Congress, NASA

Bolden, Smith clash over Mars 2021 and ARM

The crisis in US-Russian space relations may be the current top story in space policy, but it’s not preventing debates about over topics, notably, where humans should go beyond Earth orbit.

That debate flared up Thursday when NASA administrator Charles Bolden appeared before a joint meeting of the Space Studies Board (SSB) and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) in Washington. Bolden discussed a wide variety of topics in a discussion lasting more than an hour, including plans for human space exploration. He likened the free-return trajectory that helped save the crew of Apollo 13 to Inspiration Mars, whose 2021 mission architecture includes flybys of Venus and Mars by a crewed spacecraft.

“That doesn’t demonstrate anything,” Bolden said, “and I don’t think that’s an inspirational mission, if you to ask me, because it doesn’t help us to get humans to Mars.” In that context, Bolden was referring to sending humans to the surface of Mars, something he said he believed was possible by 2035. (Later in the meeting, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations Bill Gerstenmaier said it would be “really tough” to meet a 2035 goal of landing humans on Mars.)

“It is a one-time feat,” Bolden added about Inspiration Mars, “and where are we in terms of putting humans on Mars? No closer.”

Late Thursday, the House Science Committee issued a statement from committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who has been the most outspoken member of Congress in support of the Mars 2021 mission concept. Bolden’s comments at the SSB/ASEB meeting, Smith said, were “factually incorrect” regarding Mars 2021. “Experts have testified that a Mars Flyby mission would utilize the Space Launch System, architecture that will be central to a Mars landing,” Smith stated.

Smith went on to criticize the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which Bolden has said at the meeting was a better near-term approach to human spaceflight. “The ARM mission lacks support from the stakeholder community and NASA’s own advisory bodies. It is a mission without a realistic budget, without a destination and without a certain launch date,” Smith said, echoing comments he made at two hearings last week. “I urge the Administrator to get his facts straight when comparing the value of potential NASA missions.”

65 comments to Bolden, Smith clash over Mars 2021 and ARM

  • Fred Willett

    Our first trips beyond LEO were all around 12 days or less. That was the Apollo program.
    7 flights. 70 hours total.
    The longest flight was 12 and a half days.
    Naturally our next effort ought to be 500+ days to do a Mars flyby. That sounds doable. Especially when you consider that ECLSS on ISS hasn’t yet gone 500 days without breaking down.
    So what if the ECLSS breaks down half way. The astronauts can just hold their breath, right?
    If politicians knew anything about HSF they wouldn’t let themselves espouse plans that are patently absurd. They would support step by step programs that build actual capabilities.
    Sure, ARM is simple and not much use. It has only one virtue.
    It’s doable.
    With the technology NASA currently has not much else is.

  • Coastal Ron

    Bolden’s comments at the SSB/ASEB meeting, Smith said, were “factually incorrect” regarding Mars 2021. “Experts have testified that a Mars Flyby mission would utilize the Space Launch System, architecture that will be central to a Mars landing,” Smith stated.

    Just because a mission uses the SLS doesn’t mean that it helping us get to Mars – the reason we can’t leave for Mars is not because of a lack of transportation options, but because we don’t have the technology to launch on the rocket to keep humans alive and well during the mission, as well as the other proven technology needed for such a mission.

    And why is that? No money for doing any of that.

    So why are we building an HLV when we don’t have anything to launch on it? Because it’s political pork, not because it’s the last missing piece keeping us from reaching Mars.

    Smith is wrong.

  • Andrew Swallow

    I suspect that the politicians have been confused by size – they think developing the rocket is the hard and expensive part of the Mars mission. Where as the launch vehicle is the part NASA knows how to do.

    • Reality Bits

      I agree, they think the hard part is getting to orbit and everything else is magic.

      We know the reality is 100% opposite of that belief.

    • Reality Bits

      Not only is it an Apollo-mentality, but there’ also a Skylab-mentality. E.g. Nothing can be assembles in orbit, it must all go up at one time.

      • amightywind

        After the ISS construction fiasco you are carping about Skylab? Skylab was designed, built, inhabited, and deorbited in the time it took to loft the first ISS segment. One of the most important lessons of ISS is that space structures should be built of larger pieces.

        • John Malkin

          Skylab wasn’t’ “de-orbited”, it just fell uncontrollably via a decaying orbit. There was’t enough funding for a mission to save it or make sure it came down nicely.

        • Coastal Ron

          amightywind said:

          After the ISS construction fiasco…

          The only “fiasco” was the cost, and since the Shuttle was used for 27 of the 40ish assembly flights, that right there cost U.S. Taxpayers $32B, or about 1/3 the supposed cost of the ISS. Using Delta IV Heavy or Atlas V 551 would have saved about $20B.

          Skylab was designed, built, inhabited, and deorbited in the time it took to loft the first ISS segment.

          Well of course! It was built out of leftover Apollo parts and it was very simple. Plus it only was used for 171 total days, whereas the ISS has been continuously occupied for 4,901 days! We’re not even comparing similar things here.

          One of the most important lessons of ISS is that space structures should be built of larger pieces.

          No, based on what I showed you above the lesson here is that we already know how to significantly lower the cost of our next modular space station by using the same modules and factories but using less costly transportation.

          And if we look at the price of building an HLV, and understand that NONE of the current ISS hardware factories will be able to be used to build HLV-sized station modules, then we already know that HLV-sized architectures will only INCREASE our costs to build modular structures in space, not lower them.

          If anything, since we already have proven designs that have been tested in space, the smart thing to do is to keep building them. As construction here on Earth has shown, building the same product normally decreases costs over time and increases quality. Since there is as yet no money for HLV-based architecture, it would never be able to reach those economies of scale.

        • Hiram

          “One of the most important lessons of ISS is that space structures should be built of larger pieces.”

          Huh? No way. On the contrary, one of the most important lessons of ISS was that space structures could be built out of 20mT and smaller pieces, especially if you have economical ways of lifting those pieces. The lesson of ISS was that the Space Shuttle was not an economical way to lift those pieces. It’s awfully hard to see the successful assembly of ISS as a “fiasco”.

          That things need to be built out of larger pieces is a dead-end strategy. It’s not extensible. We’re probably not going to end up with a viable SLS, and we’re NEVER going to end up with a launcher bigger than SLS. So we’d better get used to the idea of assembling our space facilities in pieces. The ISS has proven our expertise in doing that. The future of space exploration (whether robotic or human) is going to be based on assembling things in space, and it’s actually a skill that we’re now pretty damned good at.

        • Reality Bits

          So pray tell us how it was a construction “fiasco”?

        • Jim Nobles

          I agree that space structures should be built out of the largest modular sections you can afford to lift. Skylab was a monolithic lift because a launcher was available that could do it. The ISS modules were their size because the shuttle had to be used.

          I think the lesson here may be that you lift the most you can at a time depending on if it is affordable. Then there’s other factors to deal with sometimes.
          .

          • Hiram

            “I agree that space structures should be built out of the largest modular sections you can afford to lift.”

            As opposed to … ? Why would you do it any differently? Obviously we’re not talking about lofting bolts and nuts.

            I think the point was that we need bigger rockets than we have to lift larger pieces than we now can. There is no sense in that, especially if you have an affordable capability to lift and assemble significant pieces, AND that a larger rocket is going to make lifting unaffordable. One disadvantage of taking the “larger pieces” argument to an extreme is that you lose a lot of flexibility. ISS is a great example of that. We have a range of age, technical sophistication, and buy-in partnership represented on ISS precisely because of multiple launches. Upgrades are a continuous process, and that’s the way it should be.

            Let’s suppose we use an SLS every couple of years to loft several years worth of supplies to the ISS. Would that make any sense?

            The premise of SLS is precisely that it is essential to do things in big pieces, and our experience on ISS contradicts that.

  • Malmesbury

    “I suspect that the politicians have been confused by size – they think developing the rocket is the hard and expensive part of the Mars mission. Where as the launch vehicle is the part NASA knows how to do.”

    I think you are right.

    Someone needs to educate them – post them a couple picture of the LEM assembly building?

  • Rep. Smith has yet to say what it is the astronauts are supposed to do on this two-year flight.

    Apparently they’re to look out the window and tell us what they see.

    Robotic craft already do that much better, and for much cheaper.

    Smith just wants pork for his state.

  • amightywind

    A Mars flyby is pointless. Implement the solid long range exploration program. That means the moon first.

    • Fred Willett

      That means the moon first.
      Except if you can’t afford to build a lander. Then what do you do?
      Possibly something like ARM.
      Not that I’m a fan of ARM, but the question is serious. NASA has no funding to do anything beyond just building SLS.
      That’s the problem: SLS.
      How do you afford any exploration beyond something trivial like ARM when SLS is sucking up all the money? Even ARM is struggling to find funding.
      So by all means suggest something better. But please include some indication of where the money is coming from.

      • Vladislaw

        Windasovich always just says splash the ISS for funding. He always proposes that which will never happen. So he really never has to give an answer.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    It’s a sad statement on how far the expensive SLS/MPCV albatross has drawn the U.S. civil human space flight program underwater when the debate has devolved into arguments over:

    1) Missions that don’t require the presence of astronauts;

    2) Missions that don’t access planetary surfaces;

    3) Which mission is more inspirational, like inspiration can justify a multi-billion dollar mission to the taxpayer.

    Really pathetic.

    • Reality Bits

      Yes, yes it is.

      I would argue that you can go to some rather inspirational, exciting and useful places without going deep into a gravity well.

      Places like:

      Establish & maintain a Phobos Base around Mars

      Establish & maintain a Ceres Base

      Venus Orbital Station

    • MrEarl

      This isn’t an equipment issue, it’s a total lack of vision on the part of the congress and the administration. This argument would be taking place no matter what the hardware “program of record” is.

      The Vision for Space Exploration as started in 2004 was simple, use our experience in LEO to go to the moon. Use our experience on the moon to get to Mars and use that experience to expand manned presence through out the solar system. That is hardware agnostic and that is what we have lost. Instead we get p*ssing matches over who has the best stunt. All sides can be blamed for this.

      • Coastal Ron

        MrEarl said:

        This isn’t an equipment issue, it’s a total lack of vision on the part of the congress and the administration.

        Whenever I hear the word “vision” with regards to what we should be doing in space, that makes me think that we have to have a series of Apollo type things that we’re signing up for. But Apollo was created in response to something (i.e. the Cold War), so it was reactionary, not visionary per se.

        I think the ISS embodies the direction that we should be pursuing, which is that we should be honest about the overall desire to expand humanity out into space, but without an artificial time table.

        For instance, I can see one possible future where the ISS mission comes to an end and we have not funded a significant government presence in space that would “replace” it. Maybe we’re just doing fundamental development, and lots of partnerships with other countries and companies.

        But we don’t need to have a “Vision” with a capital “V”, just a normal human desire to explore and expand our boundaries. And I think we can actually expand out into space faster if our politicians fund basic technologies that we need for space instead of “missions” and “destinations”. We currently lack the fundamental technologies to explore anyways, and building an HLV to supposedly enable “missions” and “destinations” does nothing to ameliorate that.

        • MrEarl

          I’m not going to debate the term vision with you Ron, big V or little v. But doing fundamental research is only the first, smallest step in becoming a spacefaring society if that is the ultimate goal. These technologies have to then be tested and perfected. That really requires missions and destinations.
          Taking a page from the ISS, NASA should, along with trusted allies, develop the technologies needed to create a moon base and EML2 gateway. Next commercial enterprises should be brought in to provide crew transportation and logistical support. They can also be brought in to expand and augment the base eventually taking over entirely. At that time NASA and partners will be taking the technologies developed on the moon and applying them to starting a base on Mars. Time frames and destinations help to focus the research but should also be fixable enough to take advantage of unique opportunities and be done on a go as you pay basis.

          • Coastal Ron

            MrEarl said:

            But doing fundamental research is only the first, smallest step in becoming a spacefaring society if that is the ultimate goal.

            Big disagreement with that. Ask yourself why we’re not at Mars already after reaching the Moon over 40 years ago?

            It’s not for lack of ways to get there. We built the Saturn V and there is nothing stopping us from building more big rockets.

            No, pretty much there are two basic reasons:

            1. We don’t know how to survive long-term in space.

            2. We don’t know how to do BEO space exploration within the confines of the budgets NASA has been getting.

            Fundamental research addresses both of those issues, but if you comb through NASA’s budget you won’t find much funding for it beyond what we’re doing on the ISS. That’s a big part of the reason why regardless if NASA had an HLV sitting on the pad ready to go today or not, NASA’s technology cupboard is too bare to support any missions beyond LEO.

            Fundamental research is a BIG step, and it has to be done way in advance of any missions. And we’re already late in doing it if NASA’s real goal is to reach Mars by 2035.

        • Hiram

          “Whenever I hear the word “vision” with regards to what we should be doing in space, that makes me think that we have to have a series of Apollo type things that we’re signing up for. But Apollo was created in response to something (i.e. the Cold War), so it was reactionary, not visionary per se.”

          Huh? The “vision” of Apollo was firm and profound. We gotta beat the crap out of the Soviets because they’re a threat and we have to prove our superiority. That vision was simple, straightforward, accepted and funded. It was a profound federal concern.

          What constitutes a “vision”? Some long range rationale for where we’re going and why we need to get there. A base on the Moon! Sorry, that ain’t a vision. That’s people in a hut. Footprints on Mars! Nope, neither that. That’s, well, footprints. Get real. The VSE vision included the precept that we include the solar system in our economic sphere. Now, you can argue with that precept, but it’s a profound one that can really guide many activities. It makes the goal an economic one, which is an important federal concern.

          “But we don’t need to have a “Vision” with a capital “V”, just a normal human desire to explore and expand our boundaries.”

          That desire is sort of a vision with a capital “V”, except it relies on a highly implicit rationale. What does exploring *space* and expanding our boundaries in *space* actually buy us? That’s the real “vision” part. So you’re saying we don’t need that?? Let’s explore and expand our boundaries in the ocean depths! let’s explore and expand our boundaries in Antarctica! Let’s explore and expand our boundaries in solid state physics. Geez, guys. Get real. You can explore and expand boundaries up the kazoo, and you can do it for a lot less cost than with human spaceflight.

          And I don’t care about arguing about words either. Call it a “salamander” instead of a “vision”. But you’d better figure out the concept. If you don’t get the concept, your screwed.

          • Coastal Ron

            Hiram said:

            Huh? The “vision” of Apollo was firm and profound. We gotta beat the crap out of the Soviets…

            And for that reason it was not a “vision for space”, but just another way to “fight the Cold War”. People THINK Apollo was some sort of vision for space, and that’s part of why so many people are confused on this matter.

            A base on the Moon! Sorry, that ain’t a vision. That’s people in a hut.

            If you go back and look, I’ve never advocated for a specific destination. And at this point in our history, without a “National Imperative” to clarify things, I advocate that we should be more “vision” than “Vision”. That we treat space like we treat science in general – that we American’s know that spending money on science related stuff is good for our future.

            Combine capabilities with capitalism and humanities normal desire to push the boundaries of exploration and I think we have all the motivation we need for now. Sure I’d love to taking trips to the Moon, and maybe some day I might be able to, but that doesn’t need to funded by my tax money.

            And that’s the real issue here – what should U.S. Taxpayers be funding with regards to space? Other than fundamental research, I don’t see a need to point at a place in the sky and say “we have to go there next”. Not without broad consensus or a specific reason, neither of which we have today.

            If we need a goal or “vision” I’ve mentioned before that I think a U.S. President should declare that it is the goal of the United States to be a spacefaring nation, and the first step to do that is to create a reusable transportation to the region of the Moon. Really broad type stuff that keeps our focus on steadily moving further and further out. And it should not be a government-only effort either, since what’s the point of that?

            • Hiram

              “And for that reason it was not a “vision for space”, but just another way to “fight the Cold War”.”

              Well we can argue about it, but fighting for the nation to ensure it’s survival (so we were led to believe) is about as visionary as you can get. Those were the days when doom was about to fall out of the sky. It was all about rockets as threats. It was pretty cold. We needed to repulse that threat with rockets and technological exceptionalism. The vision was survival.

              “I think a U.S. President should declare that it is the goal of the United States to be a spacefaring nation”

              OK, I’ll bite. Why?

              There probably are some good reasons, but a goal without rationale ain’t a vision. I think our nation ought to be a highwayfaring nation. I mean *everyone* should have a car. None of this meandering around neighborhood. I mean everyone has to do the distance. No, don’t ask me why. I just think it ought to be.

              • Coastal Ron

                Hiram said:

                Well we can argue about it, but fighting for the nation to ensure it’s survival (so we were led to believe) is about as visionary as you can get.

                My only point was that it wasn’t a “vision for space”. A “vision for survival”, sure. But there is a difference.

                There probably are some good reasons, but a goal without rationale ain’t a vision.

                U.S. politicians are already in at least some form of mild agreement that Mars is a goal, but there is disagreement about whether the Moon is a goal. Those are pretty specific places, but they are all places in space. So by declaring our goal to being a spacefaring nation, that implies being able to roam in space – but not to a “where”, so we can avoid that problem.

                I mean *everyone* should have a car.

                And for a time politicians were promising a car in every driveway and a turkey in every oven, not because they were going to buy them specifically for each citizen, but because of the great things politicians were going to do to enable citizens to buy those things. Definitely a high level vision.

                And in some ways it’s stating the obvious, but as far as space is concerned stating that it is the goal of the U.S. to be able to roam wherever we want to go in space has not yet been stated. And notice there are no dates or destinations, more just of urge to get out there.

                Dates and goals worked fine for Apollo, but that wasn’t meant to leave a lasting presence in space. From a vision standpoint, I think they are better without dates and destinations, more of a “Go West young man” type of thing.

                Digging into this topic a little more, I think when people are saying they want a vision statement for going to the Moon, they are really referring to a “Mission Statement”, not a “Vision Statement”. They are not the same.

                My $0.02

  • Malmesbury

    Apollo failed to inspire after Apollo 11

    By Apollo 13, moon landings were old news.

    Any new program will meet exactly the same situation. If you base the survival of your program in inspiration the only question is how many trips before you are defunded.

    • Hiram

      “Apollo failed to inspire after Apollo 11. By Apollo 13, moon landings were old news.”

      The Apollo missions were marketed to the taxpayer as part of a carefully crafted sequence …

      Apollo 11 – We can do it, so we’re better than you are. Pfffft!
      Apollo 12 – See, it wasn’t just a one-off.
      Apollo 13 – This ain’t easy, mind you.
      Apollo 14 – But we’ve got it fixed now.
      Apollo 15 – Pedal to the metal!
      Apollo 16 – Geology rocks.
      Apollo 17 – It rocks so much, let’s send a real geologist.

  • Hiram

    It does make some sense that the step towards Mars that is missing right now in NASA’s grand scheme of things is a very long duration voyage. That is, leaping from ARM to a trip to Mars just ain’t gonna happen. But an Inspiration Mars-type trip in 2021 isn’t going to do it. That’s where you quickly throw together an ECLSS system that might do the job, but in no way shape or form validates the kind of survival engineering you’d use for a trip two decades from now. The only thing it validates is the mitigation of psychological barriers — “Gee Earth sure looks small from here … hmmmm.”

    There certainly is little inspiring about an Apollo 13 loop-de-loop around Mars that does absolutely nothing for our understanding of Mars, and has no clear HSF follow-on. For Apollo 13 it was about survival. For a mission like this it’s about being a stunt.

    What would serve the needs of an intermediate mission is a habitat in cis-lunar space, perhaps at a lunar Lagrange point. Astronauts could be stationed there for a year, exercising the logistics of relative inaccessibility from Earth in a habitat design that could ideally evolve into something that would be used for a real Mars trip. Such a habitat would have clear value in lunar surface activity management, exercising telerobotic strategies that would be used in a notional Mars trip. Now, such a habitat is going to be costly. Perhaps as costly as a lunar lander. But prioritization of a Mars voyage as a long term goal simply demands a long-duration BEO mission with Mars-forward engineering, and you aren’t going to do that with an ECLSS-augmented Orion or planting a few more footprints on the lunar surface. It comes down to building a hab in space instead of building a hab on the Moon. As a proper test of long duration BEO spaceflight, such a mission allows a provision for mission termination and escape if things go bad.

    These aren’t reasons why we shouldn’t do ARM. There are lots of other reasons why we shouldn’t do ARM. The point I’m making here is that ARM doesn’t really serve the need for long-duration crew operations beyond LEO that would be necessary for a real Mars trip.

    • Fred Willett

      You don’t leap from a 12 day mission to a 500+ day mission in one step. You need to build and test – repeat “and test” – the ECLSS first.
      NASA has been trying to develop durable ECLSS systems on ISS. But they don’t work at all well yet. Lots more testing is indicated.
      Now Inspiration Mars thinks they have a way around this problem. Instead of trying to develop a reliable ECLSS system you make it really simple with an “astronaut in the loop” maintaining it all the way to Mars and back.
      It sounds good. But you don’t test it on your maiden flight. What if it doesn’t work?
      This means a testing program. That means costs. Now we’re right back where we started.
      Where does the money come from?

      • Fred Willett

        The point I should have emphasized is that just because the ISS has been in orbit for a long time does not mean they has a decent ECLSS. They don’t.
        ECLSS on ISS is largely done with brute strength and ignorance. CO2is scrubbed and dumped overboard. Necessary supplies are trucked up from Earth including air. ECLSS is being developed but doesn’t work at all well yet.
        For a mission BEO you need a efficient ECLSS that actually works reliably. otherwise the mass penalty of carting along extra air, water atc. becomes prohibitive.

        • pathfinder_01

          While your point about reliability stands(ISS life support). It actually is a bit more complicated than C02 scrubbed and dumped overboard and air brought up. Some air is brought up to deal with leakage and to support spacewalks, but the most of the oxygen onboard is generated by electrolysis of water. The reason is that tanks of air are both heavy and dangerous. There are air tanks onboard for both backup and to support spacewalks.

          There are systems that recycle water in the air(from sweet/exhalation) and human waste into both drinkable water and water to generate oxygen from. The C02 is currently being combined with the hydrogen left over from electrolysis to yield water and methane. The water is retained the methane dumped. Some parts of the system are reliable, other parts breakdown too often and the whole system really needs a little too much crew time.

          Skylab was more a brute strength approach(where nothing pretty much was recycled and excess water and C02 dumped). ISS is sort of like the automobile in the 1890ies, not quite ready for prime time but getting there. ISS relies both on backup and separate and redundant systems to function.

          • Fred Willett

            You’ve spelt out the ECLSS issues in a lot more detail. Thank you.
            And solving ECLSS is just scratching the surface of the problems that need to be solved if you’re going to do a Mars flyby.
            Radiation mitigation?
            Developing a crew module to hold the crew and their supplies?
            Rebuild Orion to survive reentry from Mars?
            Test flights to prove out all these systems?
            All this is going to take time and multiple billions.
            Where’s the money to do all this?
            Only in congress can you propose these missions and ignore the budget.

  • josh

    lol, what a mess. just leave it to spacex. all nasa and congress are good for these days is writing some checks..

  • BuzzFan

    Disappointing that many so comments on here are strongly against a Mars 2021 flyby… Charles Bolden is so caught up in protecting the President’s vision for space exploration(being generous calling it that) that he has completely set aside the opportunity to pursue great mission ideas that have potential to gain bipartisan support. As administrator of NASA his priority should be pushing for as many missions as possible, getting as many dollars possible, continuing to build out the scientific legacy of previous generation’s achievements, and perhaps above all getting the attention and enthusiasm of the average American. Instead of pursuing and protecting the dead end dream of ARM getting off the ground, he needs to build bridges where he can and move forward with something substantial and achievable in the near term (lest we lose more support and more funding for NASA through repeated cancellations and delays.) A Mars flyby would be a huge technological and scientific achievement, with the ability to prove essential technologies and systems needed for the bigger and better missions we space enthusiasts dream about. It is the kind of mission that can grasp the public’s attention and generate massive followings on social media and major networks. This would be one of the greatest assets to NASA since their landing on the Moon. Imagine 2021, as the entire country (whole world too) watches and then follows this astounding deep space journey, with a Chris Hatfield type personality interacting with the public during the entire duration and getting the support and excitement that NASA and space companies so desperately need. A successful Mars 2021 mission would almost certainly guarantee a renewed interest and commitment to support NASA projects, particularly in the human spaceflight sector. Funding the subsequent deep space missions would be exponentially easier, and provide opportunity to expand upon the lessons learned and achievements made. NASA would be in a position to pursue a multi-pronged effort to build out human space missions, able to put boots on the Moon, Mars, and other deep space missions. This mission has a net gain effect on NASA and the space industry, while also being in the realm of possibly getting the support of both parties. Charles is a fool for not taking this opportunity and running with it. Being able to prove technologies of deep space flight and protection of astronauts, proving humans can survive the effects of prolonged space exposure and psychological effects of confined space, etc etc. These are all essential for us to move forward. The ability to flyby two planets is a huge bonus, particularly with capturing the public’s imagination. Regardless of what anyone says, a flyby to Mars is essential before a landing. Putting it out in less than a decade is a huge accomplishment and potentially could expedite the likelihood and process of getting humans on Mars. Don’t get me wrong, other mission proposals like ARM and returning to the Moon have great merit and also help. I just think pursuing ARM is politically naive and will never get the support it needs. Just like returning to the Moon doesn’t seem to have the necessary support to get off the ground anytime soon (too close to the cancellation of Constellation, and goes directly against the President’s move to steer us away from our celestial neighbor). A flyby can be pitched to both parties and could actually get off the ground. Let’s not forget that a great deal of Congress have a political stake in the success of SLS and Orion, and this gives them a chance to make use of those projects. I am not advocating for either of those by the way, rather just accepting them as likely inevitable for the near future and trying to make the most of them. Just want to impress on many of you that hastily judging this mission could have long term implications on the success of the human spaceflight program. We need a hero of a mission, and we need it now. Something that can excite space nerds, scientists, and your average American (including their Representative who wants to jump on the bandwagon) is perhaps the greatest goal we should be focused on at this time. —- Sorry for any typo’s… it’s late and I am tired :/

  • Hiram

    Mars 2021 — OK, they do it, they die. It was an expedition mounted on a wink and a prayer. How do we explain to the world why they died? Because it makes future trips easier? Because we want to excite people? So it will make it easier to fund future missions? That’s not what would happen. It was a stunt, and a stunt that failed. We will try to derive national pride about what we’d have to admit was just a stunt. We will even fail at that.

    Our nation puts humans at serious risk in precisely one other enterprise. National defense. That was the basis of Apollo. Apollo was much less a stunt. Those were the days when sending humans into space could have important ramifications for at least surveillance. Those days are gone. Those were the days when rocket technology was the main geopolitical threat and exceptionalism in that technology was a revered strength. Those days are gone. There is no way in creation a loop-de-loop Mars mission will be seen as being in the interest of national defense. It will not matter a whit to our national defense if the Chinese end up doing it before we do. In fact, if they did such a trip, the story would be that, hey, it really isn’t important. It was just a stunt! Yep, the Chinese would have a parade, just like Evel Knievel was featured in parades.

    If our rationale for sending humans to Mars is that it is in the interest of humanity to expand, this doesn’t do it. It doesn’t come close to doing it. No expansion will have been achieved. When humanity does expand to Mars, it will be done in a real Mars-forward fashion, not as a quick stunt. What Mars 2021 would try to prove, sort of, is ECLSS, radiation mitigation, propulsion, and psychological stamina. ALL of these things could be proved in cis-lunar space. Again, when they die, we’ll be asking about why they tried to prove those things on the way to Mars instead of closer to home.

    When Apollo 10 almost went to the Moon, they did it with the hardware they’d be using to do it for real. Inspiration Mars/Mars 2021 isn’t that at all. It’s not about technology validation, but just about achieving the “almost”.

    Taxpayer participation in this will formalize that federal investments in space really only have to be about doing stunts. That handily dismisses the need for real rationale. If real rationale is hard to come up with, let’s just pretend we don’t need it.

    • BuzzFan

      That is quite an assumption, Hiram. Why so quick to suggest the mission will certainly fail? If Mars 2021 gets the green light and bipartisan approval/blessing, it will without a doubt receive adequate funding to make it happen on time. There would be no option to postpone, due to the nature of the planetary alignment. Sure they could scrub the whole thing, but with it being a relatively short distance out, the public and media backlash would be severe enough to deter abandoning the project. The only reasonable option, after approval, is to pump up funding and expedite timelines of key technologies needed to make this a successful mission. The technologies and systems we need to accomplish this mission aren’t impossible, nor are they a terribly far reach. Don’t get me wrong, it won’t be easy at all, and will require private enterprise collaboration to ensure it gets off the ground in time. I imagine a Bigelow habitat we need to be customized and attached to an Orion capsule, along with unique scientific instruments for the mission’s success (ie radiation reduction/protection). No doubt that other tech and testing will be done on the back of private launches in the interim. My point is, if this gets green lit, we should’t jump to conclusions that we won’t accomplish the task. The risk may appear high now, but over the next few years of testing and preparation we can drive that risk down substantially. Don’t be such a Debbie Downer ;)

      • Hiram

        “Why so quick to suggest the mission will certainly fail?”

        I didn’t intentionally suggest that the mission will *certainly* fail, though my first sentence could have been taken as an assumption that it would. I was just following the logic of what would happen if it did fail. It is certainly a risky mission.

        The value proposition here is where you look at the value that you get if it succeeds and compare it to the penalty you’d inflict if it didn’t. My guess is that the latter is bigger than the former. If human lives were lost on a mission that was evaluated later as just a stunt, it’s quite possible it could take down the whole NASA human space flight enterprise. I suspect there would be a hand wringing review of all NASA human space flight efforts to establish to what extent they too were just stunts.

        I really believe that the overwhelming congressional fear for astronaut safety is for precisely that reason. That’s why Congress refuses to accept risk in this business. If humans were to die, questions would be asked about whether they died doing what really needed to be done. Congress is not confident that the program could survive such questions.

        You’re exactly right that risks could be minimized if funding were really pumped up, but I suspect we’d be looking for a firehose type of dollar stream getting pumped. The technologies and systems we’d need are certainly not impossible to reach. But that firehose isn’t going to happen. This mission is being sold on a budget. It’s “glory for cheap”. Evel Knievel did it the same way. Lamar Smith didn’t demand of Charlie Bolden a mission cost, but I suspect such a NASA-derived cost will scare the bejesus out of him. Now, if the IM folks come in and tell Congress how much NASA should be funded to do this mission, it’ll scare the bejesus out of everyone.

        No question that such a mission would be “exciting”, but the question is whether it is exciting from a national policy perspective, or from an entertainment perspective.

        • BuzzFan

          “If human lives were lost on a mission that was evaluated later as just a stunt”
          I don’t know of anyone who has proposed this mission as anything remotely as a “stunt”. This mission would produce tremendous scientific data, technology advancements, and marvelous/significant achievements for mankind. It certainly would be in the realm of what was accomplished with the Apollo missions. I think the public has enough experience with NASA mission failures (even those with the unfortunate loss of lives) to know that space travel is dangerous and carries a certain degree of risk. I don’t think they will easily right off a mission loss, but they definitely won’t be crying out for the end of the manned space program. They will rightfully demand an explanation and implemented changes to prevent that failure (or similar failures) from occurring again, as they have done before. This mission is a big deal, and while it carries significant risk (similar to Apollo missions) it also produces the type of tremendous benefits and achievements that made us proud of our space program in previous generations. The “excitement” factor that you and I are discussing is no doubt real, and captures the public’s imagination, but the overall mission is far more than a publicity stunt. It is pushing mankind’s boundaries once again, and providing the journey of a lifetime (of the century?) that will be studied and revered for generations to come. Mission failure is a possibility, but proper public outreach (done in advance leading up to the mission) can certainly mitigate the impact of an undesirable outcome. Every time the mission is mentioned, the public will be told how dangerous it is and how many things could possibly go wrong. That very fact adds to the significance and excitement of this mission. It’s no walk in the ballpark, and will be perceived as a heroic accomplishment for our country and mankind.

          • Reality Bits

            This mission would produce tremendous scientific data, technology advancements, and marvelous/significant achievements for mankind.

            Like? Can you name the tremendous scientific data and technology advancements?

            • Egad

              Well, to be fair, if the 582-day Mars flyby mission could be accomplished without killing the crew, it would demonstrate an autonomous ECLSS capability considerably beyond anything we’ve done yet. Of course, the same thing could be done in LEO or at an EML point and have the possibility of rescuing the crew if something vital broke down. But perhaps that wouldn’t be exciting enough.

          • Vladislaw

            What data would a 90 minute flyby gather that orbital probes and rovers on the surface are currently getting?

            So people are going to watch the launch …. forget about it .. for 6 months… then they flyby Mars and then what? Stay tuned for the six month ride home? Or change the channel back to duck dynasty?

  • Hiram

    “I don’t know of anyone who has proposed this mission as anything remotely as a ‘stunt’. This mission would produce tremendous scientific data, technology advancements, and marvelous/significant achievements for mankind.”

    B.S. Total B.S.

    No one is going to *propose* a multi-billion dollar mission as a stunt. Are you serious? They aren’t proposing SLS as a jobs program either, but we all know that’s what it is.

    This mission would NOT produce any scientific data at all. If the astronauts survived, they could be held up as a two-fer (three-fer?) case of human bodies versus high energy radiation and boredom. A couple of (very dedicated) volunteers in a lab could do the same. As to technology advancements, the multi $B expended on this mission, if properly focused (even on human space flight) would produce many more than a race to loop around Mars. Take off your space nerd blinders and look around. No question that this is an “exciting” mission, but no way should the taxpayer be asked to pay for “excitement”. Oh, there will be ZERO Mars science that will come out of this. Big fat zero. But they will nobly gaze down on the red rocks below. Aaaah.

    As to the public writing off a mission loss, you will recall that the United States human space flight program was iced for many years because of Challenger and Columbia. Nope, that wasn’t a “write off”. Those astronauts were actually building a space station, deploying satellites, and doing science. It wasn’t a stunt. They were doing a job that they couldn’t do in any other way. (Well, at least the space station building part …).

    Marvelous achievements for all mankind? Yep, stunts do that too. They may not be that useful of achievements, but you can give out medals and get speeches out of them.

    As to being proud of our space program, I guess we’ll be proud of it as we wait another two decades to do anything of real significance with humans at Mars.

    So let me get this straight. You’re saying this mission is great because it makes brave people? Because they’re taking risks? Evel, where are ya when we need ya? We can write you a BIG check. Snake River Canyon and “significance”, here we come!

    • BuzzFan

      “Oh, there will be ZERO Mars science that will come out of this. Big fat zero.”
      So many things to say in response to your ridiculous, it’s difficult to hone in on which parts to highlight. My “Space nerd blinders” must be freakin’ binoculars, cause I’m seeing a whole lot more value than your conspiracy-ish view. It literally requires you to hold your eyes completely shut to seriously not see the scientific and technological value of this mission. Apollo 8 ring a bell? Under no circumstances will our first flight to Mars be a landing mission. The preliminary steps will a mission similar to Mars 2021, where spacecraft and associated technologies are fully tested and used to get to Mars and back. This also includes the physiological and psychological effects such a mission will have on humans (something that can NOT be fully tested on earth or LEO). Before we attach billions of dollars more equipment and risk trying to undertake a landing/takeoff from Mars, we will first need to see how we do just simply bringing humans there and back. The information gathered there will be imperative to future missions to Mars that will eventually incorporate a landing/takeoff module, as well as any habitat and land transportation devices used on Mars. So many aspects of a human mission to Mars will NEVER be fully realized until we undertake the dangerous adventure and find out first hand. Simulators and test runs in LEO and even the Moon’s orbit/surface will not fully flesh out the necessary systems and effects that need to be studied through an actual human flyby mission. The discussion of “excitement” is geared toward a necessary factor that space nerds need to take more seriously. They (we) are always clamoring for reasons and understanding of why our space program isn’t progressing faster, and the answer is far simpler than conspiracy theories and lack of funding. If NASA incorporated more missions that the general public could fly aboard (pun intended) and support, we would see a much stronger space program that we all like to dream about, here in our space-enthusiast community. Hiram, I generally like a lot of your comments and find a lot of them to have valid points, but I am afraid you are really off the mark here. This flyby mission has significant merit and value, and saying otherwise is freakin’ nonsense.

      • Hiram

        Mars Science? I said BIG FAT ZERO. You said nothing in response. I mean science *about* Mars. Nothing you stated, in your (very long) paragraphs, is science about Mars. C’mon. Fess up. Where’s the science about Mars that’s going to come from Mars 2021? Well, I suppose we could exercise our science facilities at Mars looking at the Mars 2021 ship when it comes speeding by …

        As to HSF, *everything* you proudly point to can be accomplished, as a test, far more safely in cis-lunar space. A human trip to Mars doesn’t “enable” this work at all.

        Apollo 8? Sure I remember that. Wasn’t that where they tested out the same command module that would be used for the entire Apollo lunar enterprise? That’s what’s called Moon-forward. This hastily assembled Mars 2021 mission won’t be Mars-forward. By the way, if we had the systems we have now, Apollo 8 would have been done without people in it. Yep, just like what we’re now planning with EM-1.

        “Simulators and test runs in LEO and even the Moon’s orbit/surface will not fully flesh out the necessary systems and effects that need to be studied through an actual human flyby mission.”

        Name one such need that can’t be fully fleshed out in cis-lunar space. Let’s discuss. Well, having a really tiny Earth out the window is one that is hard to duplicate in cis-lunar space. Is that a “necessary effect”?

        “So many aspects of a human mission to Mars will NEVER be fully realized until we undertake the dangerous adventure and find out first hand.”

        Methinks the danger is what is attracting you here. Yes it will be dangerous. Perhaps unnecessarily so. You’re talking “stunt”. Evel didn’t need to launch himself in a rocket to get across the Snake River Canyon. The old Intercounty Bridge (since replaced) was right there. His need was danger.

        “They (we) are always clamoring for reasons and understanding of why our space program isn’t progressing faster, and the answer is far simpler than conspiracy theories and lack of funding.”

        That’s correct. It’s lack of rationale that they (we) are faced with. (Actually, conspiracy theories and lack of funding are pretty simple reasons.)

        Look, I think a loop de loop around Mars would be exciting, ennervating, cool, swell, awesome, and spiritually moving to human space flight advocates. But if done motivated by a date, rather than by a cause, it’s not really that palatable. United States citizens were actually quite skeptical about the need for us to land on the Moon “before this decade is out”. No, I don’t believe Mars 2021 has significant value. As a stunt, it may have merit, though.

        • BuzzFan

          Who says this mission has to produce science specifically related to Mars? This isn’t a planetary science mission. If we were discussing sending a probe or lander to Mars and not returning data related to it, this would be an entirely different story. We are talking about advancing systems, tech, and furthering our understanding of the effects such a mission would have on humans. The human spaceflight program doesn’t have to follow the directives of planetary science missions. Though it should be made clear that this mission paves the way for future missions that will put humans on Mars, thus indirectly providing the planetary data you so desperately feel the need expect from every human flight mission. While cis-lunar space serves as a fantastic springboard for future deep space missions, it doesn’t give us everything we would obtain and need before our landing mission to Mars. I imagine (and hope) we would use cis-lunar voyages as a test bed for the Mars flyby, because it does provide a great deal of knowledge and experience that will be helpful and necessary for a safe and successful flyby to Mars and back. However, cis-lunar trips wont help us test out trajectories and orbital gravity slingshot techniques that will be used for future Mars missions, applying all systems and equipment that will be used on following missions to the surface of Mars (thus testing durability and feasibility for future missions following the same/similar trajectories and gravitational alignments). They also won’t prove the psychological effects on humans being distanced from their home planet for such an extended period of time (cis-lunar may be far, but it doesn’t compare to the fear, anxiety, and stress that would accompany a flyby mission crew on their journey to another planet that is months/years away from Earth. Creating a team of veterans with experience of visiting another planet and enduring a full length deep space mission. These are just a few examples, but at the end of the day cis-lunar is a testbed, whereas a flyby is full application and implementation of a human-Mars journey. We don’t know what we don’t know, and the first step to getting boots on Mars is to send humans there on a flyby mission to fully realize everything that is needed for future missions to the red planet. It also gives us the experience and knowledge necessary for a landing in the mid 2030′s. Apparently 2033 will be the closest comparison to the 2021 flyby mission as far as planetary alignment, thus putting us right on track for the timeline President Obama outlined for us to be on Mars. Having a decade to mull over the details from and science returned from an actual flyby (not a simulation done at cis-lunar space) will be incredibly helpful as mission planners implement even more complex technology and systems in the subsequent Mars orbit, landing, and take-off/return missions. The leap from cis-lunar experimentation missions to an actual Mars landing mission is an incredibly large leap compared to inserting a preliminary flyby mission leading up to the actual stop in Mars orbit, decent/landing, habitation, takeoff, and Mars orbit escape/slingshot back to Earth. Furthermore, to be absolutely clear I would not advocate a Mars flyby before having made use of cis-lunar trips as a testbed for a full sojourn to the red planet.

          • pathfinder_01

            These are just a few examples, but at the end of the day cis-lunar is a testbed, whereas a flyby is full application and implementation of a human-Mars journey.”

            No, it is not. This mars plan makes use of the free return trajectory. Normally free return trajectories to Mars are not possible with chemical propulsion. In 2021 and in the next cycle the delta V to go to Mars is very low and thus for these years the Mars 2021 can work, but it cannot work for other years. So this mission as set is not a full application and implementation of a human-mars journey.

            Free return trajectories are the preferred method for human space flight trajectories because you can use the gravity of the planet (or moon) that you are heading towards to send you back to Earth if you have a problem. This results in a large savings in terms of propulsion. Apollo 13 used such a trajectory to get back home and all Apollo missions traveled to the moon using them for as long as possible, only leaving the trajectory to get to a trajectory that would put them where they needed to be for the landing. Apollo 13 actually left the free return and had to maneuver back on it to get home.

            The trouble with the free return trajectory and Mars is that with chemical propulsion usually by the time you have gotten to Mars, Earth and Mars are too far apart for a free return to work. This mission uses the low delta V needed to get to Mars that year to enable a free return trajectory. The delta V it takes to get to and from another body isn’t fixed, but varies and some launch windows will require less delta v than others. In 2021 there is a particularly good window that allows a chemical rocket to have a free return trajectory from mars. Other years it may not be possible.

            Without the free return an Chemical rocket mission must either go into orbit around Mars or land on Mars and wait for Earth and Mars to realign for the return. This makes for missions that are longer than Mars 2021 mission and require far more mass in terms of both propulsion(propellant), life support, and may require more complex systems.

            The free return trajectory for mars is possible with Nuclear and Electric Propulsion, but this mission uses neither. Mars 2021 isn’t a much of a test of any system that you would use for regular mars journeys. It is a scramble to make use of a particular window of opportunity.

  • Hiram

    “Who says this mission has to produce science specifically related to Mars?”

    You started your response quoting me on that, so I thought you were arguing with that assessment that Mars 2021 wouldn’t produce Mars science. But it’s true, you didn’t make that argument. Of course, the mission doesn’t produce science about Mars. Glad we can agree on that.

    “thus indirectly providing the planetary data you so desperately feel the need expect from every human flight mission”

    I never said that I was desperate for such a mission to produce such data. I was just pointing out that this mission doesn’t serve science. That’s a fact, not desperation.

    “However, cis-lunar trips wont help us test out trajectories and orbital gravity slingshot techniques that will be used for future Mars missions, applying all systems and equipment that will be used on following missions to the surface of Mars (thus testing durability and feasibility for future missions following the same/similar trajectories and gravitational alignments).”

    Uh, we’ve sent loads and loads of stuff to Mars on precisely defined trajectories and even using orbital slingshots. You’re saying we need to test out our astrodynamics? Got news for you. The equations of astrodynamics don’t care if humans are on board. If any trajectory testing needs to be done, doing that testing with humans is just crazy.

    “These are just a few examples, but at the end of the day cis-lunar is a testbed, whereas a flyby is full application and implementation of a human-Mars journey.”

    So we’re rushing to achieve a “full application and implementation of a human-Mars journey” in 2021? What happened to all of the tests we needed to do? I thought Mars 20201 was, in your book, all about doing those tests.

    “We don’t know what we don’t know, and the first step to getting boots on Mars is to send humans there on a flyby mission to fully realize everything that is needed for future missions to the red planet.”

    That “first step” is laughable. We sure don’t know what we don’t know, and given that, flinging humans on a hugely long trip to gaze down and imagine that they are leaving footprints on Mars doesn’t make any sense. It is kind of hilarious the way some people here want to use humans for testing. Marcel wants to test BEO radiation shielding by sending humans up into a radiation field. I guess if they survive, the shielding works! These folks think the auto industry should put humans inside test cars instead of crash dummies. Yep, if they survive the crash, it works! In the dark ages, we needed humans to read gauges and report system status by radio. “OK Houston, the temperature is … let me tap the bulb … 45F, and the oxygen needle is now hovering around 5% … aaaak.” But we’re better than that now.

    EVERYTHING (except for a tiny Earth) that humans would face in a year-long trip to Mars, could be tested in cis-lunar space. EVERYTHING. As to “fear, anxiety, and stress”, riding in a largely untested vehicle to Mars would be sure to produce that emotional state. But as I said before, your special mission ingredient is danger. You want danger! That’s why you want to do this. To achieve that danger, and the resulting fear, anxiety, and stress, let’s send our astronauts in a largely untested craft, you’re saying. Stunt-city. Evel Knievel would be proud. We should put his image on the mission patch.

    “Creating a team of veterans with experience of visiting another planet and enduring a full length deep space mission.”

    But you really mean creating a team of veterans that can stay in a can for a year, with fear, anxiety and stress, and finally watch red rocks fly by below. Yes, I’ll admit that cis-lunar space, which offers the opportunity for a team of veterans to stay in a can for a year, won’t offer the emotional impact of watching red rocks fly by below.

    “Having a decade to mull over the details from and science returned from an actual flyby (not a simulation done at cis-lunar space) will be incredibly helpful as mission planners implement even more complex technology and systems in the subsequent Mars orbit, landing, and take-off/return missions.”

    One would have thought that having a decade to not just mull, but to actively test out systems and prove strategies in cis-lunar space that would apply directly to a Mars trip would be the way to proceed. But then, of course, if you did Mars 2021, you could do such prove-out later, and finally conclude that Mars 2021 was really a pretty stupid way to do it.

    “Furthermore, to be absolutely clear I would not advocate a Mars flyby before having made use of cis-lunar trips as a testbed for a full sojourn to the red planet.”

    Oh really? You just said that cis-lunar trips were not a testbed for a full sojourn to the red planet. Now you’ve changed your mind? Let’s see, we have six years to do those cis-lunar trips you’re now saying are absolutely necessary. EM-2 in now scheduled for 2021. That’s the FIRST use of an Orion and SLS with humans. Probably a week or two duration. That doesn’t leave much time for Mars 2021, ya think?

    So what you’re really saying is that Mars 2021 is a great idea, but it is absolutely clear that we need to enormously accelerate our cis-lunar program to make it that. You’re really saying that we need to take the lug wrench to the fiscal firehose and spray extra dollars all over the NASA HSF program to make Mars 2021 credible. So all of your rationale for why we should do Mars 2021 is fundamentally based on lathering NASA HSF in a LOT more money. Why, if you’ve got that firehose, why stop at Mars? Let’s send humans to Jupiter in 2021!

    Let me be clear. I too think that a loop around Mars for humans is a terrific idea, if just as a stunt. But doing it in order to prove things that you can prove better and more safely in cis-lunar space makes no sense. I also think it is a terrific idea if Congress turns on the fiscal firehose and bathes NASA human spaceflight in extra money to accelerate efforts. But it’s not going to happen. To summarize, the main problem with Mars 2021 is 2021.

    • BuzzFan

      Bullet system may be easier for continued discussion:

      1) Yes, we can agree the purpose of 2021 is not to produce direct science of Mars. That said, ti certainly could. I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t attach instruments on board for study, as well as the possibility to release a small payload (cubesats?). I don’t think that is the purpose of the mission, but we could always have secondary missions. Particularly to help solve budgetary problems. Combining some of the planetary science budget to help fund this mission by attaching certain instruments may be a possibility (not necessarily NASA either, but more on this below).
      2)Trajectory testing: Ummm to my knowledge we have never sent a spacecraft to Mars and Venus orbits and had it rocket back a payload to safely land on Earth. That is a new and exclusive trajectory never before accomplished with active life-systems supporting humans and their vital instruments necessary for their survival. I realize we are making our astronauts guinea pigs here, but that is exactly what the human spaceflight program is. Everything we can do with humans can be done with robotics (perhaps not as timely or efficiently in some cases), but the science of human spaceflight is about studying the effect of space on humans in these new environments and situations they encounter. “These folks think the auto industry should put humans inside test cars instead of crash dummies.” I don’t think that is the logic at all (at least not anything I have read from folks here). Even the car companies will tell you that eventually you have to do human trials after dummies have been fully used/tested(not crashing humans into the wall… but using them to test all systems and put miles on the vehicle in different driving situations.) “The first step is laughable”? I think the only laughable idea here is assuming that you will jump from cis-lunar space to a full blown mission to Mars that includes a landing/takeoff and safe return.
      3)”So we’re rushing to achieve a ‘full application and implementation of a human-Mars journey’ in 2021? What happened to all of the tests we needed to do? I thought Mars 2021 was, in your book, all about doing those tests.” I see cis-lunar as a testing ground for the flyby mission, which is a testing ground for followup Mars missions that will include landing on the red planet. The “mull over” comment implies that we use all of the systems data collected and information provided by first hand veterans to study and prepare for the next Mars 2033 mission that will include a lander. Those tests would likely be brought back to the drawing board of cis-lunar space excursions, to simulate as best as possible the lessons learned from the Mars flyby, in preparation for an even longer duration trip to the red planet in 2033. Likely there will be other Mars missions between the 2021 and 2033 missions, that won’t include humans but rather will test the landing equipment and functionality of take-off and docking in Mars orbit, in preparation for the 2033 mission.
      4)”To summarize, the main problem with Mars 2021 is 2021.” I think this statement summarizes your last few paragraphs so I will try and respond to all of them in this single point. I agree the timeline is by far the largest hurdle the mission faces, and certainly isn’t an easy one. It would require us expediting SLS and Orion as well as other necessary technologies. Spending more on SLS and Orion is the hardest part in my opinion. I think there is enough support behind those projects and the jobs associated with them that Congress would gladly seize this opportunity to make a useful mission out of them, even at the cost of adding billions more funding into their progress. The biggest challenge for 2021 is making sure a) the service module is ready b) we have a habitat facility that provides more function and room than the Orion capsule (personally I think the habitat is the biggest issue). The natural fit is using a Bigelow attachment, but that requires a tremendous push in their development and construction phases for such a habitat ($$$). To my knowledge we haven’t seen a price tag for that habitat/module that is necessary for a safe and somewhat comfortable trip to Mars and back. It’s possible that Congress will be willing to dump money into purchasing this unit from Bigelow (or another??) if they are already willing to bump up funding for SLS and Orion. Another option is to secure additional funding from other sources such as private enterprise and other allied space nations (I say “allied” because who knows what our relationship with Russia or China will be over the next few years). ESA is already providing a service module, who is to say we can’t bring on other partners to support other aspects of the mission and its funding? If we are intent on doing this mission, and we see bipartisan support for it in Congress, I imagine several of our space partners would be thrilled at the opportunity of having their names attached to the first ever human flight to another planet. I realize there are a lot of factors here, none of which are easy to accomplish. The timeline is short, but it’s doable. We already have a lot of progress and development of systems we will need for the mission… we just need to speed them up. At the moment Congress is content with developing these at at snail’s pace, because we haven’t defined a mission for their application. Once we do have a real goal in sight, there is no doubt in my mind we can ramp up these efforts and have them ready for a 2021 flyby mission to Mars. My whole point in this conversation as that I believe the mission is doable, and we certainly should be inquiring as to the overall cost such a mission would be. Everything we are discussing is speculation until we get more information. Will we be able to expedite this mission by simply adding $10-$20 billion more spread out over a six year period? Could Bigelow (or another viable company) produce the habitat in that space of time, and at what price? Would another nation be interested in participating/funding aspects in the flyby mission? The inquiry has merit and should be seriously looked at and studied. My entire purpose of posting on this was to point out how quick everyone is to shoot the idea down without further analysis. Not only for the scientific value of proving flight systems and human related factors, but also the political value of putting a serious mission on the timeline for SLS and Orion that could gain bipartisan support and allow human spaceflight to get out of it’s atrophied state of LEO missions. ARM won’t likely get the political support needed to ever get off the ground, and no other serious options have been presented to make use of SLS and Orion within the next decade. After further analysis we may find this mission is too difficult to achieve in our timeline, but I don’t believe we have gathered enough data and fleshed out the details enough to make that conclusion. It would be a shame not to at least study the concept further and put an estimate on it.

      • Hiram

        Combining independent science sats on a human mission is a really bad idea, unless they need to be controlled by those humans (which, for a capsule speeding quickly past Mars, doesn’t seem like a particularly smart thing to do). So those science sats will be human-rated? They have to be integrated into the human flight system? You’re gonna pay dearly for that.

        Unless you’re thinking aerobraking or something, a free return route to Mars is just well-understood basic physics. Nothing mysterious or chancy about the astrodynamics. That there are active life support systems on board is totally irrelevant to the trajectory. For goodness sake. If you’re really that worried about testing a free return trajectory with an active life support system on board, why in the world do you want to test it with humans? That’s just nuts. Just send out an ECLSS system with instrumented crash test dummies instead.

        So you agree that if you want to test survival systems in cars, you shouldn’t use humans? Good stuff. But if you want to test survival systems in long duration spaceflight, you do? Sorry, but that just makes zero sense.

        Now, you still want cis-lunar missions to test flight systems for Mars 2021, but you haven’t said where the money is going to come to buy into the very lean schedule. This is the stuff of wet dreams. “Simply” adding $10-20B over the next six years? Isn’t that the budget increment that Constellation wasn’t able to achieve? It didn’t end up being that simple to Constellation. Unlike Mars 2021, Constellation wasn’t a stunt. The goals of that mission were vastly more substantial than briefly putting people in the general vicinity of a destination. So the sell to get that funding increment for Mars 2021 is going to be a LOT harder than it was for Constellation.

        My entire purpose of posting this response was to point out how quick many are to fawn over an idea that, in the long term interest of putting functional humans on Mars, just isn’t sensible, except as a stunt.

        BTW, the words “scientific value” don’t apply to “flight systems”. Technical value, or engineering value maybe. But not scientific value. You’re misusing that phrase. NASA certainly doesn’t refer to flight systems as being of scientific nature. So stop hiding behind science.

        The state of human spaceflight is hardly “atrophied” in LEO systems, except in that new destinations aren’t being achieved. New knowledge and understanding is being achieved that will engender further human work in space. Of course we can fling humans to new destinations and NOT gain that new knowledge and understanding, but that seems like a less desirable plan. NASA is not all about going places, though many people think that’s all it is. NASA is about using and understanding space.

        Yes, it might be a shame not to study the concept further and put an estimate on it. How much of the remaining six years to you want to devote to that effort? So after a year of analysis and cost estimation, we then have only five years to actually do it? Holy moley.

      • Hiram

        We’re starting to repeat ourselves, but this has been a good discussion. Thank you. I respect your convictions, but these are issues that need some close examination. I really think we need to keep our eyes wide open in approaching concepts like this.

      • pathfinder_01

        “2)Trajectory testing: Ummm to my knowledge we have never sent a spacecraft to Mars and Venus orbits and had it rocket back a payload to safely land on Earth.”

        Galileo and Cassini flew by Earth and Venus on their way out to Jupiter. Getting the payload to Earth is the easy part with a free return trajectory you don’t need propulsion to head back towards Earth(You just need a bit of propulsion for course correction). Landing safely is the hard part. There are issues with the Orion capsule in that the heat shield isn’t built for trips beyond the moon and in that the G-forces the crew would experience could be fatal. Those issues are solved by testing and Mars 2021 does not include that testing.

        “I think the only laughable idea here is assuming that you will jump from cis-lunar space to a full blown mission to Mars that includes a landing/takeoff and safe return.”

        If you use Chemical Propulsion to go to Mars, you won’t have much of a choice. You will either wait in Orbit for Earth and Mars to realign or land on mars and wait for the planets to realign. This isn’t like the Apollo 8 mission. You cannot use this method to go back and forward to Mars regularly.

        “ The “mull over” comment implies that we use all of the systems data collected and information provided by first hand veterans to study and prepare for the next Mars 2033 mission that will include a lander.”

        The systems you would need to do this would be very different. Mars 2021 does not go into orbit and thus saves the mass of propellant (and systems) needed to get into and out of orbit. Any real system is going to need that or land. You will also need much longer life support and possibly greater radiation shielding.

        If Mars 2021 were a mission that tested an system capable of repeat journeys to Mars, like Apollo 8 then it might be an worthy test mission, but here it is just an stunt and while I would love to see the stunt, I don’t think NASA should pay for it. There is very little science or engineering worth the risk.

  • Malmesbury

    Apollo 8ing around Mars would have very little scientific value *outside* HSF. If you want to study Mars from orbit, you are better off sending x tons of machines. Consider the billions spent to observe the earth. All automated….

    If by “science” you are refering to the engineering challenges of getting humans there, then it would indeed be useful for final verification of various systems. BUT…

    Those systems would need extensive testing long before they got to be a critical support function for human life. For example, ECLSS. I suggest looking at the program to create the systems for Nuclear subs. In the west these were extremely successful in creating robust, safe systems.

    As standard they were tested in full simulated environments many,any times before going to sea. The equivalent would have to be a zero g lab. Has anyone got one kicking around?

  • Andrew Swallow

    A Mars flyby in 2021 will kill the astronauts.
    A Mars flyby in 2031 may bring them back alive.

    We need the extra 10 years to perfect the spaceship. Long life testing requires some money but needs a lot of time.

    The strategy is simple – build one, test it, see what breaks, devise a cure, build the next one with the cure built in. Repeat until the device can last the mission. Then incorporate the device into the spaceship and apply test strategy to the spaceship.

  • Mslmesbury

    A logical plan might be -

    1) additional modules/systems on ISS
    2) a version of Nautilus X that is only LEO
    3) a version of Nautilis X that goes for a short spin out of LEO

    Aerobraking return anyone?

    We need spaceships. Not throw away Apollo on steroids stuff.

  • Gregori

    I’m horrified they’re still peddling that suicide mission…

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