, but this idea was not, I guess, faster, cheaper or better enough for him.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    So either:

    1) We’re going to risk astronaut lives on an unprecedented, year-odd-long, deep space mission for which there is no possible recovery if MPCV malfunctions during its first crewed mission or if MPCV’s ECLSS malfunctions during its first shakedown; or

    2) We’re going to waste a few billion dollars on an MPCV/SLS mission that does nothing other than send a uncrewed spacecraft past Mars, something we did decades ago for a small fraction of the cost.

    Brilliant. Just brilliant.

    • Hiram

      “We’re going to risk astronaut lives on an unprecedented, year-odd-long, deep space mission for which there is no possible recovery if MPCV malfunctions during its first crewed mission or if MPCV’s ECLSS malfunctions during its first shakedown”

      Frankly, this concept is going to mandate some sort of a habitat, and we’re going to risk astronaut lives on the functionality of that habitat which, unlike MPCV/Orion, has seen virtually no real design, much less construction, effort yet.

      Hey, we’re the country that put humans on the Moon in ten years. We spent 5% of the federal budget for many years to do it. Why shouldn’t we be the country to put humans on (well, or maybe just near) Mars in seven?

      Uh, don’t answer that.

      Let’s not be fooled. This isn’t about Mars. As I said, this is about acceleration of SLS. “Mars 2021″ offers what the Moon does not. A deadline. We’ve responded to at least one deadline with glory, so it has the vague aura of credibility. Now, once we miss that deadline for Mars, no sweat, we’ll be setting up camps on the Moon. That will be “Plan B” for glory, and everyone will glom onto it. Look, these witnesses don’t give squat about Mars. Scott Pace has been an avid proponent of lunar return for a long time. Doug Cooke was up to his ears in Constellation. Lyles’ report predicted humans on Mars sometime this century. Magnus has a strong professional interest in lunar ISRU development. No one on this panel thinks we should go to Mars before going to the Moon. Mars-first people are probably highly suspicious of this hearing, because they aren’t part of it.

      But more to the point, to Congress, it’s SOMETHING to do with SLS that is more digestible than snagging random boulders in free space.

  • guest

    Hopefully they remember the lesson of Apollo 13 and have a completely redundant pressure vessel and complete redundancy for all of the critical systems, besides having to protect for radiation.

    If not artificial G they will also need adequate room for a complete complement of exercise equipment. That means a mission module.

    As far as international involvement, ESA only has an agreement to provide a single ATV-based service module.

    Given the past nine years and its lack of substantial progress and grossly over-budget costs, unless they hire the mission out to Space-X, its unlikely NASA could have anything more than an Orion reentry capsule ready to go by 2021.

    The idea is a non-starter based on NASA performance over the last ten years.

    • Detlef Kroeze

      We still have 2 MPLM’s (or at least I think it was 2) and a node lying around which probably could be used for habitat purposes if adapted. Though I think that they’d rather preserve the node for the gateway station.

  • Hunch Jr.

    If they hired Space-X, the Space-X vehicle could probably be ready to launch in 2018. If they wait for Orion and NASA, it might be more like 2025. NASA management dare not be trusted.

  • Fred Willett

    I’m not privy to the conversations going on between congressional members and NASA, but it seems to me that there might be a note of panic creeping in here.
    When shuttle retired NASA lost, in effect, all it’s capacity to do anything in space.
    Cargo to ISS is entirely in the hands of private industry through SpaceX and Orbital. Crew to ISS is in the hands of the Russians until the Commercial Crew Program is complete then that too will be in the hands of private companies.
    All NASA has left to call its own is SLS and Orion and those don’t do anything. There simply is no funding for actual missions.
    Congress critters might well be asking:
    “If it can’t actually do anything what is NASA for?
    “Here’s a private group, Inspiration Mars, offering a flyby mission to Mars and what is NASA’s best offering? ARM.”
    Then there’s Bigelow planning to put stuff on the moon.
    Then there’s Golden spike planning to set up a “Lunar railroad”.
    Not to mention SpaceX confidently talking of reusable Falcon 9’s flying at $5-7M a flight and ultimately of carrying “Millions of people” to Mars.
    NASA may believe that only they have the right stuff but
    some in congress may be beginning to doubt.

    • Neil Shipley

      If SpaceX’s latest plans pan out, SLS and Orion are already obsolete and nothing NASA can do will retrieve the situation. I refer you to NSF L2.

      • M129k

        Their latest plans are plans, and just that. They have done exactly 0 work on them. While SLS is comfortably riding along for a mission in 2017, there’s no indication SpaceX can get it ready before even 2025, if ever, as they currently don’t even have the money for such a monster rocket.

        SLS won’t be obsolete until a superior system if flying, and as such, it’s simply not obsolete.

        • Snardly Snarkleburg

          I do believe SpaceX is designing, building and flying rocket engines, launch vehicles and capsules regularly. How is NASA coming along in that department?

          • Andrew Swallow

            I do believe SpaceX is designing, building and flying rocket engines, launch vehicles and capsules regularly. How is NASA coming along in that department?

            The Earth version of NASA’s Morpheus Lander, including its new engine, flies.

            Having said that the lander is probably going to be cancelled in September. The expensive enhancements needed to make it work in space have not been funded.

          • M129k

            That is an extremely pointless comparison. For one, NASA is actively testing, designing and building engines and tanks for SLS. Secondly, the SpaceX systems are not synergistic with their proposed HLV. They will start from scratch with MCT.

            SpaceX is often glorified in discussions but there is no reason for them to be. They have no capability comparable to SLS, and until they prove they are capable of providing it, there is no need to bring it up here.

        • Coastal Ron

          M129k said:

          SLS won’t be obsolete until a superior system if flying, and as such, it’s simply not obsolete.

          Launch systems that fulfill current needs are already flying, which I would say are examples of “superior” systems, since they already exist, are affordable, and have a constant source of customer demand.

          Until a need is identified that only the SLS can satisfy, it doesn’t matter whether the SLS is called obsolete or not – it’s just not needed. So until a need is found (actually a LOT of need), the SLS could be accurately called an “inferior” system.

          And as far as SpaceX goes, they are making plans for their own needs, and funding them through real customer needs. That’s a pretty tricky thing to do, but so far it’s working for them. No doubt if they felt a need to do this mission they could do it using the Falcon Heavy and in-space docking and refueling – not really a significant or expensive barrier compared to what it is costing NASA to build the SLS. But apparently they don’t see much value in doing this mission yet, and it remains to be seen if anyone does, using the SLS or not…

          • M129k

            Sound points, but it doesn’t take away my original point: SpaceX is not capable of building a vehicle comparable right now, therefore it is pointless to keep bringing it up in these discussions. Neil Shiply claimed that SLS will be obsolete by 2017 because of SpaceX’s plans, which makes no sense as they are not actively undergoing full scale development of their BFR and don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting that thing ready anytime close to 2017, or even 2023 when Block 1B should be flying.

            • Coastal Ron

              M129k said:

              Sound points, but it doesn’t take away my original point: SpaceX is not capable of building a vehicle comparable right now…

              Comparable for what?

              Can you point to a funded payload that the SLS is supposed to lift that SpaceX can’t lift to orbit?

              Which is my point, is that the current Falcon Heavy, which is not being built for any NASA specific needs, is more than enough for all of NASA’s current needs.

              And if NASA needs something bigger, well then they can issue a proposal and solicit bids. SpaceX says they can build a launcher that would be more capable than the SLS for far less than what NASA is spending on the SLS, and I have no doubt that ULA could too.

              But really the bottom line here is that until there is a payload for the SLS besides the crippled MPCV, we don’t need anything bigger than existing commercial launchers, including the upcoming Falcon Heavy.

              • M129k

                “Can you point to a funded payload that the SLS is supposed to lift that SpaceX can’t lift to orbit?”

                Orion to Trans Lunar Injection.

                Nonetheless, you are turning around my point. SLS is being built. SpaceX can’t build one right now. Therefore, SLS will not be outclassed by a SpaceX vehicle by the time it is flying. Which was what I argued about to begin with. SLS might not have any real payloads at this moment, which I acknowledge, but that’s not what I talked about.

                Please don’t use my comments as your personal anti SLS soapbox. Make a blog if you want to argue against a strawman.

            • libs0n

              “SpaceX is not capable of building a vehicle comparable right now”

              Point of order. SpaceX is an experienced and successful rocket development firm and they could certainly take on such a project were they tasked with it. That includes being contenders for a competed heavy lift vehicle development contract from NASA. SLS was uncompetitively awarded due to unjust legislation, it was a corrupt continuing handout to Boeing and ATK, and cancelling that graft for a fair competition is certainly within the actionable options available to NASA if it pursues heavy lift.

        • Fred Willett

          Their latest plans are plans, and just that. They have done exactly 0 work on them.
          In fact the SpaceX Raptor methane engine is under development and contracted to be tested at Stennis.

        • Hiram

          “SLS won’t be obsolete until a superior system if flying, and as such, it’s simply not obsolete.”

          “Obsolete” is a poor word to even try to attach to SLS. SLS doesn’t exist, and it won’t exist for a few years. That word means “no longer produced or used”.

          Now, SLS, once it is done, will hardly ever be used and, as such, will hardly ever be produced. At least in any credible budget model. So once flying, I suppose it could approach obsolescence.

          The point that many people are making is that SLS may not be the best approach to lifting things that end up being heavy. Of course, we could have built a super-SLS to loft the 450mT ISS, and I suppose it might take four SLS’s to do the same, but it was decided that assembling ISS in smaller pieces was smarter.

          • M129k

            “Now, SLS, once it is done, will hardly ever be used and, as such, will hardly ever be produced. At least in any credible budget model. So once flying, I suppose it could approach obsolescence.:

            While the chance SLS will suffer from a low flight rate is certainly significant, there is no way to be certain if SLS will fly once a year or once every four years.

            The point I was replying to was not whether SLS is a better choice than small LVs; I’ll leave that up to the engineers, though judging from documents from around 2010, NASA was definitely in favor of HLVs. The point I made was that SpaceX is in no position to make SLS obsolete by the time it’s flying. Don’t move around that point.

            • Hiram

              “The point I made was that SpaceX is in no position to make SLS obsolete by the time it’s flying.”

              Let’s put it this way. Sometime soon, SpaceX will be flying a Falcon 9H, which costs something in the ballpark of $100M to carry 50mT to LEO. One SLS will eventually carry of order twice the payload for of order 10+ times more money. If I want to launch 100mT of stuff to LEO, how do you think I’ll want to do it, if I don’t have to do it in one piece? That decision is likely to render SLS effectively functionally obsolete. You can render something obsolete without duplicating it’s capacity.

              As to the documents around 2010, NASA hardly had any assurance then that the Falcon 9 architecture would be wholly successful. Once SLS was imposed on them by Congress, they weren’t allowed to consider “better choices”.

              • M129k

                There’s plenty of reason to think 50 mT is a goal, rather than an initial capability. The 53 metric ton payload will likely require both propellant crossfeed as well as the upthrusted Merlin 1D, neither of which exist right now. Falcon Heavy is likely closer to 35 tons in its initial config, which would explain why its GTO payload is advertised per 6.4 tons per half launcher.

                Falcon Heavy has a small payload fairing, poor BLEO performance, no support for cryogenic upper stages. Not every payload can be split into pieces, especially when it’s a relatively small one to a high energy destination. SLS is more expensive but not necessarily

                Also, NASA has not performed any official cost estimates on SLS. Most on the internet are biased armchair pieces by people trying to push an agenda, with very little basis to support them. Same thing is true for Falcon Heavy. It’s cost hasn’t been established yet, because it hasn’t flown either. Both vehicle costs are yet up in the air and there’s no guarantee Falcon Heavy will be as cheap or SLS as expensive as you claim.

              • Hiram

                The F9H costs that SpaceX has been advertising have been pretty consistent for the last few years. It’s easy to say that a final cost hasn’t been established yet, but nothing suggests that it will be any different that what they’ve been saying, which is nearly $100M. Also, let’s face it. There is no big commercial incentive to develop 50 mT to LEO unless there are payloads waiting for that capability. There aren’t. Of course, any such commercial incentivization is irrelevant for SLS, because there aren’t any payloads for it.

                MSFC has lowballed the SLS cost at $500M, but few people really believe that, given the likely flight rate. In fact, we’ll be surprised if it even comes in at $1B a pop

                As to propellant crossfeed, SpaceX is saying that they can do 45 mT to LEO without it.

              • libs0n


                A difference being that billions are being pumped into fielding and operating the SLS while Falcon Heavy receives no such advantage nor requires such a parasitic cost. Falcon Heavy also has a possible reusability scenario that could impact costs favourably while SLS locks us into a billion dollar throwaway rocket model.

                It’s also a mistake to compare the single vehicle’s characteristics since the MLV argument is that the cumulative launch performance of many launches is a strength in both upmass and volume.

              • libs0n


                “poor BLEO performance, no support for cryogenic upper stages.”

                Ugh, Falcon Heavy could never launch a single payload BLEO and still be the superior option for exploration because there are Earth Orbit Rendezvous scenarios that can utilize its strengths.

            • libs0n

              “though judging from documents from around 2010, NASA was definitely in favor of HLVs. ”

              NASA is no saint. Various constituencies within NASA are institutionally biased to favour a continuation of the space shuttle program through other means as that program and its beneficiaries was thoroughly enmeshed in the fabric of NASA, not to mention that the agency lives under the shadow of the glory of Apollo and is not immune from the influence to mimic their Apollo idols. HLV mania and SDHLV mania runs deep, and leads to a lack of fair consideration of options pursueable.

              This is the same NASA that endorsed the Ares 1 and was headstrong for Constellation.

        • josh

          falcon heavy is already superior and closer to launch than sls. economic viability is an important factor, you know..

          • Vladislaw

            Since when was economic viablity a factor to congress? They routinely fund pork projects that blow budget after budget with absolutely no costs to their political careers.

            • Neil Shipley

              Economic viability is probably not a factor with Congress however as Cx and other large programs have demonstrated limited life mainly due I think, to budget blowouts.

          • M129k

            It is not a superior system, lacking significantly in payload capacity, especially to high-energy trajectories. The various SLS configurations are expected to deliver between two and three times as much payload to both LEO and BLEO as Falcon Heavy, the difference is that there are actually numbers available on SLS to back check these things. SpaceX could be making up payload figures for all it’s worth, as their advertised payload of 6.4 tons to GTO for a shared flight is not in line with its 21.2 ton GTO payload and 53 ton LEO payload.

            • Coastal Ron

              M129k said:

              It [Falcon Heavy] is not a superior system, lacking significantly in payload capacity, especially to high-energy trajectories.

              Those are not the only metrics that matter. I would argue that cost is one of the most significant, and Falcon Heavy is by far the least expensive launcher available to order today.

              As to significant payloads, the Falcon Heavy can lift every large payload currently funded today. Maybe you were thinking of unfunded (i.e. mythical) payloads?

              As to “high-energy trajectories”, if we implement fuel depots and space tugs there is no need for an Earth-based launcher to have to lift an upper stage along with a payload. In fact, you can lift a lot more payload if you don’t do that. That makes all existing launchers more capable, including the SLS if it ever gets off the ground.

              • M129k

                “As to significant payloads, the Falcon Heavy can lift every large payload currently funded today. Maybe you were thinking of unfunded (i.e. mythical) payloads?”

                Or, maybe we haven’t funded them yet because they can’t be lofted by current systems?

                We haven’t fully funded an exploration architecture yet. Would you argue exploration of space is mythical, because it’s not fully funded yet? No, of course you wouldn’t.

              • libs0n

                And m129k, we can also say that there are a plethora of hypothetical positive EELV and Falcon Heavy class missions we could do were a medium lift architecture the focus of NASA instead of a HLV one.

  • Bill

    NASA seems nable to get anything done, and from the perspective of man of us working there, we are basically sitting on our hands. This week I went to an ‘inclusion workshop’ the message of which was to embrace and accept your fellow worker. Yet the HR people gave the statistics that virtually every segment of the minority population is under represented in management and in the higher grades. What this demonstrates is that the old boys network has promoted a lot of people into leadership who have never demonstated any ability to lead. It is actually much worse than the the already statistically sgnificant shortfalls would indicate because they forced out many of those not being included, and they did not show that many of those who were being promoted came from specific organizations. In other words a lot of people now trying to lead came from organizations and positions that had little if any relevance to what they are try to lead. So, is it any wonder they have no ability to get any job done? NASA human space flight has managed, in a relatively short time, to turn itself into a nonfunctioning disaster of an organization.

  • Nom de plume

    I think the House Science Committee hearing may be the usual attempt to ridicule Obama’s and NASA’s current lack of exciting missions; i.e., the grandiose and unachievable kind. They may also be hearing the anti-SLS chatter, so they invite the “right” experts, talk about exciting possibilities, and ponder why the Administration can’t do anything “right.” It’s an election year, the Republicans need to turn out the vote by shouting out what they perceive as failures of the Obama administration, dial up the anger meter, and get more people disgruntled so they will vote for the “right” candidate. But perhaps we should keep an open mind: maybe a feasible brilliant idea will be stated that hasn’t been considered before. Thursday at 10 AM – ho hum, I think I’ll be washing my hair.

    • James

      Yes, the best way to highlight the dysfunction of the Obama Space Policy approach (kick the can down the road) is to reveal how unprepared the Agency is to accomplish a Mars 2021 mission….or any mission at all, no matter when, given the extraordinary costs and piddling budget mismatch

      • Hiram

        Re dysfunctional space policy, the George W. Bush administration takes the grand prize for that. It started a mammoth lunar return effort that consumed large fractions of the NASA budget for many years, and was eventually declared unimplementable. That dysfunctionality was legendary. Even to its enthusiasts, it was REALLY obvious that it was never going to happen on the time scale it set out for itself. Maybe the Obama administration learned from that failure, and decided not to make the same mistake. That failure was sad, because that same Bush administration came up with the VSE, which was a cogent high-level rationale for space exploration. The first we had seen for a long time. As to kicking cans down the road, it’s a pretty small can that’s getting kicked by the Obama administration. You aren’t going to fit any kind of responsible and useful human mission to Mars in that can. But it nevertheless would be wonderful to see Obama’s administration come up with its own VSE that would at least try to lay the national groundwork and value equation for federal funding of future human space flight efforts. Right now, the White House has tossed that ball to NASA, and NASA has shown itself to be totally incapable of doing it. No big surprise. NASA is a science and engineering house, and not a national policy house.

        • amightywind

          and was eventually declared unimplementable

          You forgot to add, “by leftist political opponents of the program.” Project Constellation or some variation of it will inevitably be realized when Obama leaves office.

          • Vladislaw

            You forgot to add a bi partisan congress absolutely refused to continue funding the vaporware pork rocket to nowhere.

          • Coastal Ron

            amightywind said:

            You forgot to add, “by leftist political opponents of the program.”

            How sad to be ignorant of the truth.

            If you go look at the Congressional voting record for the bill that cancelled Constellation, you will find that the vast majority of House Republican’s from the states most involved in the Constellation program (i.e. Alabama, Texas and Florida) voted IN FAVOR of canceling Constellation.

            Project Constellation or some variation of it will inevitably be realized when Obama leaves office.

            Well the SLS and the Orion/MPCV certainly are zombified leftovers of the Griffin version of Constellation, but since Constellation was a program to return to the Moon, in no way could you call them “some variation” of Constellation. That would be like declaring the paint on the walls of the VAB part of some variation of Constellation.

            And regarding a NASA effort to return to the Moon, that’s not likely to happen unless your buddies in the Tea Party decide they are going to triple NASA’s budget, and I don’t know about you but I’ve seen little evidence of that happening.

          • Hiram

            “Project Constellation or some variation of it will inevitably be realized when Obama leaves office.”

            Who’s going to argue with that? It was never going to be realized while Obama was in office. I’ll grant you that in a couple of decades, something vaguely similar to Constellation might well happen. Maybe by then we’ll have figured out a reason to make it happen.

          • Justin Kugler

            You really are that out of touch. Even Griffin now admits that he was unsuccessful in building programs that addressed the technology actually needed. I heard it with my own ears at SciTech 2014.

        • James

          As far as I am concerned, Pres Bush provided the VSE. The Architectural Choices to implement VSE belong to Griffin; and he blew it. I also think he was cynical about long term funding stability and his strategy in dealing with Congress on that concer was to get something flying fast, get something up, spend $ on hardware so it would be harder to cancel. LRO succeeded in the timeframe it did, with full support from HQ (Rare) because it represented Cx in action. In the end Griffins gamble failed.

          Obama on the other hand provided not a vision, but an implementation plan called “Flexible Path”. Obama did not want to commit to anything, so no matter the size of the can, lets kick it down the road.

          In the end, they all failed. Both presidents, Congress, Griffin, Bolden, Garver, the whole lot – pocks on all their house.

          The only thing any of them seem interested in is looking good and avoid looking bad and positioning themselves for their next career move- from that we have wobbly Chicken with no head about to fall over.

          • Hiram

            “The only thing any of them seem interested in …”

            .. is doing something that is important for the nation. Unfortunately to many, going to Mars is simply not.

            Yes, Constellation was the fault of Mike Griffin, but Bush either closed his eyes or was gravely misled as the project went downhill. His interest was in providing a vision. Not in seeing it successfully implemented.

  • guest

    Gerst says SLS will HAVE TO fly at least once a year.

    We all wonder, of course, what it will be carrying if there is only an Orion available every 3 or 4 years.

    We also have to wonder if all that human space money is going into SLS, Orion, and ISS, that seems to leave no room for designing or building anything new.

    If NASA were to cancel Orion and hire Dragon, that would free up a couple billion a year for new vehicle (lander) development.

    If NASA were to cancel SLS and hire Space X for the superbooster, then we might be able to afford manned rovers and an outpost too.

    • James

      One thing you got right is NASA has no money – unless it cancels something – to develop something to fly on SLS. (And don’t look for SMD to provide anything – their broke)

      The article you point to suggests that potential international partners may provide the payload – at least that is what I inferred (could be wrong)

      One wonders then if the ESA and JAXA Arian and H2 rocket providers will cry fowl if their respective agencies forgo use of home grown rockets for SLS cargo flight.

      What a mess the future looks like. Chicken ,head, chopped, wobbly, plop

    • Neil Shipley

      Agreed witht the following caveat, open fixed price tender specifying requirements only.
      Actually SpaceX is going to build their own ‘superbooster’ called MCT powered by Raptor which will do far more than simply launch payloads to leo/beo.

      • Fred Willett

        Yes Musk would love to build a super booster, but he’s not an idiot and won’t do it until there is an economic case to be made for it.
        Yes he is building a methane raptor engine right now. It will be ideal for a 9 engine super booster when he needs it. However the immediate need is to the biggest bad-ass 2nd stage he can manage.
        This will give his heaps of margin for reusability and that is his immediate need.
        If reusability works and launch prices can be brought down and launch rates be pushed way up then (and only then) does the Raptor powered BFR become economic.
        By the way look to see the new upper stage built the same diameter as the faring (5.2m). That way the second stage for his BFR is already tested and flying when the time comes to build the BFR.
        Synergy is a big thing.

  • So I just e-mailed all four of the witnesses suggesting a couple of things. One is that the SLS could be useful in a manned Mars flyby mission but that it could also be useful in launching an inflated hollow ice sphere into an Aldrin Cycler orbit for a reusable interplanetary shielded habitat for manned Mars missions every 2.135 years.

    Secondly, I shared my belief that there should be two parallel but synergistic tracks:
    1) the government SLS / Orion track to be primarily used in launching integrated dry hardware and
    2) a public-private “Lunar COTS” track to harvest ice from the Moon and to use naturally reusable lunar landers to deliver water (first for shielding) to EML1 followed by cracking of that water into propellant.

    The SLS could launch lunar landers with significant hardware to the Moon and the lunar operation could increase the capability of missions beyond the Earth-Moon system.

    We’ll see what if anything comes from my reaching out to them.

    • Hiram

      “One is that the SLS could be useful in a manned Mars flyby mission but that it could also be useful in launching an inflated hollow ice sphere into an Aldrin Cycler orbit for a reusable interplanetary shielded habitat for manned Mars missions every 2.135 years.”

      To do what, precisely? Why is this “useful”? These folks aren’t being called to a hearing to express their views on space transportation options. In fact, if Congress has some preference, it’s probably getting to Mars first, rather than getting there every 2.135 years. That, of course, was the gist of the Apollo mandate for the Moon. Now, an Aldrin Cycler may well be useful, but you might as well start out by telling them why. What national needs does it serve?

      • > Why is this “useful”?
        The synodic period between Earth and Mars is 2.135 years meaning that this is how often they are closest. To travel to Mars at a different frequency would require an inordinate amount of energy. Having an ice sphere cycling between them would provide radiation protection for manned missions to Mars. So an ice sphere is useful for whatever one values manned Mars missions: national prestige, inspiring the next generation, science, species preservation – choose your favorite.

        • Hiram

          “… – choose your favorite.”

          Wow. Don’t be policy-dense. I’m asking why going back and forth repeatedly to Mars is useful. That’s what Congress would be asking. It’s keen, it’s exciting, and it’s a wonderful example of space transportion resusability but … where’s the beef? Congress has to ask, OK, what exactly are we going to be doing on Mars every 2.135 years that benefits the nation and improves quality of life for taxpayers? Is this about colonizing Mars? Who said that was a national goal?

          Although this hearing pretends to be about Mars, it most certainly isn’t about efficient ways to get there regularly. It’s about why we would do it at all and, in particular, do it quickly.

          The way that space advocates totally ignore the big questions — the questions that Congress is elected to answer, and then take their case to the Hill, is simply stunning. They’re then surprised when they get laughed out of the room.

  • Shouldn’t we be asking why it is that this committee is holding a hearing about a major NASA program but no NASA representatives are invited?

    Isn’t this the House Space Subcommittee trying to run NASA again?

    • Hiram

      “Shouldn’t we be asking why it is that this committee is holding a hearing about a major NASA program but no NASA representatives are invited?”

      Ain’t no such major NASA program, though some would like it to be. It’s not even a recognizable program. About it, NASA reps would have to say … “duh?”

      But that’s exactly right that Congress is trying to run NASA again. As I said, we might be looking at the House Mars Mission to go on the Senate Launch System. At least these folks don’t control dollars, though they do dictate policy.

      But this hearing is NOT about Mars. It’s about acceleration of SLS (and eventually going to the Moon with it), in disguise. Put a moustache on it.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      As a general rule, management of NASA by politicians runs smoother when no-one with actual facts to hand about programs and capabilities is present at meetings. That way, you can just base everything on rhetoric and the way you ‘think’ and ‘believe’ things are.

      FWIW, I suspect that some are trying to present NASA with a fait acompli, just as they did with SLS. As I recall it, Bolden was summoned to DC by Nelson and Hutchinson and basically told: “This is the program and you will do it without one extra penny or why the hell do we even pay you?” I will always remember the tense, controlled anger on Bolden’s face as Nelson announced SLS. It was pretty clear that he had been ambushed and given no choice in the matter.

      In any case, I suspect that Mars 2021 is going to become a thing and NASA will be given the same terms: If you can’t do it with your existing budget then maybe you can’t do anything and should get out of the business.

      • Fred Willett

        I suspect by the time it become crystal clear even to the critters in congress that SLS is never going to actually do anything SpaceX and perhaps others in the commercial sector will be in a position to offer NASA real exploration hardware.
        Whenever someone from NASA opens their mouth to talk about commercial crew or cargo they say stuff like
        “Passing the baton to commercial companies to supply the ISS while NASA concentrates on BEO.”
        What they don’t tell you was that COTS was a a small underfunded ($800M) program when, in 2010-11, NASA suddenly found itself with shuttle retiring, Constellation cancelled and NASA left with exactly nothing.
        COTS overnight went from a small “we’re helping industry” program to the only game in town.
        Fortunately congress stepped up and delivered NASA a fig leaf in the form of SLS and Orion.
        When SLS is found to be too expensive to actually exist I expect NASA will suddenly discover
        “the synergies of using commercial exploration hardware in the great tradition of American exceptionalism.”
        In other words buying flights on Dragon and MCT.

  • vulture4

    It’s because the witnesses are all lobbyists for the SLS/Orion combine. NASA isn’t invited because they didn’t send Lamar Smith a check. They’re going to sell the exciting concept of making sending a man to Mars ASAP the sole focus of NASA. Sound familiar? What will happen if we succeed, and, like Apollo, there is no justification for going back? Not to worry, we will be retired by then, if it ever happens.

  • guest

    James said “you got that right. NASA has no money unless it cancels something…”

    NASA spends more money than all the other nation’s space agencies combined and yet has been producing far less at far slower a pace. Maybe the answer is not to let NASA off the hook, but to insist on change to make sure they are using our money wisely.

    Bill said that he and others with a lot of experience are ‘sitting on their hands’, getting little done. why? Maybe some changes are required to put them back to work?

    There is something wrong. NASAs budget has not gone down significantly and yet tens of thousands of people have been laid off in the last 2 years. Where is all the money going?

  • vulture4

    The money is going into new contracts for the HEOMD SLS/Orion program and make-work for the ex-Shuttle civil servants (none of whom have been laid off). Try $1B for the J2-X alone. Meanwhile Commercial crew, RLV development, research and technology, astronomy, earth observation, and, what’s the first A for? Oh yes, aeronautics, in other words everyone trying to do something with practical value or scientific importance, are still being strangled for funds. Except that SMD is being asked to come up with a Europa payload so huge it needs the SLS to launch it.

  • vulture4

    But the SLS/Orion contractors are heavily lobbying Congress to keep giving them money so they can keep giving it back to Congress. The original self-licking ice cream cone. Do I sound cynical? Sorry, my bad.

  • josh

    doug cooke and scott pace. who would watch that?

  • Guest

    The focus on Mars is too narrow. It turns out that there are tons of asteroids that much easier to get to than Mars (see webpage below), and there are lots of important reasons to go visit them and learn more about them. Talk about an exciting mission—I would love to be one of the first astronauts to go on a mission to an asteroid!

    • Hiram

      “It turns out that there are tons of asteroids that much easier to get to than Mars (see webpage below), and there are lots of important reasons to go visit them and learn more about them.”

      But not with people. From a science perspective, the SMD SBAG is highly unenthused about ARM. Space resources folks are also less than enthused about human visits. The Planetary Resources enterprise acknowledges a “synergy”, in that while you’re looking for one to mine, you might find one that is visitable by humans. There is a lot to be learned about asteroids, but the value of sending a human to one is primarily excitement, as a stunt. There may be geopolitical value in such a stunt, but that value certainly isn’t what we learn about them. NASA hasn’t really told us what the value of ARM is, besides giving SLS something to do.

      • vulture4

        “NASA hasn’t really told us what the value of ARM is, besides giving SLS something to do.”
        You have answered your own question. However HEOMD is also trying to arrange an unmanned Europa mission for the SLS, if they can get a heavy enough payload.

        • Hiram

          “HEOMD is also trying to arrange an unmanned Europa mission for the SLS, if they can get a heavy enough payload.”

          Ah, ha, ha. And who’s going to pay for that payload? The SLS/AresV contingent has spent long hours trying to spin great science that would be enabled by these launchers. Not hard to do. What’s hard to do is pay for that great science. 60mT of science at Europa is enormously expensive, unless you’re researching the effects of bricks getting dropped on that moon. Bombs away!

          There are no “arrangements” being made for this by anyone. HEOMD is just in marketing mode for SLS science. Allied Van Lines isn’t “arranging” for anyone to move cross country, but they’d sure like it if someone did. Boy, they’ve got a pretty truck to show you …

      • Fred Willett

        The longest lunar trip was something like 16 or so days. Most were 14 days or less.
        So next lets do a mars trip of 500+ days?
        No no no.
        You need to to some intermediate length trips simply to test out the hardware. Not to mention learn a little about the radiation environment beyond LEO.
        Thus trips to asteroids.
        Personally I would do half a dozen or so flights to asteroids each of increasing length 30 days, 90, 180 and 300 days before attempting a 500+ day trip to Mars.
        But before you do any of that, of course you need to develop a lot of actual stuff. Like, for example, a reliable ECLSS.

        • Hiram

          “You need to to some intermediate length trips simply to test out the hardware. Not to mention learn a little about the radiation environment beyond LEO.
          Thus trips to asteroids.”

          So go head out in a random straight line for a week or two, and then come back. You’d learn the same thing. In fact, the advantage of that is that your launch window will be totally unconstrained. Are you really saying that a random rock makes a worthwhile destination? That’s a howler. Yeah, gotta get random dust in your toes. Random asteroids are pretend destinations, just to fool the clueless.

          Let’s go for a cruise to some random beachfront village. We’ll have a blast, tak lots of pictures, and we can even get random dust in our toes.

          Now, going to asteroids exercises navigation, communication, as well as rendezvous strategies. Um, just like we do with robotic spacecraft. But yeah, probably worth figuring out if having astronauts on board would screw all that up!

          • Fred Willett

            Asteroids, Lagrange points or just empty space. It doesn’t really matter. If you really want to go to Mars this is stuff you’ve got to do. Test flights of increasing length.
            But if you’re not interested in going to Mars that’s all right by me.

            • Hiram

              “If you really want to go to Mars this is stuff you’ve got to do.”

              I agree completely. You’d just think that if human spaceflight was good for something, we’d be able to think of a way to exercise it that offers more value than visiting a random rock. I think a long-term hab at a L1/L2 or lunar orbit is the way to go. This could be used for lunar research and development/depoting, and be a site for assembly of deep-space hardware. It’s a strategy that has legs. Visiting a random asteroid does not. It’s not just planting a flag, but planting a presence.

          • Ben Russell-Gough

            If you’re going to do test flights, it would be a good idea to do them in a way that, if the unproven technology breaks down, it won’t kill the crew except in a worst-case scenario. That means doing the test flight either in LEO or cis-Lunar space.

            • @Ben Russell-Gough,….I agree, except that LEO is a totally lousy, boring & unproductive place in which to do it——hence we should be thinking in terms of returning to the Moon! From even Lunar orbit, we’d have an ideal laboratory-setting for our mega-simulated mission to deep space. The same radiation conditions would exist at Lunar distance, as that which would prevail in interplanetary space, on the way to Mars. I would propose to the IM mission planners, that they: (1) perform a manned Lunar Fly-By, priorly, and (2) send a station-type module to at least Lunar orbit, and place a crew on board to test-run it, for a long-duration span of time, to rehearse exactly how the life-support & radiation-protection systems are supposed to operate——if indeed they’d be entrusted to function on an impossible-to-get-off-of & impossible-to-be-resupplied-from-Earth 500-day lasting flight.

  • Guest

    I agree that a human mission to an asteroid would be exciting, but I disagree that it would merely be a stunt or have no other value. Why not fly a exciting missions? The purpose of exploring is to learn new things and visit new places, and that’s exciting! The drive to engage in such activities has served us humans well here on Earth. Asteroids are full of useful raw materials, and they sometimes collide with our planet. So we have ample reason to study them closely, with robots and humans. Each one is a fascinating ancient world waiting for us to go visit it and unlock its secrets. There is a significant extant body of knowledge on the scientific value of asteroids and their potential to provide useful resources. What’s more, visiting them doesn’t require shoving things down into a gravity well (as is the situation for landing on Mars), nor does it require hauling things back up out of a gravity well when it’s time to return to Earth (as is also the situation for Mars). On top of all that, as the chart on that webpage shows, they are much, much easier to get to (and get home from) than Mars is. Some of them rival or exceed the accessibility of our Moon! Our human exploration goals will naturally wind up taking us much further from Earth in the future, but it makes a great deal of sense to prove our systems by visiting destinations that are relatively easy to reach, but still more challenging than the Apollo missions to our Moon. The bonus is that these easier to reach but still challenging destinations – asteroids – are exciting and value places to explore in their own right.

    • vulture4

      A mission can be exciting and practical if it provides value greater than its cost. Right now human spaceflight is so expensive that any scientific mission can be accomplished more easily with robotics, and almost no one can afford spaceflight for tourism. If the cost of human flight to LEO can be reduced to $1M/seat then human spaceflight can begin to become a viable form of commerce and flights BLEO can become practical as well.

    • Hiram

      “Why not fly a exciting missions?”

      I think exciting missions are great, but the return to the taxpayer is not obvious. Sorry, but we don’t pay taxes or appropriate federal money to fund “excitement”. We do pay taxes to fund entertainment (e.g. NEA), but that’s VASTLY less than $17B/yr. Let’s give “excitement” a rest, shall we? We’ll let private investors get excited if it’s worth it to them.

      “So we have ample reason to study them closely, with robots and humans.”

      When we send a robot to an asteroid (NEAR, Hayabusa, Chang’e-2, OSIRIS-REx), humans ARE studying it. They are studying it closely, but they just close to the asteroid themselves. The value of having humans studying the asteroid at the asteroid is not at all clear. It would be a “nice” thing to do, but a HUGELY expensive thing to do. Value = “niceness”/cost.

      “On top of all that, as the chart on that webpage shows, they are much, much easier to get to (and get home from) than Mars is.”

      From Chicago, Toledo is much easier to get to (and get home from) than Bermuda is. Wanna see a chart?

      “Our human exploration goals will naturally wind up taking us much further from Earth in the future, but it makes a great deal of sense to prove our systems by visiting destinations that are relatively easy to reach, but still more challenging than the Apollo missions to our Moon.”

      This makes some sense, but although our human exploration goals may naturally wind up that way, we really haven’t laid out the rationale for that to happen. We now have the capabilities to “visit” destinations without actually sending people there. We never had those capabilities before. It’s only the technophobes and Luddites who can’t appreciate that. We’ve done it for all the planets in the solar system, we’re doing it beyond the solar system, and we’re about to do it for Pluto. With the possible exception of surface systems, these craft will teach us far more than a pair of eyeballs at those places would teach us.

    • Guest wrote:

      “Why not fly a exciting missions?”

      Define “exciting” in a way that it satisfies everyone.

      What is exciting to you may not be exciting to me or others.

      For all the mythology, the Moon program had tepid public support at best, except for a brief time around the summer of 1969 for obvious reasons.

      Picking up more Moon rocks won’t be “exciting” for most people.

      • @Stephen C. Smith,…..Hovering in Low Earth Orbit for another 15 years, won’t be all that exciting either!!! Guys, the Moon is a destination world: a “planet” in nearly every sense of the word. Indeed it is larger or as large than many Jovian & Saturnian satellites, with a great deal of geological diversity & differentiation. Renewed manned visits to new landing sites upon its surface, & the obtaining of new rock & soil samples would do galvanizing good to planetary science. Just like the investigation of such rocks from Vesta or Ceres would.
        But my friends, the Moon’s real full value, to manned spaceflight, goes far beyond just grabbing further geologic bits from different locations: There is also the matter of increased & more advanced spacecraft systems. The ability to perform lunar orbital & landing missions of longer & longer time spans, will expand the technological envelope of human space endurance, in a deep-space, beyond-the-ionosphere environment, very much like that of interplanetary space.
        Life support systems & spacesuits will have to be made much more robust, than they were 41 years ago, with Apollo. Electric & mechanical systems will have to withstand the test of Moon orbital & surface stay times lasting much longer than a mere three days. How about a fortnight expedition? Or a four or six week one? Having our astronauts survive through the long, dark, cold lunar night? THESE are the things we should be trying to do, instead of dead-end, imaginary trips to sample asteroids.

        • Hiram

          The case for paying attention to the Moon is strong, but the case for sending humans back there to do it is not, particularly. Everything you list for lunar surface tasks can be carried out telerobotically, if not from orbit, then from the Earth, probably better than an astronaut could. It’s a different world, technologically, than it was forty years ago, and those enabling technologies are advancing rapidly. As to “increased & more advanced spacecraft systems”, there is nothing about the Moon, or even manned spaceflight, that uniquely provides it. As to having our astronauts survive a long, cold, lunar night, geez, have them sit in the shade *anywhere*, and the challenge is the same. A sunscreen (a la Webb) will provide plenty of shade, if you really need it.

          The issue isn’t what we could do with people on the Moon, but what we could only, or best do with people on the Moon. We could invest in laboratories in Mongolia to develop surgical skills (that would be “exciting”, no?) but, hey, we could do it a lot better and more cheaply in a Baltimore suburb. In many respects, the hard part about putting people on Mars is getting them there safely. Landing people on the Moon hardly tests that capability.

          Increasingly, the rationale for putting people back on the Moon is becoming … to put people back on the Moon. You can travel endlessly with such circular arguments, but you don’t really go anywhere.

          • @Hiram,….As in the CIRCULAR argument, for remaining in LEO and plowing right on with extending the ISS to the year 2030?!?! Having a team of astronauts emplaced on the Moon, and surviving adequately for multiple weeks, will be the ideal test of space surface module systems. Even better will be the concept of leaving unattended, parked in lunar orbit, of the main trans-lunar craft, for the duration of the surface stay. This would be a major test of our space vehicle capabilities, something that has never been done before. The landing of an unmanned cargo lander, in advance of the crew’s arrival, would also be a brilliant development, which has never been acheived before. All of these items are much-needed capabilities, which’ll be needed in advance of any interplanetary manned trip! We have been squandering & wasting so much valuable time & effort in Low Earth Orbit, when all the while the REAL challenging destination has been looming in the night sky, three-days-trip away!

            • Hiram

              “As in the CIRCULAR argument, for remaining in LEO and plowing right on …”

              You lunatics don’t seem to get it. The symbol that you folks worship, dance around, and and pray at is a circle with a bar through it. No circles! Ban them! Ick! But hey, the Moon goes around in a circle. Yes, a bigger circle than ISS. It’s even going slower than ISS. Lots slower. But of course it isn’t really about circles, is it? What you folks want is distance.

              As has been pointed out here a zillion times, what we’re learning on ISS is profoundly important to going large distances. I mean *really* large distances, like Mars. We don’t learn by huddling in a lunar habitat for two weeks what we now learn in many months on ISS. We’re doing what we can afford to do right now, which is to learn. The challenge of distance is real, but it’s mainly about operations management, coordination, and inventory control. I suppose it’s also about seeing a small Earth in the sky instead of a big one. You sure don’t need to be down on the lunar surface to meet those challenges.

              It is remarkable that you can say the things you’re saying here with a straight face (but perhaps you jest?) “Space surface module systems” differ from ISS systems mostly because of dust and grit, and lunar dust and grit is totally unlike that on Mars. As to leaving things “unattended in lunar orbit”, geez, we put unattended things in orbit around other worlds all the time. They work there for years. That’s not hard. Landing an unmanned cargo lander would be “brilliant”? We land unmanned craft regularly on other worlds (with, I guess, some regular brilliance). The Chinese have just done it themselves. Betcha those craft could carry “cargo”. With the money we spend propping up an occupied habitat on the surface, we could land unmanned landers that would do vastly more than carry oxygen, diapers and pastrami.

              We have not been squandering time in low Earth orbit, but developing skills we need to support humans farther away. In the meantime, we’ve been marching towards real challenging destinations across the solar system, years away, with our robotic craft. These craft are designed, built, and controlled by heroes on the ground. Many of these destinations are so far away that they aren’t even “looming in the night sky”. Many don’t even loom in telescopes.

              Now, landing humans on the Moon again and planting more flags would be pretty cool, but beyond the coolness, the value of doing so is somewhat questionable.

              Now, this all being said, what is frustrating is not that we’re working in circles, but we don’t really have any compelling commitments to do anything else of real value with humans in space. I don’t need deadlines, but rather firm goals that offer real return. The frustration comes not only from lack of commitments, but lack of decisions about the real value of humans in space.

              • @Hiram,….All this phobia to using the Moon as a stand-in for farther destinations, is extremely counter-productive!! The deep space environment differs much from that in LEO. A great deal of data could be learned from the sending of a habitat module to either the lunar surface or to lunar orbit, and seeing how the crew functions over the course of a long-duration stay there. In the case of the proposed IM mission—–and I am of the opinion that this plan is NOT a true, serious mission, that its proponents actually intend to fly; but nevertheless—–doing both a manned lunar fly-by AND some kind of manned lunar orbit module-emplacement, to check out its life-support endurance, are major prerequisites for the future mission. Learning how to handle the deep space radiation environment & its hazards, would be a definite must, in my view.

          • Mader Levap

            I find using arguments against Moon that can be applied as well (or even stronger) against Mars as funny thing, especially if spoken by Mars First supporter.

            Just saying.

            • Hiram

              For the Moon, you have 2.6 second round-trip time delay for Earth-controlled telerobotics. That’s not optimal, but it’s endurable. For Mars, the delay is of order ten minutes. Cognitively crushing. So there is no question that putting humans closer to Mars is vastly more useful for creating a sense of remote human presence than putting humans closer to the Moon. So my telerobotic argument against sending humans to the Moon is no way applicable to Mars.

              Just saying.

              Also, I’m hardly a “Mars First” supporter. I think it’s nuts to go to Mars without credible experience in deep space. I’m just saying the lunar surface is not the optimal place to get that deep space experience.

              • Mader Levap

                I consider Moon and cislunar space as good place to gain general experience. Sure, only some % of this will be directly applicable to Mars.
                This should not be problem, as we aren’t going to Mars any time soon anyway, wet fantasies about “flyby” or whatever nothwithstanding.

          • Hiram

            “All this phobia to using the Moon as a stand-in for farther destinations, is extremely counter-productive!!”

            It’s not really a “phobia”, is it? It’s a matter of what is the most efficient way to do it. I don’t have any “phobia” about learning how to swim in a pool full of milk. It’s just a pretty stupid thing to do, when there are easier ways to do it. Well, yes, maybe I have a phobia about not doing pretty stupid things.

            As to “deep space environment”, there is a lot of deep space environment around that is not on the lunar surface, and more easy to reach. In fact, the lunar surface is an environment that is in many respects quite different than “deep space”. The space radiation environment there is quite different, because of shielding on one side of you, and regolith-induced secondaries. I agree that this Mars 2021 plan is not a “true, serious mission”, but the prerequisites that one needs to travel to Mars are largely not satisfied by a trip to the lunar surface.

            • @Mader Levap & Hiram;……”Sure, only some percent of this will be directly applicable to Mars.” Bingo: It does NOT always have to pertain to a Mars mission for it to be a worthwhile & productive thing to do! Just look at the exact conditions that the ISS crews currently work & live under. Are you going to tell me straight-faced, that we can simply send a set of two or three docked ISS-type of modules Mars-ward and be fully assured of reliable electro-mechanical performance, to mission success?! Of course NOT: the ISS relies on regular resupply from Earth, via cargo flights. Its life support system could NOT be expected to endure a 500-day mission.
              The Moon, whether you place the station module on the surface or just into low lunar orbit, provides a psychologically & physiologically far-enough detached-from-Earth locale, which dictates that you design your mission for greater autonomy from the home world. LEO is just too easy & unchallenging!! On the ISS, or a hypothetical ISS-2, there’s just NO incentive to actually develop the kind of life-support system which could reliably survive a to-Mars-&-back journey. Whereas any future manned sojourns of the Moon, will fully require having equipment & machinery that will be put to major time-span tests, concerning being cut-off from Earth, for such expedition durations. The radiation conditions will match closely, those in trans-Mars space. A solar flare event may eventually be dealt with, hence some sort of radiation storm-shelter will have to be developed, and used over the course of a Lunar outpost expedition.

  • Guest

    I disagree that human space flight is “so expensive.” Space flight (robotic and human) is one of the least expensive things we humans do. (And incredibly rewarding, meaning that the return on investment is huge.) For example, the amount of money we spend on vices that cause preventable diseases and treatments for those diseases dwarfs the amount of money spent on space exploration. Another example is illegal drugs: Americans spend way more money on purchasing illegal drugs than we have ever spent on exploring space. For a more pedestrian example, consider that Americans spent $53 billion dollars on pets in 2012:

    The list of things we spend way, way more money on than space exploration goes on and on: professional sports, movies … you name it.

    Another important point is that NASA’s budget is less than 0.5% of the federal budget. And, as noted above, Americans are spending approximately 3 times as much on pets as they do on space exploration (all of space exploration, meaning that includes all foundational and related activities, not just the “flight” portion that we’re arguing about here).

    So I find your statement that “human spaceflight is so expensive” to be completely absurd. NASA could quadruple the amount of money spent on human (and robotic!) space flight, and the cost would still be a drop in the proverbial bucket.

    The problem is lack of public education and will, not a lack of resources.

    • Berfly Nardleton

      The problem we are discussing is FAILED NASA human spaceflight programs and billions of dollars and decades flushed down the tubes. You are recommending more of the same.

    • Hiram

      “So I find your statement that “human spaceflight is so expensive” to be completely absurd.”

      Well, I should be relieved. I thought my house payments were expensive, but hey, they really aren’t, compared to, say, the Farm Bill. Thank goodness for absurdities.

      The fact of the matter is that *in order to do things in space*, human spaceflight is quite expensive.

      In terms of quality of life, what most people get from their pets is enormously greater than what they get from human spaceflight. Perhaps also from illegal drugs.

      The problem is lack of public education and will? Really? If the public were better educated, the advantage of not using humans in space would be obvious to them. The public sees astronauts as fly-boys and muscle-men (as well as the obligatory women) who, helmeted and suited, defend the country with their courage in riding flaming sticks. That’s hardly an educated view. Certainly the public seems to lack “will” to do things that don’t credibly contribute to their quality of life. More power to them, and their lack of will.

  • Guest

    There’s waste in any program, but the return on investment for our space program is huge. So the statement that billions of dollars and decades have been “flushed down the tubes” is unfounded. We should be pushing forward with ever more ambitious space exploration programs. That’s what I’m recommending. And I’m saying that we can clearly afford it — we just have to choose to do it. That’s where we (as a species) are faltering. If we can overcome that, we’ll be able to explore many incredible destinations: asteroids, Mars, and beyond! Until then, we’ll continue operating in this artificially constrained environment and wasting our time and energy on arguing amongst ourselves about what to do and where to go. Most of our arguments will unfortunately be motivated by protecting whatever piece we have a personal stake in (i.e., I don’t care how cool your idea is, don’t you try to take from my already tight budget to do it!). That’s the vicious cycle we have to break out of. The resources are there — we need to be arguing to have a fair share of them instead of arguing amongst ourselves over how to use the meager scraps we’re being told to subsist on.

    • Kniebel Varington

      the return on investment for our space program is huge.

      As far as NASA human spaceflight is concerned, a positive return on investment ended abruptly in September of 2005. You don’t seem to be able to wrap your mind around the technical and fiscal failures of Constellation and its successors, SLS and Orion.

    • Neil Shipley

      Guest wrote: “There’s waste in any program, but the return on investment for our space program is huge. So the statement that billions of dollars and decades have been “flushed down the tubes” is unfounded.”

      No this is completely inaccurate. Look at the X-33 and Cx programs. Billions and decades wasted as there was no technological progress made in any area with either of these programs and no hardware ever made it to operational status.

      If you think so, then tell us what it was.

  • John Malkin

    Guest – Government can afford what it wants to afford. It has nothing to do with logic, tax payer wants or needs or even NASA wants or needs.

    Unfortunately the authorization committees don’t dictate budget levels to the appropriation committees. The authorization committees can only suggest a spending level. NASA has a long history of being shorted by Congress on programs. Sometimes because the project cost more than projected but sometimes just because we are in “tight” times. The Science committees refuse to face the fact that budget vs. goals must match. Both CAIB and Augustine Commission pointed this out to Congress but after a couple of years it’s forgotten. Both the Tea Party Representatives and Republicans talk about cutting budgets so for NASA, the pipe dreams are un-affordable.

    SLS/Orion is a huge drain on NASA resources and dumping ISS into the Ocean, as some have proposed here, will not help the situation and may even make it worse.

    • Neil Shipley

      Yes, many seem to believe that the $3 billion odd pa that goes to the ISS will automatically be assigned to their pet space project. Where is that written I ask? It could as easily be spent in another agency or program that has nothing whatsoever to do with NASA and what NASA gets is a reduced budget.

  • Hunch Jr.

    Much of the debate here seems focused on the cost of human space travel. Remember, Space-X is showing that space flight need not cost what human space flight on NASA’s ticket costs. This is not the first time its been shown. None of the other international participants in ISS, and most notably the Russians who also do human space flight, cost what NASA costs. And when integration of experiments, which included training and mission operations, was done on the commercial Spacehab which flew in Shuttle, prices decreased by about 85%. NASA and its contractors, whether as a result of outside political interests such as from Congress, or because of contractor overcharges and NASA management, simply cost far more than what they should really cost. It is not only dollars, but time as well. This is clearly seen in the comparison of Orion and Dragon. Orion has been in development longer. If they were both complete they would be similar technology levels, although Orion is as yet just an empty command module, whereas Dragon is a fully functioning vehicle. Orion has yet to fly. Dragon has flown several times.

    Personally, I do not like throwing money away and I do not like spending money unnecessarily to pay large corporations for products they have yet to deliver (and based on the last twenty five years of NASA and NASA contractor performance, which they are most likely to never deliver). When I spend money on entertainment or my dog or alcohol, I get happiness or comfort. When my money goes to something like Orion I feel like I am throwing it unnecessarily into the trash.

    • Neil Shipley

      I beleive NASA programs are loaded with NASA overheads. Not sure how much but it’s substantial. That’s $’s immediately unavailable for the program. It just gets shunted off.

  • red

    Assume for the sake of argument that the mission concept to be discussed at the hearing is more or less the same as the one described in the November 2013 Inspiration Mars report. On Orion, that report says:

    “while the Orion spacecraft is being designed to perform a wide variety of mission scenarios, many aspects of the IM mission fall outside of that design envelope. One of these critical areas was the reentry speed. Orion’s missions only require reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds up to 11.2 km/sec, whereas the special IM trajectory would have the spacecraft reentering at speeds near 14.2 km/sec. While this is only a 27% increase in reentry speed, the physics of atmospheric heating produce heat loads that are several times greater. To survive the Orion spacecraft would need a new, thicker, heavier heat shield along with a strict mass limit that is difficult to achieve given the
    fixed geometry of the Orion crew module. Additionally, the specialized ECLSS needed for the 501 day mission and the amount of food and water required for the crew increases the launch mass of the Orion capsule to the point where a
    safe launch abort is perhaps no longer possible.”

    Because of that, their architecture replaces Orion with a Cygnus-based habitat module, a service module, a “specially designed Orion Pathfinder Earth Reentry Pod”, and a commercial crew launch to get the crew to the Mars flyby spacecraft. Since Orion wouldn’t launch the crew, the Orion LAS wouldn’t be needed. The service module would not need to be the European Orion service module, and as depicted in the report doesn’t look like it. The “Reentry Pod” seems to be sized totally differently from the Orion capsule, perhaps just big enough to bring 2 people back to Earth. The heat shield would be different, too:

    “ARC recommended the use of phenolic impregnated carbon ablator (PICA) as the TPS material for the IM ERP heat shield.”

    So my question is: “What does this have to do with Orion”? It doesn’t look like any of it has much to do with Orion. If the committee is using the same architecture as their discussion topic, why is “Orion” in the title of the hearing? If not, how do they propose to solve the problems that Inspiration Mars found with Orion for their flyby mission with Orion?

    If NASA does go for a mission like this Mars flyby, and the Pod is used instead of Orion, one wonders where the money for the pod, SLS DUUS, hab, service module, 2 launches, etc will come from. Inspiration Mars would only fund a fraction of those. My suggestion would be to cancel Orion and use the resulting funding wedge for things like the pod. I would imagine that the hab/pod combination would be more useful than Orion. Ideally the pod would be developed more like commercial cargo was than Orion.

    Doing the IM mission this way could be a compromise that SLS supporters in Congress and commercial/ISS/tech/flexible path supporters could both grudgingly accept.

    SLS gets an accelerated upper stage and a mission, one that might open the door to other SLS-launched deep space missions (hab as mini BLEO space station, asteroid missions, Venus flyby, technological foundation for Mars orbit capability, etc).

    Commercial supporters get another use for Cygnus, another role for commercial crew, and potentially a commercial competition for the Pod service. ISS supporters get the Cygnus-based hab tested at the ISS, per the IM report. Technology development supporters get ECLSS development and demonstration in the hab before the mission. Flexible path supporters get a mission on that path and an architecture that might be able to do some of the other flexible path missions without enormous changes.

    As for Orion …

  • Bill

    I wonder why a special Orion Pathfinder Earth Reentry Pod is required. Given Orion’s schedule it will barely be ready for an earth-based missions in that time frame. Could they really add development of the special planetary entry capability? What would that cost?

    Dragon was supposedly designed for planetary entry speeds and uses a PICA heat shield.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      I suspect that this is the point: Create a semi-arbitrary deadline (much as they did with the first flight of SLS having to be by 2016) and then tell NASA to do what it has to do, hoping that the pressure of an actual inflexible goal will improve how the agency does things.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    It should be at least theoretically possible to throw together something suitable for this mission based on the Dragon and Cygnus hulls. ECLSS remains a problem (no-one has actually proven one that could operate for 500 days+ without ground support) as does the fact that SLS would have a flight history of precisely one launch of an interim variant prior to the mission.

    It isn’t undoable but NASA would have to have a lot more money and demonstrate a mission focus that it cannot currently boast.

    Suggested Timeline – Commercial-based
    2014 – Project announced; ULA to start development of crew-rated Atlas-VH-5H2 and MB-60-powered advanced upper stage for Delta-IV;
    2016 – CST-100 and Dragonrider commercial crew vehicles to be operational by this year;
    2017-8 – Crewed mission to Cygnus-derived DSH in LEO to prove/troubleshoot ECLSS;
    2019 – Atlas-VH and Delta-IVH+2 (new upper stage, solid boosters and propellent cross-feed) operational; Full mission-duration crewed test of Cygnus-derived DSH at EML-2.
    2021 – Assembly and provisioning of mission vehicle including Centaur-heritage MB-60 powered propulsion module and commercially-utilised hypergolic OMS engines for course corrections; Mission begins

    Suggested Timeline – SLS-based
    2014 – Project announced; ULA to start development of crew-rated Atlas-VH-5H2 and MB-60-powered advanced upper stage for Delta-IV; New Delta-IV U/S will be basis of advanced interim CPS
    2016 – Latest possible date for EFT-1 heat shield proving mission;
    2018 – EM-1 mission (delayed so more Orion systems can be tested on this flight);
    2019 – Atlas-VH and Delta-IVH+2 operational; EFT-2 and -3 crewed LEO proving missions for Orion’s ECLSS and docking system; EFT-4 launched by SLS using aiCPS to EML-2 for mission-duration test of DSH
    2020 – EM-2 crewed test free-return flight around the Moon including test of Mars fly-by science procedures;
    2021 – Assembly and provisioning of mission vehicle including MB-60-powered aiCPS propulsion module and hypergolic OMS engines for course corrections; EM-3 Mission begins.

    No matter how you look at it, using commercial launchers probably would increase the likelihood of this working. Why? Because of the two ‘big tickets’ – the aiCPS and DSH, both of which are vital for the mission. You will also be compressing the SLS time line by at least three years and possibly trebling the flight rate. Finally, the earlier availability of 25t+ IMLEO commercial launchers means that the Cygnus or ATV-derived DSH’s early flight tests can begin years earlier.

    • Egad

      ECLSS remains a problem (no-one has actually proven one that could operate for 500 days+ without ground support)…

      Full mission-duration crewed test [of DSH]….

      Amen. It would be nice to do the test at EML-2, but just doing it in LEO would put us far, far ahead of where we are now. The history of ECLSSes to date does not generate optimism that a fully autonomous one capable of supporting two people reliably for 500+ days is something we know how how to build.

    • @Ben Russell Gough,….. Indeed you are firmly right, when you state that a viable, functionable ECLSS has never been built, nor proven to last with keeping a crew alive for a multi-month-long space journey, WITHOUT GROUND SUPPORT & EARTH RESUPPLY. This weakest of links to the chain, has been blissfully ignored & overlooked in the midst of all this bravado talk. By the way: I like the fact that you are specifically seeing the Moon as the viable proving ground that it is! Once you get caught up in this Sci-Fi fantasy goal, of doing a crewed fly-by of a distant planet, would it not make some seasoned, level-headed, engineering sense to maybe test-fly the designated vehicles on a free-return flight trajectory around the Moon first?! It so much annoys the hell out of me, how these Mars-mission planners will do just about anything to avoid having to do an intermediate Moon flight! Yes, guys, you had better reconcile really quick, the firm need to do a Lunar fly-by visit, prior to that 501-day interplanetary trek!
      But why stop there, at doing a mere touch-&-go of Luna? How about swallowing your pride, and send a set of lander modules Moonward? (1) First you’ll need a cis-lunar orbiter craft, which could remain circling the Moon temporarily crewless, during the landing excursion stay. (2) Second, you’ll need a main lander module, to taxi your crew down to the surface, and later on back to LLO. (3) Third, you’ll need an unmanned cargo lander variant, to deliver in-advance of the crew, much of the extended provisions, and send this to the designated landing site. This could be a two-in-one cargo/outpost module, [to be accessed by the arriving crew], or else the main outpost habitat-module could be delivered as another unmannedly sent-out lander-craft.
      Either way you do it, you’ll now have the building blocks for a long outpost Lunar expedition. Trust me: THIS Gemini-type intermediate goal will give you the most ideal test-bed run of an ECLSS! Plus, you’d have to cope with the same interplanetary radiation environment that you’d encounter over a Mars fly-by trip! Why, oh why can’t the Mars zealots see the obvious things that should be done?!

      • Andrew Swallow

        The development cost of a habitat module able to do a Mars fly-by trip and a module able to perform both the fly-by and act as a building on the Moon are likely to be similar. To do both two production modules will be needed. The manufacturing cost of the second module will be considerably less than the development cost of the first module.

        I suspect that rival bids will be received from the Bigelow (BA330) and the Deep Space Habitat team.

        • @Andrew Swallow,…..Any habitat module, or set of modules, which are to test the life support system & radiation protection shields would be ideally sent to the Moon first. This could even be to Low Lunar Orbit, to put it through a deep space time stretch, of something approaching or comparable to the supposed 501-day flight-time requirement. Sure, I can hear all the howls & grumbles coming from the Mars zealots over this modest idea! They’d rather avoid Luna at any and all costs! There’s just NO compromise in dealing with THAT kind of mindset!
          But I do see some small level of renewed interest in utilizing the Moon as an intermediate stand-in, for some of the things the Mars enthusiasts want to do on Mars——and this is where the most stirring concepts for collaboration between this camp & the Moon-first camp, comes in. Right off the bat: the idea of performing a Lunar Fly-By flight, with a 21st century spacecraft first, would be a very smart one! After all, if you’re thinking in terms of going off into a trans-Mars flight lasting well over a year, you’d do well to recreate that basic concept in miniature! Why be so Lunar-phobic?! This kind of mission takes you clear out into Lunar distance, far from Earth. That would be an excellent practice run!
          Now, as for testing out the proposed habitation module: you can either land it on the Moon, or if that would be too far of a detour, for you, then why not place it into a lunar orbit, and see how it & its crew are able to manage, during a long-duration stay, on board. This station-type of module could be sent to the Moon either all at once, with the crew, like on Apollo 8 or 10, or else it could be sent unmanned, ahead of the crew, who could then access the vehicle in lunar orbit, in another vehicle afterwards. Either way, once there, some very important data would be gathered, & new procedures for dealing with the deep space environment would be mapped out, over the course of the lunar orbital stay.

          • Hiram

            Let’s be clear. At least what you call my “lunar phobia” has nothing to do with cis-lunar space and lunar orbits. Such efforts would be wonderful preparations and shakedown for a Mars trip. My concern is that lunar surface efforts should not be looked at in the same way. Landing, installing, and populating a habitat on the lunar surface reduces few risks for doing so on the martian surface.

            • @Hiram,……Sure, putting your preparation-for-Mars spacecraft into Low Lunar Orbit, and then testing its systems for the supposedly-needed 500 days of mission duration time, is something of a compromise idea, that I float around for all you Lunar-phobic people. But this avoidance of the Lunar surface, at all costs, is sheer idiocy! All your grand designs for SURFACE habitation modules & LANDER-craft for the Red Planet, all signal at the need for grappling with a regolith-powdered planetary environment first. I really HATE hearing all that stupid jazz about how docking with an NEO would be a better preparation for Mars! Just how exactly would it?!
              On the Red Planet, you’d still need astronaut-carrying roving vehicles. To date, our only experience with such buggy-car vehicles, has been the Apollo LRV, last deployed & driven in 1971 & 1972!! On those last three expeditions, tire & fender difficulties arose, unexpectedly, because of how high the regolith dust got kicked up into the “air” as the rover vehicle drove. These & other unexpected problems could just as easily come up, during our astronauts’s next such planetary-surface car drive. Recall also, that each one of those overland vehicles were used during the course of a mere three-day span of traverses. Any future such Moon/Mars cars will almost certainly be used, or even re-used, for periods of much more longer. Resumed experience in using them, at first on the Moon,(in the 21st century), will prove very valuable towards farther future Mars utilizement.
              By the way, on an NEO/asteroid, an astronaut would be unable to stand, walk, & drive. The low lunar gravity provides a good rehearsal stage, for seeing just what habitation issues might arise, on a far-deep space landing mission.

              • Hiram

                Now you’re making somewhat more sense.

                Extended trips in cis-lunar space are excellent for proving out longer duration trips to Mars. As to visiting an asteroid, you’re correct. There is nothing about an asteroid visit that retires risk for Mars missions *except* that it takes some time to get there. The asteroid itself is, you see, just a lame excuse for taking that time.

                As to proving out roving vehicles on the Moon, for use on Mars, that’s the hard way to do it. It is well understood that for proof of vehicular mobility as well as coordination of EVA astronauts, we’re far better off doing it at Earth analog sites, which have landforms, dust, and regolith types that are similar to that on Mars. That is VASTLY easier than trying to do it on the Moon because, for one thing, one can do a lot of experimentation.

                As I said, there is no lunar-phobia here. The phobia is about spending large amounts of money to do things on the lunar surface that could be done more reliably, meaningfully, and less expensively elsewhere. In fact, as you say, lunar orbit is a nice place to exercise these capabilities simply because it does create understanding that could be used for future lunar development. Now, Low Lunar Orbit is a dynamically crappy place to do this, because most such orbits are unstable. That’s not where you’d ever put a long-term depot or habitat. Lagrange points make a lot more sense, and there are other excellent orbits as well.

          • Andrew Swallow

            Produce a habitat module. Get the ECLSS and other systems to the point where they have a MTBF of at least 1 year.

            Build a second one and launch it to LEO. Spend a couple of months checking it out and removing the teething problems. We can do that with inspace hardware.

            In parallel get the thruster module working and space tested. Berth/dock the two together.

            Fill up with propellant and other consumables. Send the astronauts on a fly-by of the moon, return in to LEO.

            If the assembly is still in working order it can live out the rest of its life in either LEO or lunar orbit or as a spacestation at EML-1/2.

            • @Andrew Swallow,…..Those are all fairly good ideas on how to practice using & test out the systems of a would-be interplanetary module. I still strongly favor a manned return to the Moon, on some capacity, hence I’d much prefer the use of at least Lunar orbit, rather than the Lagrange points, for these intermediate testing flights. Also:I’d be fully in favor of the close Lunar vicinity for the Fly-By try-out mission. For all the risk involved in doing a looping path trip to Mars, why not demonstrate your technological readiness by flying a free-return flight Moonward?
              No doubt about it: a whole lot of technological preparation work STILL needs doing, prior to ANY type of interplanetary mission, with a crew. The Inspiration Mars proponents have so far, been making things look way too easy & simple! Actually, ALL would-be Mars mission planners do this. They are horribly mistaken, if they think that after 40+ years in LEO that we are technologically ready for even a crewed Fly-By mission to the Red Planet, with things standing the way they are & have, all this time.

  • John Malkin

    Could the focus be just SLS and not SLS/Orion in order to give it a mission? The Orion made it through the Constellation cuts and they have a mission planned for Orion so maybe the contractors aren’t worried about it. It would be a joke to send two people around Mars. I wonder if I’ll have any hair left after this hearing.

    The focus should be technology development not “missions” with deadlines.

    • Is 10 AM too early in the day for an SLS drinking game?

      For example … Politician calls it a “monster rocket,” take a drink …

      • common sense

        Well it’s going to be night time in the UK and France so we might head to a pub or a wine bar I suppose and after a while you’ll feel all jet lagged anyway. Not sure which will be worse for the jetlag though, the drinks or listening to those guys.

  • gaetano marano

    but the $L$ is too expensive

  • vulture4

    NASA can and does do useful things, generally the work of small teams that struggle in obscurity with meager funds in aeronautics, environmental and climate science, materials, energy, medicine, solar physics, and hundreds of other fields. Now imagine what we could do if we only could devote the money it takes to torque a bolt on the SLS to projects that really produce important science and practical technology…

  • Hiram

    Well, that was an amusing hearing. There were several highlights that I heard. One was Sandra Magnus’ repeated statement that such a mission had to be done in view of clearly defined long range goals. As in, what are we going to do once we’re there? This “bigger picture” was not, she seemed to imply, very well established. I think she said that in a constructive spirit, perhaps as a challenge.

    Scott Pace made an impassioned plea for human space flight as being the activity that “draws other countries to us”, and that “creates cooperative opportunities” that protect our national security. A few minutes later, Dana Roharbacher asked him pointedly whether any other nations were currently involved in this Mars mission that the hearing was about. Pace’s response — “Nope.” Crosshairs on foot, trigger pulled. Roharbacher pulled the whole premise apart. This used to be a private mission funded by private dollars, no? And now it’s about public money? “Hmmmm.” We need to do this in seven years, he mused. How many NASA programs have met such deadlines, he wondered. He pointed out that there were many, many important space investments that were required, and implied that this one would conflict with those others. Roharbacher’s demolishment of the whole idea was pretty complete. There was blood on the floor when he was done.

    Baca, who is a physician, was excited about the mission because of the medical benefits it would provide. Like radiation effects and temperature thresholds, he said. Um, what? Perhaps he can point to the patients who are currently suffering from galactic cosmic ray exposure and space temperature fluctuations.

    Again, this was just a sales pitch for SLS. It wasn’t about Mars at all. As the witnesses agreed, when asked about the prospects of success, commitment to and investment in SLS was of primary concern. Pace alluded to that, in pointing out the importance of cis-lunar space. Don’t worry, he seemed to be whispering. If we can’t go to Mars with it, plan B will be for us to go to the Moon.

  • Egad

    One was Sandra Magnus’ repeated statement that such a mission had to be done in view of clearly defined long range goals. As in, what are we going to do once we’re there?

    I thought she was the best of the witnesses by a fair margin. Her answers to a question, “If you were an astronaut going on the Venus-Mars flyby, what questions would you want answered ahead of time?” were quite cogent. (One of them, “What will we be doing on the mission?” was amusing in addition.)

    • Hiram

      Exactly right. While the hearing was generally amusing, Magnus was not. She seemed to have the most level-headed perspective of all the witnesses. She supports a dash-to-Mars mission in principle, but doesn’t hesitate to say that the rationale for it — the “bigger picture” — is not completely obvious. She made the excellent point that we worked so hard to go to the Moon, and then just gave up on it because we had no long-range plan. Of course, since the purpose of the Apollo program was to beat the Soviets at missle accomplishment, the effective long range plan was that after we got the trophy, we’d just put it on the shelf and admire it. In fact, that’s precisely what we’ve been doing with it.

  • James

    Dana Roharbacher pooped all over this Mars 2021 mission. Not sure of his voting record on SLS/Orion, but he clearly does not want to do this. So if he did vote for SLS/Orion, what the hell does he want to do with it?

    All witnesses clearly identified missing a larger ‘context’ in which Human Space Flight is to be accomplished, and in the absence of such ‘context’, this mission looks like a stunt – an expensive waste of a money per Roharbacher’s view.

    So, whose job is it to create such a context? NASA Administrator? President? Congress? OMB? the janitor who works on the 9th floor at HQ?

    • Hiram

      Roharbacher is no friend of SLS. He calls it NASA’s “Titanic” — hugely expensive, and destined to sink. A “rocket to nowhere”. He’s been consistent in that opposition. He believes that commercial crew is the most important near term goal. He believes that we do not need a HLV vehicle of that order to reach the places we want to go. For that matter, he is no fan of the ARM mission, which is NASA’s desperate attempt to use SLS.

      To the extent that this handwaving Mars junket is about speeding up SLS development, he’s sure not going to support it.

  • James

    Rep Edwards (who volunteered to ‘leave this committee on a trip to Mars and not come back!) asked the witnesses what role should Congress play in setting the ‘context’, determining content/missions, etc.;

    So, at least one Congress person wants to make the best use of Congress in support of NASA….and is open to what the Congress role might be.

    Wonder if she is alone in her thinking about this…

    • Egad

      In this and a couple of earlier hearings, Rep Edwards seems to be one of the adults in the room who realize that there’s a huge reality gap in NASA HSF and is trying to find out how to fix it. Poor lady — no wonder she’s ready to sign on for a one-way trip to Mars.

  • josh

    pointless blathering. 2021 flyby won’t happen, period. not if today’s nasa (desperately looking for a mission for the pork rocket) is in charge.
    now, if the job was given to spacex, with no nasa ‘oversight’ (standing in the way) it might be a different story. but i guess musk has bigger plans anyway.

  • Bill

    I thought this was a good session with some people speaking honestly-both panelists and Congresspeople.

    Basically everyone was in agreement that a strategy and particularly a technology roadmap is required before any commitment is made to do anything and that NASA ought to develop these and the President would need to endorse them . Those are the first steps.

    Scott Pace repeatedly stated that developing access to cislunar space was the first priority. Cislunar space is not Venus and Mars missions. Maybe a Venus/Mars fly-by would help to spur the technology development?

    Multiple of the panelists talked about a long duration module for the mission. That is not in anyone’s plan. It is not in development today. I suppose the closest thing is a Bigelow inflatable but that is not a developed, and integrated space vehicle or module. Of course even the Orion would need significant upgrading from its current planned design and the European Service Module, which is not much more than a retooled ATV right now, would also require significant enhancements. So essentially the vehicle design does not exist.

    Until there is a well articulated and accepted vision, and a strategy to get to that vision, and a road map to develop the necessary technologies and systems and hardware, and a budget forecast, and a commitment by OMB and the Congress to match the requirements to the budget, then we are not going anywhere.

    Mainly what everyone agreed was that we could do it if we wanted, but it would cost a lot of money, and as of today there is no rationale for it.

  • guestagain

    Some people have suggested that the Nasa management was specifically not invited to this session, which I thought was interesting. Several of the panelists said it was Nasa’s job to come up with the strategy, rationale and technology roadmap. Do you think that Congress has lost faith in the Nasa management?

    • Hiram

      “Some people have suggested that the Nasa management was specifically not invited to this session”

      Why would they be invited? Congress knows what NASA wants to do. They’re going to find out again in a few days, in significant detail. There is no question that a human trip to Mars in 2021 is NOT what NASA wants to do. So whatever would be the purpose of inviting them, if what you’re trying to do is a fast human trip to Mars? Of COURSE it was specifically not invited to this session.

  • The video of today’s hearing is now on my YouTube channel at:

    guestagain wrote:

    Do you think that Congress has lost faith in the Nasa management?

    More like they didn’t want NASA telling them what they didn’t want to hear. They couldn’t stop Dana Rohrabacher from being there, but they usually ignore him anyway. NASA telling them their fantasy would cost billions of dollars more than the funding their committee provides would have been inconvenient.

  • Hiram

    “They couldn’t stop Dana Rohrabacher from being there, but they usually ignore him anyway.”

    Rohrabacher is Vice Chair of the full committee. They’re not going to ignore him. He didn’t get that slot by being someone that everyone usually ignores.

  • Hiram

    Pace made the point repeatedly that a human Mars flyby would be a “bridge” to what we really needed to do, which is to develop cis-lunar space. It would be a “symbolic and practical step toward creating a broader international framework for space
    cooperation”, he said. On the face of it, that’s just nuts. The only way it would be a bridge is by rushing development of SLS and setting a mandatory deadline for it’s usability. A one year trip is in no way part of the path to achieving a two week trip. As he says, “Going to Mars, ironically, may offer a faster way of going to the Moon.” No, what may offer a faster way of going to the Moon is creating an artificial deadline for SLS development, and Mars offers that opportunity. As to creating a broader international framework for space cooperation, you aren’t going to ever do any better than ISS. If you have just three seats on the bus, you aren’t going to develop much international breadth. That’s just wishful thinking. What country is going to participate if one of those seats doesn’t have a suit sitting on it with their flag attached to it?

    At least Pace isn’t trying to hide his real goals. They’re not about going to Mars. They’re about developing cis-lunar space.

  • guest

    I think all the panel members were very clear that doing the Mars mission would require significnant new hardware including modules and systems that have not yet been scoped and for which funds would have to be forthcoming. And Hiram is correct, Pace repeatedly said the development of cislunar space was the next logical step.

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