25 February 2010

Mars is Back on the Table

So I wake up this morning to eat my Bran Flakes, and lo-and-behold, we are going to Mars... sorta...

Upon further investigation, it's not so much that there is a plan in place as it is that an 'evolutionary' plan will be put into place to facilitate a Mars mission. In rocketeering terms, the old plan is being replaced by a new plan, one that will probably follow at least some tenants of the basic Constellation profile. I mean, you don't send folks to Mars before you test the life support, radiation shielding, and other critical systems in low earth orbit, high earth orbit, lunar orbit, etc. It would be tantamount to playing a two-year-long game of Russian Roulette, with the lives of astronauts being held to the barrel.

So, now that the Constellation program has been put out of its misery, we have a new program to look forward to... one that, though probably relying on more private enterprise than Constellation, will ultimately - I predict - wind up looking very, very similar. Drop the Lunar Base, perhaps, but otherwise...

I have to wonder if the backlash to killing Constellation was that strong on Capital Hill; the public didn't seem to care (if they even knew what the Constellation program was). If it was, of course, the new question becomes, is this yet another stunt to give NASA's human spaceflight program some token funding for a few years? After all, Mondale wanted to shut NASA down back in the 60's (and could well have done so after the Apollo 1 disaster), arguing that the monies used to fund lunar flights would be better spent on human need at home. Obama strikes me as the heir-apparent to Mondale with regard to such matters, so it comes as an absolute shock to me that he would suggest funding this kind of a program, especially after the review panel he recommended (The Augustine Commission) recommended ditching the program designed to lead to Mars in the first place.

Now, don't get me wrong. While the Constellation program was visionary in some respects, it was a political beast and had as its initial centerpiece a rocket (the Ares I) that suffered from serious doubts in the professional spaceflight communion (as well as among armchair astronauts like me). Nevertheless, I can almost promise you that, shorn of a Moon base, something like Constellation is bound to reappear in Obama's new plan... because its the only logical way to go to Mars.

Above all, those of us concerned with spaceflight must hope that the mission profile is something more than a one-shot publicity stunt. Going, collecting a few rocks, and then blasting back is a useless waste of taxpayer money and NASA's skills. Give a real mission to them, Mr. President... and give them the means to do it. (And hey, if you happen to have to take a couple of billion dollars out of Defense spending to accomplish it, so much the better.) 


Nicholas February 26, 2010 at 6:42 PM  

Very interesting. You've inspired me to revisit the NASA website again!

You mention that you hope they won't let the opportunity slip. What sort of mission would you like to see?

sbo December 18, 2011 at 2:23 AM  

I'm not sure what I just watched but I laughed my ass off! Thank you for posting this, I was having a rough morning

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sbobet March 2, 2012 at 11:11 AM  

It's good to see you looking so well and happy.

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