* Next DRA5Mars Society Switzerland
Robert Zubrin testimony to the Augustine Committee (You Tube)
Aerospace Corp Data RHSFPCWhen, on April 14th 2005, Michael Griffin became NASA’s 11th administrator, we could be sure that the Space Agency was bond to seriously revive its policy of inhabited flights beyond Low Earth Orbit (“LEO”) and that landing on Mars was only a matter of some twenty years (“during our lifetime”). One of the founding members of the Mars Society, Michael Griffin, began his mandate, on the assumption that he was going to build his strategy on the “Mars Direct” plan of Robert Zubrin. Indeed, this plan became the cornerstone of the first DRM (“Design Reference Mission”) of NASA’s Constellation program for exploring “the Moon, Mars & Beyond”. But the worm was already in the fruit: The American Congress had not understood that it costs no more energy to land on Mars than to land on the Moon and that the scientific interest for Mars is far higher than the Moon’s. Besides, NASA was inhibited by the memory of the Columbia shuttle explosion. Soon, NASA undertook to draft a flight architecture much more complex than the one recommended by Robert Zubrin. It was inspired by the wish to send six astronauts instead of four on each inhabited trip, and also by an unbearable precaution principle. Instead of a direct flight, NASA chose a “semi-direct” one with a docking of two elements on LEO and the combination of an orbiter and a lander (coupled with an ERV) on the Mars side. Rather than immediately start working on the heavy lift launch vehicle (“HLV”), Ares V in order to complete it before the end of George Bush presidency, NASA began with the “medium” lift launch vehicle, Ares 1 (which could have been an improved Ariane V instead, if relationship with ESA had been more confident). Rather than realizing the methane / oxygen engine which would have been needed for using Mars local resources (CO2 atmosphere), this essential part of the Mars Direct plane was given up because the first step of the Constellation program was to be the Moon and not Mars. Mars, the final goal was forgotten and dismissed because politics had voted for an absurd lunar pre-requisite (and the consequence was to be forced into lifting off the Earth a heavier mass). Study of artificial gravity was postponed since it was not necessary to fight the negative effects of micro-gravity in the framework of a short flight to the Moon. The result was that, at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, nothing was completed (i.e. irreversible) and the United States had entered the most severe economic crisis since 1929. DRA5 (the last of the DRM, drafted early 2009 and published in July 2009, see below) expressed the architectural and budgetary inflation of the project. At the same time President Obama, for whom the first priority was the mastering of the Crisis and the second, his medical insurance coverage for all, asked for a NASA audit and, in May 2009, named an ad-hoc Committee, the Augustine Committee (from the name of its president, Norman Augustine) to advise him on his Space policy. The conclusions of this Committee were published on Sept 8th 2009 under the name “Review of US Human Flight Plans Committee” (“RHFPC”). In between, on July 17th 2009, he had named a new Administrator, the astronaut Charles Bolden, to replace Mike Griffin. This was part of the spoil system in the USA but the personality and track record of Charles Bolden betrayed a real policy change. The « climate » was therefore gloomy. To worsen it, NASA, in documenting DRA5 and RHFPC, worked on estimates provided by Aerospace Corp (US Air Force) which had been grossly inflated (see below). On these bases, the Augustine Committee concluded (first draft of RHSFPC dated Sept 9th 2009, see below) that NASA did not have the financial means to carry forward and complete the Constellation project, and recommended to rather choose (1) to go on servicing and using the ISS; (2) a “flexible path” to carry on exploration beyond LEO, with available limited means, but without specifically chosen aims (visit of Near Earth Objects, of Lagrangian Points, of Phobos, orbiting around the Moon and / or Mars), while (3) working on new propulsion means (electro-atomic motors?) that would shorten the time needed to fly to Mars. Robert Zubrin fought energetically. Invited to testify in front of the Augustine Committee on August 5th 2009, he confirmed clearly his recommendation to apply the Mars Direct program as originally laid out (see below the video recording of his testimony, on You Tube). Later, on August 29th, in an open letter to President Obama, he denounced the biased estimates produced by Aerospace Corp which he qualified to be “junk cost estimates”. Then came a long waiting period. President Obama had to decide what to do with the conclusions of the Augustine Committee. Indicative deadlines were successively postponed, which definitely was a bad omen. Eventually, constrained by the deadline imposed by the submission to Congress of the 2011 federal budget, the President decided, on February 1st, to cancel the Constellation program. The Ares 1 launch vehicle will not even be completed, even though it had successfully gone through its first tests and even though NASA had spent 9 billion dollars on it (3 more were needed). United-States will pursue their international cooperation to keep using the ISS beyond 2016 and possibly beyond 2020. NASA should induce the private sector into conceiving, building (and financing!) a new launch vehicle to service the ISS, since the shuttle must be retired in 2011 (five flights left from now). Beyond LOE no much is in view (even less than recommended by RHSFPC), except opportunity flights. NASA should, as a priority, study new propulsion systems which should shorten to a “few weeks” the trip to Mars. This is to say that meanwhile, there would certainly be no inhabited flights to the vicinity of Mars (forget about Phobos!). This decision is obviously a catastrophe. It expresses the lack of interest of President Obama for Space exploration. United States are going to suffer a very serious setback in the mastering of inhabited flights and no country is able to relay them at the technological level they have reached. ESA, through its Director, Jean-Jacques Dordain, expressed its satisfaction to be in a position to use the ISS, in which it invested a lot of money, for many more years to come, even though it does not know clearly what to do with it (a tender will be issued, asking for ideas!). The Chinese and Indians are too far technologically-wise to presently create a real competing threat. If we want to be positive minded, there are but a few faint elements of hope left: Congress might reject this new space program considering that without any aim, it is not worth the money asked for; China in a few years might arouse American self pride; The successor of President Obama might decide the opposite policy and, taking stock of the past experience, decide to go to Mars within eight years. For the years to come, there is consequently no other way than to wait and enjoy as much as possible the work of the robotic exploration missions to come: Mars Science Laboratory, to be launched by NASA in 2011 and ExoMars in 2016 / 2018 (a lander, EDL, with a trial shot in 2016 and two rovers, one for ESA, the other for NASA, in 2018). Pierre Brisson Feb 6th 2010.
3 1The cancellation of NASA’s Constellation program was a pre-advised disaster.
4 5 6Feasibility of inhabited flights to Mars
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