Recently, an advisory committee assembled by the National Research Council (NRC) published a report titled “Pathways to Exploration” calling for redirection of NASA’s human spaceflight program. The report is written in a somewhat obscure form of bureaucratese, so as a public service I will provide a brief summary in English.
The NRC report translates as follows: NASA should build a lunar base.
The NRC committee authors never present this as their conclusion. Rather, they attempt to induce the reader to draw it for himself or herself, via the following subtle logic:
1. NASA needs a definite and inspirational goal for its human spaceflight program, and that goal should be the human exploration of Mars.
2. There are three paths to get humans to Mars:
(a) Perform the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). Then send humans to Phobos. Then send humans to Mars.
(b) Build a space station at Lagrange point L2. Then send astronauts to the Moon. Then send astronauts to near-Earth asteroids. Then send astronauts to Phobos. Then send humans to Mars.
(c) Build a Moon base. Then send humans to Mars.
3. Options (a) and (b) make no sense. So choose one of the remaining options.
I must admit that presented with this set of alternatives, the Moon base path seems very attractive.
I am going to criticize this report, but before I do, I would like to point out some parts where it really got things right.
As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, our space program finds itself adrift. But this need not be so. The great deeds we accomplished then demonstrate what we can do when we are brave. The time is overdue for America to commit itself to a bold new venture in space: the human exploration and settlement of Mars.
We're ready. Despite the greater distance to Mars, we are much better prepared today to send humans to Mars than we were to launch humans to the moon in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to achieve that goal. Given the will, we could have our first teams on Mars within 10 years.
It needn't break the bank, either. If done intelligently – with expenditures made for the purpose of accomplishing the mission, rather than the mission designed for the purpose of justifying expenditures – the cost of the Mars program would be about $20 billion to develop all the hardware needed. After that, each mission would cost between $1 and $2 billion.
Today is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. As the nation celebrates that great achievement, there is also reason for solemn reflection. For while NASA was able to put men on the Moon within eight years of the Apollo program’s start, the space agency has been unable to go further in the four and a half decades since. In fact, it is no longer capable of going to the Moon and, as these lines are written, is totally adrift, with no real plan for going anywhere.
If we are to remedy the space agency’s current impotence, we need to look at its history.
Over the course of its life, NASA has employed two distinct modes of operation. The first prevailed during the period from 1961 to 1973, and may therefore be called the Apollo Mode. The second, prevailing since 1974, may usefully be called the Random Mode.
In the Apollo Mode, business is conducted as follows. First, a destination for human space flight is chosen. Then a plan is developed to achieve the objective. Following this, technologies and designs are developed to implement the plan. These designs are then built, after which the mission is flown.
The Random Mode operates entirely differently. In this mode, technologies and hardware elements are developed in accord with the wishes of various technical communities. These projects are then justified by arguments that they might prove useful at some time in the future when grand flight projects are once again initiated.
The Mars Society posted today the full program itinerary for the 17th Annual International Mars Society Convention, scheduled for August 7-10 in
League City, Texas, just outside Houston near NASA's Johnson Space Center.
This important four-day event will bring together leading experts, scientists and policymakers to discuss the latest news and research about Mars exploration, planning for a humans-to-Mars mission and other related space issues.
Convention highlights to include:
+ An address by former NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin on U.S. planning for humans-to-Mars.
+ A briefing by NASA Johnson Space Center's Dr. Everett Gibson about the search for biosignatures on Mars.
+ An update on the history-making Kepler space telescope by NASA Ames Research Center's William Borucki.
+ An address by Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin on how we can reach Mars in the coming decade.
+ A briefing by NASA Manager Todd May on the status of the Space Launch System program.
+ An update by Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp about planning for human settlement of the Red Planet.
+ A discussion by NASA Johnson Space Center's Gerald Sanders on In-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) on Mars.
+ A talk by Inspiration Mars Executive Director Dr. Dennis Tito about planning for a Mars fly-by mission and the final round of oral presentations for the International Inspiration Mars Student Design Contest.
To view the Mars Society convention’s full program itinerary, please click here.
On the 45th anniversary of the moon landing, the U.S. should decide on the necessary steps to explore Mars with the eventual goal of establishing a manned settlement there.
It's hard to believe that on July 20, 2014, we'll be celebrating the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11, man's first landing on the moon. It's also hard to believe that no one can really say where the U.S. manned space exploration program is heading and how we're going to get there. People come up to me and say, "It's too bad the space program got canceled." Which is not the case and yet that is what most of the public thinks has happened. Yes, we hear from NASA that the destination is Mars - and yet there is no detailed plan on how to get there. No one can seem to agree on a clear path. The nation is understandably focused on many other pressing challenges at the moment. However, if we don't make some important decisions about the future of our space program very soon, I'm afraid the program will be lost to the ages.
Throughout history, humans have looked at Mars in wonder and have made up myths, legends and science fiction stories about civilizations. When Mariner flew by Mars in 1965 hopes for finding a thriving civilization on the Red Planet were quickly dashed by the 22 postage stamp sized images that slowly trickled back to Earth. The images showed a barren, rocky terrain. For many though, their passion of finding out more details kept the interest in finding life on Mars alive. In 1976 a life detecting experiment invented by Dr. Gil Levin was sent on the Viking I and II Landers to investigate whether microbial life existed in the soil on Mars.
Levin named his experiment Gulliver, but it was renamed by NASA to the Labeled Release (LR) experiment. Viking I and Viking II, which were 4,000 miles away from each other, both carried the LR. A brief summary of the LR is as follows; first a sample of Martian soil is scooped up and sent into a thimble-sized chamber, then a tiny drop of nutrient containing radioactive 14C is squirted onto the soil sample, and, if microorganisms are present, they will consume the nutrient and then give off radioactive gas. When the LR was performed on the surface of Mars, after the first squirt of nutrient was added onto the soil gas immediately began to come off. A spike was seen on the graph tracing the gas, with a growing curve indicating a positive result for life. The gas that was released by this experiment kept slowly evolving for the entire seven days the LR was run.
In order to verify the results a control experiment had been designed by NASA. The control was designed to determine whether the result was chemical or biological. The control had a negative result indicating the positive response was from life. This is because chemistry could not “die” from the modest heat imposed by the control experiment, but a living organism could. Since the control came back negative and the LR was positive, it can be ascertained that there is life on Mars. Thus the LR detected life on Mars according to the criteria set by the Viking team and NASA. Viking I and II both had a positive result for life with the LR experiment. Several different life detecting or life-related experiments were in the payload of Viking. Each one had different degree of sensitivity. The LR was the only test that was positive for life, but it was much more sensitive than the others. The LR was able to detect as few as 20 bacterial cells in its development tests. The other experiments were orders of magnitude less sensitive which easily explains why they were negative versus the positive results of the LR.
We're very pleased to announce that the Mars Society's official Facebook page has just reached *10,000* 'Likes', showing the broad and growing support for our organization's mission to advocate for Mars exploration and humans-to-Mars planning and research.
Thanks to everyone who has visited our page and signed on as a supporter! On to 20,000!