Category Mars Wars

Early Mission Planning

In 1952, Dr. Wernher von Braun[36] published the first detailed mission architec­ture for human exploration of the red planet in his classic book, The Mars Project. The manuscript was actually the appendix of an earlier, unpublished work that von Braun had written while interned with his fellow German rocket engineers in El Paso, Texas after the conclusion of World War II (WW1I). Von Braun had a sweeping vision for human travel to Mars. His plan called for ten 400-ton space­craft capable of transporting a crew of 70 to the red planet—almost 1,000 ferry flights would be required to assemble this massive “flotilla” in Earth orbit. The strat­egy incorporated a minimum-energy trajectory that would carry the ships to Mars in approximately eight months. Upon arriving in Martian orbit, a glider would descend for a sliding landing on one of the planets polar ice caps. The crew from that ship would then trek 4,000 miles to the equator to build a landing strip for two additional gliders, which would transport the remainder of the exploratory team to the surface. After setting up an inflatable base camp habitat, the crew would com­mence a 400-day survey of the planet—which, von Braun assumed, would include taking samples of local flora and fauna and exploring the Martian canals—this was more than a decade before Mariner 4 returned the first close-up images of Mars back to Earth. Following a year of exploration, the crew would return to Earth,

Early Mission Planning

These paintings by Chesley Bonestell illustrate von Brauns plan for human exploration of Mars, from construction of the spaceships in Earth orbit, to entering Mars orbit, to exploring the surface itself (Courtesy Chesley Bonestell archives)

completing its three-year journey.[37]

In the early 1950s, Collier’s magazine approached Wernher von Braun and sev­eral other prominent engineers and scientists with an offer to write a series of eight articles about space exploration. The publication of these articles in Collier’s, with its circulation of almost four million, represented the beginning of a concerted “soft­ening up” process for space exploration in general, and Moon and Mars explora­tion in particular—with the express purpose of educating the American public.[38] In April 1954, von Braun and journalist Cornelius Ryan penned an article for Collier’s entitled “Can We Get to Mars?” This piece drew heavily from the mission concept found in The Mars Project, but also included an Earth-orbiting space station that would be used during the projects construction phase. In addition, Von Braun included a discussion that analyzed the potential physical and psychological dif­ficulties that the astronaut crew would face on the voyage. He concluded, “…we have, or will acquire, the basic knowledge to solve all the physical problems of a flight to Mars… [but] psychologists undoubtedly will [have] to make careful plans to keep up the morale of the voyagers.” In 1956, von Braun collaborated with fellow German engineer Willy Ley to expand on the Collier’s articles in a book entitled The

Exploration of Mars. The manuscript introduced a refined, cheaper mission architec­ture that reduced the number of ships going to Mars from 10 to 2, and the number of crew from 70 to 12.[39]

In the mid-1950s, the Collier’s articles served as the basis for three animated films about space exploration produced by Walt Disney. Wernher von Braun served as technical advisor for the shows, while Disney provided artistic direction for the series. The American Broadcasting Company aired the first episode entitled “Man in Space” on 9 April 1955- Disney, introducing the broadcast, stated that the aim of the series was to merge “the tools of our trade with the knowledge of the scientists to give a factual picture of the latest plans for man’s newest adventure.” The epi­sode introduced fundamental scientific principles and concluded with von Braun’s vision for a four-stage orbital rocket ship. The second show, entitled “Man and the Moon,” aired on 28 December 1955 and “present[ed] a realistic and believable trip to the moon in a rocket ship—not in some far-off fantastic never-never land, but in the near foreseeable future.” The final show in the series, entitled “Mars and Beyond,” aired almost two years later on 4 December 1957- During this episode, von Braun and Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger revealed plans for “atomic electric space ships [that] feature [d] a revolutionary new principle that will make possible the long trip to Mars with only a small expenditure of fuel.” The Disney technicians provided dramatic animations of a 13-month voyage employing these nuclear rocket engines. TV Guide stated that “Mars and Beyond” represented “the thinking of the best sci­entific minds working on space projects today, making the picture more fact than fantasy.”[40]

Howard McCurdy argues in his book Space and the American Imagination that von Braun’s collaborations with Collier’s and Disney were part of a larger concerted effort to prepare the public for the inevitable conquest of space. He contends that scientists, writers, and political leaders sought to construct a romantic vision of space exploration laid upon images already rooted in the American culture, such as the myth of the frontier. The resulting vision of space exploration had the power to excite, entertain, or frighten (i. e. Cold War)—and it was incredibly successful. In 1949, only 15% of the population believed that we would go to the moon in the 20th century. By the time President Kennedy announced the lunar landing goal, however, the majority of Americans viewed it as inevitable. McCurdy asserts that the primary reason for this shift in national mood was the introduction of space concepts to the mainstream public by von Braun and other visionaries during the 1950s.[41]

Building on the clear rise in interest in space exploration following the launch of Sputnik (and solidified with President Kennedy’s decision to send humans to the Moon), NASA began a series of studies to investigate alternative mission profiles for sending humans to Mars—continuing the softening up process that Wernher von Braun had initiated in the early 1950s and beginning a long-term alternative gen­eration process within the policy stream. In April 1959, Congress approved funding for NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio to conduct the first official architecture study for human exploration of Mars. Under the Lewis plan, a crew of seven would be propelled toward the red planet by an advanced, high-thrust nuclear rocket engine. The strategy called for a 420-day round trip with a 40-day surface stay. The ship design provided substantial living space for the crew and a heavily shielded cylindrical vault in the hub to protect the crew from radiation exposure. This basic model, using nuclear propulsion for the Earth orbit to Mars journey, became the standard within NASA for the next decade.[42]

In 1961, the year in which humans first reached Earth orbit, NASA was largely focused on mission plans for sending humans to explore the surface of the moon— not Mars. However, there was at least one important study of Mars exploration that was produced that year. Authored by Ernst Stuhlinger, who directed advanced propulsion work at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), the study expanded on earlier designs for ion-powered spacecraft. This form of propulsion used an electric current to convert a propellants (e. g. cesium) atoms into positive ions. The engine would then expel these high-speed ions to create a constant low-thrust acceleration. The primary benefit of this vehicle type was that it used relatively little propellant, drastically reducing the amount of launches required to assemble a ship in Earth – orbit. The main drawback, however, was that the low-thrust vehicle would take longer to make the trip to Mars and back. Stuhlinger also introduced a new inno­vation, twirling the spacecraft to generate artificial gravity for the crew. His overall mission plan called for five 150-meter long twirling ion ships to take 15 astronauts on the voyage to the red planet.[43]

In mid-1962, MSFC commenced the Early Manned Planetary Roundtrip Expe­ditions (EMPIRE) study. Wernher von Braun, now director of Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and the leading advocate pushing for exploration of Mars, recog­nized that his field center would need a post-Apollo goal if it were to survive after completion of the Saturn V rocket program. The goal of the EMPIRE study was to provide a long-term human exploration strategy. The study participants were tasked with creating mission plans that utilized moderate modifications of Apollo tech – nology for Martian flyby and orbiter (but not landing) missions. Three EMPIRE contractors submitted reports to MSFC—Lockheed, Ford Aeronutronic, and Gen­eral Dynamics. The Lockheed and Aeronutronic teams focused primarily on 18 to 22 month flyby missions conducted by spacecraft that utilized a rotating design to create artificial gravity for the crew. The General Dynamics report, on the other hand, focused on orbiter missions conducted by convoys of modular spacecraft. Krafft Ehricke, the principal author of the General Dynamics study, also included options for landing missions. All of the missions proposed under the auspices of the EMPIRE study required launch vehicles capable of lifting 2 Vi to 5 times the weight of the Saturn V being developed for Project Apollo.[44] [45]

In 1963, at the same time MSFC was conducting the EMPIRE study, the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) (later renamed the Johnson Space Center—JSC) started to conduct its own advanced planning for the future of the space program. Assistant Director of MSC, Maxime Faget, favored a phased exploration approach, with a space station and lunar base preceding a human mission to Mars. The MSC study produced the first detailed designs for a Mars Excursion Module (MEM), a piloted craft that would be capable of landing on the Martian surface. The mis­sion plan developed by MSC called for a complicated flyby-rendezvous where two separate spacecraft would be sent toward Mars—Direct and Flyby. The Flyby ship would depart Earth on a 200-day trip to Mars. The piloted Direct ship would leave 50 to 100 days later on a 120-day trip to Mars. Upon arrival, the Direct ship would release the MEM, which would land on the red planet. After completing its mis­sion, the MEM would rendezvous with the Flyby ship as it swung past Mars and headed home. This high-risk approach saved propellant because it utilized a free return trajectory to return the MEM to Earth.11

In July 1965, Mariner 4 conducted the first flyby of Mars and snapped its historic 21 images of the red planet. The photographs revealed a planet with an exceptionally thin carbon dioxide atmosphere and an apparently lifeless, cratered landscape. These findings had a dramatic impact on planning for planetary explora­

tion. Researchers had always assumed Mars to be an Earthlike planet that would support a human crew. Instead they found a resoundingly hostile environment. As a result, the next major Mars study, conducted the following year by the Office of Manned Spaceflight at NASA Headquarters, called for humans to orbit the planet but counted on robotic landers to conduct actual surface exploration. By 1967, with the Vietnam War heating up, Congress eliminated all funding for studying human exploration of the red planet.[46]

The Battle to Save SEI

“And so as this century closes, it is in America’s hands
to determine the kind of people, the kind of planet, we will become
in the next. We will leave the Solar System and travel to the stars.
Not only because it is democracy’s dream, but because it is
democracy’s destiny. ”

President George Bush, 11 May 1990

Throughout the fall of 1989, President Bush had not been heavily engaged in the evolution of SEI within his administration. He had largely delegated responsibility for the initiative to Vice President Quayle, while he addressed more pressing events on the international stage—most importantly, the virtual implosion of communism in Eastern Europe. International tensions remained a fact of life during the coming months as reunification efforts began in East and West Germany; independence movements gained momentum in several Soviet republics; President Gorbachev proposed that the Communist Party give up its monopoly on power in the U. S.S. R.; and Panamanian dictator General Manuel Noriega overturned democratic elections that had effectively ousted him from power. Regardless, during the early part of the new year, President Bush was able to return his attention to domestic mat­ters—including the fate of the American space program.1 [263]

Post-Apollo Planning

On 8 January 1969, President-elect Richard Nixon received the “Report of the Task Force on Space,” a thirteen-member blue-ribbon panel charged with advis­ing the incoming president regarding options for the American space program. Chaired by Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes of the University of California at Berkeley, the task force issued a number of recommendations. The board favored a more balanced program that promoted expanded utilization of robotic probes and satellites for scientific research and exploration, and in a wide variety of applica­tions (e. g., communications, weather, and earth resource surveys). With regard to planetary exploration, the task force did not support the immediate adoption of a human spaceflight program based on a planetary lander or orbiter. Instead, the panel favored continued lunar exploration that built on Apollo technology to allow for greater mobility and extended stays on the surface.[47]

The following month, President Nixon asked Vice President Spiro Agnew to chair a Space Task Group (STG) created to provide a definitive recommendation regard­ing the course the space program should take during the post-Apollo period. The other members of the STG were Secretary of the Air Force Robert Seamans, NASA Administrator Thomas Paine, and Presidential Science Advisor Lee DuBridge. Joan Hoff argues in Spaceflight and the Myth of Presidential Leadership that the creation of the STG was “a mixed blessing for NASA because Paine assumed almost imme­diately that Agnews personal and public support of a ‘manned flight to Mars by the end of this century’ would carry the day inside the White House and BOB [Bureau of Budget], when nothing could have been further from the truth.”[48]'[49] At an early STG meeting, Paine pushed forward based on this incorrect assumption by con­tending that the space agency needed a new program to rally around. Agnew was supportive, stating that NASA needed an ‘Apollo for the seventies.”[50]

As the primary policy entrepreneurs supporting a human mission to Mars, Paine and Agnew selected an approach for post-Apollo planning that did not mesh with either President Nixon’s basic ideology or changes in the national mood regarding space exploration. Hoff writes “Nixon was concerned about scientific-technological programs that might stress engineering over science, competition over cooperation, civilian over military, and adventure over applications…[and his] emphasis on fru­gality in government spending prompted caution on his part in endorsing any effort in space.” Public sentiment toward the space program had also begun to shift, with increasing concerns that the government had misplaced priorities. A Gallup Poll conducted in July 1969, at the time of the Apollo 11 mission, indicated that only 39% of Americans were in favor of U. S. government spending to send Americans to Mars, while 53% were opposed.[51] Thus, Paine and Agnew were pushing for a large new Apollo-like commitment despite the fact that there appeared to be little or no support for such an undertaking within the White House or the mass public.[52]

On 16 July, at the launch of Apollo 11, Vice President Agnew told reporters that it was his “individual feeling that we should articulate a simple, ambitious, optimistic goal of a manned flight to Mars by the end of the century.” Up until this point, NASA had been focusing primarily on a large space station as the logical post-Apollo program. The space agency had been unsuccessful in gaining political support for such a program, however, so Administrator Paine decided that it was the appropriate time to make a human Mars mission the center of future planning. On 4 August, Wernher von Braun came to Washington to brief the STG on options for human exploration of Mars by 1982. After the briefing, Paine informed the panel that the mission could be accomplished if NASA’s budget was increased to $9 to $10 billion by the middle of the decade—at a time when the NASA budget was only $4.25 billion.[53] This seemed to be contrary to President Nixon’s fiscal philoso­phy as well as existing budgetary realities.

As it became clear that the STG was seriously considering an early Mars mission, widespread criticism of such an undertaking emerged. What was most troublesome for NASA was that formerly vigorous supporters of the space program were opposed to large new projects. Senator Clinton Anderson, Chairman of the Senate Com­mittee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, stated “now is not the time to commit ourselves to the goal of a manned mission to Mars.” Representative George Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, said “five, perhaps ten, years from now we may decide that it would be in the national interest to begin a carefully planned program extending over several years to send men to Mars.” The Washington Post and New York Times both questioned the validity of the enterprise, the latter stating that an early crewed Mars mission was scientifically and technically premature.[54]

In the face of growing opposition to a Mars project, Robert Seamans grew con­cerned that his colleagues were considering recommending a program that had no political support. Seamans, who had been a senior NASA official from I960 to 1968, argued that the space agency should utilize its capabilities to address “prob­lems directly affecting men here on Earth.” He contended that new human explora­tion initiatives should be deferred until their technical feasibility was determined. Budget Director Robert Mayo, who had observer status within the STG, agreed with this position. He believed that from a budgetary viewpoint an Apollo-like program was not practical in the near-term. Due to a lack of consensus regarding the exact direction that the post-Apollo program should travel, it was decided that the panel would present the White House with several future program alternatives. Presidential advisor John Erlichman demanded that the report not include any politically infeasible goals, such as a human mission to Mars by 1982.[55]

On 15 September 1969, the STG report was submitted to President Nixon. The panel recommended that “this Nation accept the basic goal of a balanced manned and unmanned space program conducted for the benefit of all mankind.” To accom­plish this goal, the report stressed five program objectives, including:

• Expansion of space applications

• Enhancement of space technology for national security purposes

• Continuation of earth and space science projects

• Development of a new space transportation capability and a space station

• Promotion of international cooperation in space

Finally, the group recommended that the nation “accept the long-range option or goal of manned planetary exploration with a manned Mars mission before the end of this century as the first target.” The STG report did not, however, support an immediate commitment to any particular future program or initiative. Instead, the panel provided President Nixon with several alternatives and left it to him to choose the best option.[56]

On 7 March 1970, six months after the STG report was submitted, President Nixon offered his first official comments on the future course of the space program. In his statement, the president declared that the space program would be less of a government priority during his administration. Nixon rejected the need for a bold new exploration initiative, arguing “many critical problems here on this planet make high priority demands on our attention and our resources. By no means should we allow our space program to stagnate. But—with the entire future and the entire universe before us—we should not try to do everything at once. Our approach to space must be bold—but it must also be balanced.”[57] This statement formally ended NASA’s attempts to get approval for a mission to Mars and led to the even­tual endorsement of the Space Shuttle program. Joan Hoff argues that there were four major reasons for the failure of NASA to gain approval for a bold post-Apollo initiative. First, President Nixon never “need[ed] to use the space program to prove himself able to deal with the Soviets, as Kennedy and Johnson apparently thought they did. NASA administrators and White House science advisors in 1969-72 failed

to appreciate this important shift____ ” Second, the Nixon administration inherited

economic problems generated by immense spending related to the Vietnam War and Great Society social programs. Third, an anti-technology mood within the American public forced policy makers to question whether large spending for the space program was a proper allocation of scarce government funding. As a result, the president decided that there was no political downside to supporting budget cuts for

NASA. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Hoff contended that “institutional obstinacy at NASA when asked to comply with changing government budgeting methods and changing public expectations about the meaning of the space program” led to a deceleration within the space program.[58] John Logsdon agreed with this line of reasoning, writing in Exploring the Unknown: Organizing for Exploration, “…the results of NASA’s attempt to mobilize support behind the manned Mars objective were, from the Agency’s perspective, little short of disastrous…. What happened to NASA plans and the STG report is best viewed, not in terms of NASA winning’ or ‘losing,’ but in terms of what happens when an agency’s plans are significantly at variance with what political leaders judge to be both in the long-term interests of the nation and politically feasible.”[59] The fact that NASA pushed the Mars initiative despite substantial opposition resulted in discussion of sending humans to the red planet being a taboo subject within NASA for the next decade.

Presidential Decisions

During the early months of the new year, the Space Council staff began devel­oping actual policy directives for the implementation of SEI. Based on direction provided by the full Council during two meetings on the subject, the staff was tasked with drafting two documents. The first would provide general policy guid­ance, while the second would introduce a course of action for including interna­tional partners in Moon-Mars missions. In a sign that the Administration had lost complete faith in NASA, the staff turned to the Department of Defense to conduct most of the analytical work necessary to develop these documents. Although NASA leaders had originally been in favor of re-establishing the Space Council, this view had dramatically shifted now that the new organization had turned to the military to comment on and critique the space agency’s plans and projects.[264] Regardless, over the period of several months, the council staff worked closely with military analysts and the ‘deputies committee,’ a group consisting of high-level representatives from each of the Council’s member agencies, to gain a consensus on the wording of the forthcoming policy statements.[265]

On 21 February, President Bush signed a Presidential Decision on the Space Exploration Initiative. Fully supported by Vice President Quayle and the National Space Council, its public unveiling three weeks later was clearly timed to coincide with the release of the NRC review of the 90-Day Study. The NRC panels’ find­ings and recommendations largely validated the policy guidance found within the presidential directive. The objective of the document was to provide the American space program with near-term guidance for carrying out the long-term SEI vision. The policy consisted of the following components:

• The initiative will include both lunar and Mars program elements

• The initiative will include robotic science missions

• Early research will focus on a search for new and innovative approaches and


— Research will focus on high leverage technologies with the potential to greatly reduce costs

— Mission, concept, and systems analyses will be carried out in parallel with technology research

— Research will lead to definition of two or more significantly different exploration architectures

— A baseline program architecture will be selected from these alternatives

• Three agencies will carry out the initiative, with the National Space Council coordinating all activities

— NASA will be the principal implementing agency

— DOD and DOE will have major roles in technology development and concept definition

Coming eight months after President Bush first announced the initiative, this direc­tive provided the direction that had clearly been needed within a fractious policy making community.[266] It was among the most significant documents in the chronicle of SEI. It represented an outright skirmish in the battle to gain control of strategic space policy planning within the Bush administration. Mark Albrecht said later, “it took us almost a year to go where we wanted to go directly and it cost us time, it cost confusion on the Hill.”[267] Although this was a criticism of NASA, the Administration itself shared equally in the blame for not providing the required direction earlier. It is unclear whether the ultimate fate of SEI would have changed even if policy guid­ance had been provided much earlier, but it seems safe to conclude that the lack of administration leadership significantly reduced the initiatives chances of success. By the time the council finally supplied the needed direction, it was probably too late to resurrect an undertaking Congress presumed would be outrageously expen­sive. Dick Malow recalled that even with of a presidential directive providing policy guidance for SEI, “the general feeling about the program on the Hill continued to weaken.”[268]

At the end of March, the White House made public a second presidential direc­tive announcing President Bush’s decision to commence discussions with foreign nations regarding international cooperation for SEI. This idea had been encour­aged the previous summer by Carl Sagan, who sought to take advantage of warmer relations between the United States and Soviet Union. The Department of Trans­portation’s (DOT) Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee had likewise recommended cooperation with the U. S.S. R. The committee’s chairman,

Alan Lovelace, said “cooperation with the Soviets is logical given the great desire of the administration to take steps to support developments in Eastern Europe.” Another potential reason to cooperate was to reduce the U. S. contribution to the expensive initiative. It was suggested that the issue should be placed on the table for the Bush-Gorbachev summit planned for the summer.[269] The policy document itself indicated that the nation should pursue negotiations with Europe, Canada, Japan, and the Soviet Union. It was believed that this decision directive would sup­port three important objectives. First, and most importantly, it would expand the coalition of initiative supporters by adding a foreign policy rationale. Second, it would involve partners capable of contributing financial resources to an expensive undertaking. Third, it would involve partners with important technical capabili­ties—most notably Soviet experience addressing the impacts of prolonged space – flight and constructing nuclear space systems.[270]

The Soviet reaction to President Bush’s call for international cooperation was extremely positive. Four years earlier, President Gorbachev had asked President Reagan to join his nation in a joint mission to the red planet, which would have met a long held ambition within the U. S.S. R. for human space exploration focusing on a voyage to Mars. After the release of the presidential directive, the spokesman for the Soviet embassy in Washington stated, “we have always been for cooperation with the United States in this area.” Despite this encouraging response, by the end of the month, the NRC panel that had been evaluating SEI publicly warned against any cooperative robotic sample return missions to Mars with the Soviets. While the NRC did not address human exploration, it found that a highly interdependent undertaking could make planetary science “a potential hostage to political events.” In the long-run, the potential benefits sought from exploring international coopera­tion were never realized.[271]

While the Space Council was working to provide long overdue policy guid­ance for SEI’s implementation, senior NASA officials were appearing on Capitol Hill to defend the proposed increase in the agency’s budget. In late March, the House Appropriations subcommittee with authority over the NASA budget held two days of hearing on the matter. It became apparent very quickly that the com­mittee, chaired by Representative Bob Traxler (D-MI), was committed to identify­

ing and eliminating all funding associated with SEI. Chairman Traxler began the SEI-related questioning by asking NASA if the net increase in spending associated with the initiative was approximately $300 million—if on-going programs such as the National Aerospace Plane, Space Station Freedom, and Mars Observer were not included. NASA Comptroller Thomas Campbell answered that this was cor­rect. Traxler then asked a series of questions regarding the technologies included in the 90-Day Study, which led to a long response from Admiral Truly defending the report—he concluded that the $188 million in funding for new technologies were dedicated to ascertaining what innovations would be required to efficiently explore the Moon and Mars. An undeterred Traxler followed-up by asking whether Truly agreed with the NRC report, which concluded that SEI as envisioned in the 90-Day Study would be technically challenging and very expensive. After Truly answered in the affirmative, Traxler got to the heart of the Congressional concern by asking whether fully implementing the TSG plan would require more than doubling the NASA budget. Once again answering affirmatively, Truly stated that regardless of what technologies or strategies were selected, exploration of the Moon and Mars would be an expensive undertaking. Truly suggested that the technological, educa­tional, and spiritual benefits derived from such an endeavor was worth the cost.

After a brief foray into technical details, Traxler returned to budgetary concerns, questioning the space agency’s ability to accurately forecast programmatic costs for long term projects. He asked whether Truly was confident in NASA’s estimate for reference approach A ($541 billion). The administrator simply said it was prema­ture to make this determination, but that he believed the program would be “very expensive.” Traxler followed-up by asking when NASA would be able to provide firm numbers, to which Truly said it would take three or four years of focused technology development to provide a more definitive estimate. In essence, Truly was suggesting that Congress should invest billions of dollars in technology development programs before the agency could tell it how much the long-term project would cost. During the second day of testimony, with many Congressional concerns presumably con­firmed, Chairman Traxler only returned to SEI in an attempt to accurately identify exactly where new money for SEI could be found within the NASA budget request. This was an ominous sign, calling into question whether Congress would provide any funding for implementation of the initiative.[272]

By the end of April, with Congress preparing to eliminate all SEI-related funding from the NASA budget, the Space Council set into motion a concentrated lobby­ing effort aimed at garnering support for the space program and SEI. The first step

in the strategy was to hold a “space summit” at the White House. While President Bush met weekly with the senior Congressional leadership to discuss selected sub­jects, this meeting was notable because it was the first time in American history that space policy would be the sole topic on the agenda.11 According to an internal White House memorandum, the primary purpose of the summit was for Bush to show support for the FY 1991 space budget. Secondarily, the gathering provided an opportunity to discuss SEI. Not since the initiation of the Apollo program had a president given such high priority to the space program. During the intervening period, space activities were kept alive by a select group of congressional appropria – tors and top-level NASA officials. The belief within the administration was that this traditional coalition would not be able to deliver on President Bush’s ambitious request for a 24% increase in funding for the space agency or obtain approval to implement SEI. Senator Barbara Mikulski and Senator Jake Garn (chair and rank­ing member of the Appropriation Subcommittee on VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies) had confirmed this opinion, warning the White House that the Moon – Mars initiative was particularly vulnerable in the current budgetary environment, absent strong intervention by the White House. Based on this advice, the White House plan was to have President Bush actively promote the initiative, both pub­licly and with top congressional powerbrokers.[273] [274]

On 1 May, after being delayed in mid-April by the death of Senator Spark Mat – sunaga (D-HI),[275] the summit took place at the Old Executive Office Building. The event was attended by sixteen congressional participants[276] and nearly twenty mem­bers of the White House staff.[277] President Bush opened the meeting by affirming his personal commitment to the American space program, which he believed to be of vital importance to the nation’s future. He contended that space leadership was crucial to maintaining national leadership in the high tech world—in particular, he lauded the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) aboard the Shuttle Discovery in late April as an example of U. S. accomplishments in space science. He further argued that there were real and tangible benefits derived from invest­ments in the national space program, including revolutions in communications and computerization, advances in industrial materials and medical knowledge, the cre­ation of millions of high-tech jobs, and inspiring future generations of scientists and engineers. President Bush then appealed for congressional support for his increase in civil space spending—which he asserted would put the nation on the path of recovery from many years of underinvestment in space. He made the case that Mis­sion to Planet Earth and SEI embodied what the space program was all about—to use space to examine Earth from above and to push outward to new frontiers. In conclusion to his remarks, Bush acknowledged that Congress was concerned about the proposed investment in the Moon-Mars initiative. To address these issues, he turned the meeting over to Vice President Quayle.[278]

Vice President Quayle began by emphasizing the Space Councils priorities, including: a balanced mix of human and robotic, scientific and exploratory mis­sions; pursuit of challenging initiatives; and pushing space innovation designed to ensure national leadership in cutting edge technology. He then launched into a defense of SEI. Stating that the Council had dedicated significant effort to creating a strategy for SEI, Quayle argued that it was fundamentally in the national interest to implement a new round of exploration that would produce countless direct and indirect benefits. He told the attendees that the councils approach for SEI was to begin a multi-year technology research effort. The administration was asking Con­gress for the funding ($188 million in FY1991) and the time to examine alternative ways for better, faster, cheaper, safer ways of reaching the Moon and Mars. Quayle made clear to the assembled congressional leaders that this should not be considered a new program start, but an opportunity to investigate what was involved in achiev­ing the initiative and ultimately to save money. He was adamant on this point, stating unequivocally that the White House was not asking Congress to commit to a new program. Quayle argued, however, that it was important to start the technol­ogy research needed to initiate the program immediately, rather than waiting for the program to get bogged down in bipartisan politics during an election year. He also suggested that SEI offered an exceptional opportunity to showcase U. S. leadership during a time of rapid political change around the globe.

Mark Albrecht remembered the congressional position during the summit “hadn’t changed much, it pretty much remained the same—highly skeptical.” The participants indicated that while they were willing to provide money for studies, they did not believe there was enough justification for a major new program start. Instead, they wanted to see more detail regarding what the actual initiative would look like before they got fully behind the program.[279] One senior congressional aide recalled, “By this time, Chairman Traxler was carrying the message around that ‘we can’t afford this given our allocation. We can’t do it.’ He was already negative about it, so coming out of there I don’t think he was convinced differently. Congress had already pretty much made up its mind.’”[280]

Case for Mars

Indeed, there was little public dialogue at all regarding a human mission to Mars in the decade after the rejection of such an undertaking by the Nixon administra­tion. By the late 1970s, however, the goal of human exploration of Mars reappeared within the aerospace community—primarily due to the work of a small group of space enthusiasts that became known as the “Mars Underground.” The movement began in 1978, during the quiet period between the Skylab and Shuttle programs. That year, Chris McKay, an astrogeophysics graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, offered an informal seminar on “The Habitability of Mars.” Among the roughly 25 participants were fellow doctoral candidates Carol Stoker and Penelope Boston, engineer Tom Meyer, and computer scientist Steve Welch. The study, which concentrated primarily on the examination of potential Martian terraforming,[60] continued for several years.[61]

In the spring of 1980, McKay and Boston met Leonard David of the National Space Institute at an American Astronautical Society meeting in Washington, DC. After a lengthy discussion regarding Mars exploration, David suggested that the Mars Underground organize a conference to analyze options for near-future human exploration of the red planet. The group of twenty-something graduate students enthusiastically latched onto the idea and began planning the event for the fol­lowing year. McKay, Stoker, Boston, Meyer, Welch, and Roger Wilson, another University of Colorado graduate student, sketched out the key areas to be investi­gated, including: propulsion, design, psychology, medicine, finance, life support, and materials processing. As the idea progressed, they began putting together lists of speakers for what they dubbed the “Case for Mars” conference.[62]

In late April 1981, the Mars Underground hosted the first “Case for Mars” con­ference at the University of Colorado. It was a relatively small conference, with approximately 100 attendees, but to the organizers it was viewed as an important start. Given that no official report on human missions to Mars had been released in a decade, the gathering was largely an organized brainstorming session. Over four days, workshops and presentations were given on a wide variety of topics. The most important outcomes of the conference were “first, that the participants made con­tact and communicated their ideas to the public, and secondly, [the development of] an approach to begin answering the questions of whether or not a manned Mars mission was a viable option for our space program.”[63]

During the four days of the Case for Mars conference, the participants examined not only the technologies required to carry out a future human mission, but assessed the social, economic, and political impacts of such an enterprise. The general con­sensus of the conference participants was that the exploration and settlement of Mars offered a technically feasible, unifying goal for the American space program in the 21st century. The proceedings stated, “this is not only a natural evolutionary step of space development, but it can be a new symbol of the pioneering spirit of America in the eyes of the public.” Mars was seen as a logical next step for the space program because the Martian environment provided resources that could be utilized for in situ manufacturing of life support materials. It was assumed at the time that the Space Shuttle would provide cheap space transportation services, resulting in a Mars expedition that would cost less than the Apollo program.[64]

The attendees produced a list of four precursor missions that would be required before attempting a human landing on Mars. First, to identify a suitable base site, a robotic Mars Polar Orbiter would be required to locate water resources to support the crew. Second, high resolution maps were needed to provide topographic and geological data since the base must be in a safe but scientifically interesting location. Third, a sample return mission would be essential to carryout engineering proof – of-concept tests. Finally, a mission to either Phobos or Deimos was included as a potential launching point for extensive exploration of the Martian surface.[65] The participants produced interrelated technology options to be used when designing the mission profile, which ranged from using a modified Space Shuttle External Tank as a Mars transit vehicle to mining the Martian atmosphere for fuel to artificial gravity. In conclusion, the conferees produced a list of surface activities that could be carried out by the astronaut and scientist crew during its stay. This included construction of underground habitats in a region with access to a confirmable water supply, establishment of processing facilities to utilize Martian resources (to provide air, water, fuel, industrial compounds, building materials, fertilizers, and soil), grow­ing fresh food to supplement stored supplies, and conducting scientific research.[66]

The Case for Mars conferences, which continued every three years until the mid – 1990s when the Mars Society was created (this advocacy organization now holds an annual conference), were essentially a resurrection of the “softening up” process that had been started by the space community during the 1950s. Each conference built on those preceding it, spending time studying the fundamentals of spaceflight (from payloads to orbital trajectories) and establishing a close-knit community of engineers and scientists enthusiastic about sending humans to Mars. In 1984, the second conference was utilized to design a complete space system architecture for a Mars expedition. More importantly, however, the conference attracted attend­ees with greater political influence within the space policy community, among them former NASA Administrator Thomas Paine. The following year, Paine was appointed to lead a blue-ribbon presidential committee tasked with making recom­mendations for the space agency’s future.

SEI Hits the Road

In early May, with congressional support still very much in doubt, the Space Council staff began preparing for President Bush to make a major space policy speech. The intention was that this address would provide some much needed focus for the program, and at the same time allay Congressional fears that Bush was com­mitted to a $400 billion, crash program. Mark Albrecht recalled that by this time NASA had “leaked their numbers out to everybody on the Hill, attempting the crib death of this whole initiative. We still didn’t have the full support of the space agency, I don’t believe even at this time NASA was embracing it. I think they were more worried about the space station than they were interested in setting a new course.” To combat this behind the scenes attack, the White House decided that a presidential rebuttal was needed to make it clear that the Administration was not talking about a crash program[281]

On 11 May, ten days after the space summit, President Bush delivered the com­mencement address at Texas A&I University. He utilized this speech as an opportu­nity to discuss the role the national space program would play in America’s future. Bush told the assembled graduates that SEI formed the cornerstone of his far-reach­ing plan for investing in America’s future, saying, “Thirty years ago, NASA was founded, and the space race began. And 30 years from now I believe man will stand on another planet. And so, I am pleased to return to Texas today to announce a new Age of Exploration, with not only a goal but also a timetable: I believe that before Apollo celebrates the 50th anniversary of its landing on the Moon, the American flag should be planted on Mars.” With this speech, Bush set a timetable for SEI and answered critics that argued he lacked the vision of a great president.[282] As he had done ten months earlier, he did not speak to the cost of achieving these lofty goals. When asked by reporters as he boarded Air Force One where the money would come from to fund the initiative he simply said, “Thirty years is a long time.”[283] Coming in the wake of months of strategizing within the Space Council regarding how to get SEI back on it feet, this answer was most unsatisfying. It left the impres­sion that either Bush was not fully engaged in the decisions that were being made with regard to space policy, or that the White House simply couldn’t produce a good answer to this fundamental question.

As had been the case with his speech announcing SEI the previous summer, the reaction to President Bush’s commencement address was not entirely positive. The New York Times complained he “did not give any estimate… of how much the program would cost. Nor did he discuss whether the mission would be mounted alone or with international partners.”[284] The Washington Post quoted Senator A1 Gore saying, “before the President sets out on his mission to Mars, he should embark on a mission to reality by giving us some even faint indication of where the $500 billion is going to come from.”[285] Dick Malow actually felt that setting a 30-year timeframe weakened the initiative on Capitol Hill. It was the “antithesis of the whole Apollo idea. How do you spread an initiative like this over so many presidential adminis­trations?”[286] These reactions from key Democratic leaders pointed to the difficult position the administration still found itself in due to the expensive policy alterna­tive generated within the 90-Day Study. Even some NASA officials felt that setting a timetable for the initiative was a mistake, believing it would drive costs up whereas a ‘go-as-you-pay’ program would have had a significantly reduced budgetary impact on an annual basis.[287]

Outside the Capitol Beltway, the speech seemed to play even worse. The edito­rial page of Salem, Oregon’s Statesman Journal contended, “A rocket trip to Mars begins on a foundation of common purpose and sound finances at home. A nation that doesn’t know how to balance its budget, reduce a $3 trillion deficit, and fight the decay of its citizens through the effects of drugs, disrupted families and crippled schools will never find the money and willpower to visit the heavens. Bush has given us an empty challenge. We should ask him to return to Texas and repeat the same speech. This time let him add a page at the beginning, one that spells out how this country can first get its feet back on the ground. Then we can head for Mars.”[288] The response was no better in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where the opening line of an opinion editorial read, “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to space we go!”[289] A letter the White House received from a local official in Kittery, Maine (just south of President Bush’s vacation home in Kennebunkport) suggested, “American pride will best be shown by meeting the needs of all the people here on Earth. $500 billion would make a good start.”[290] Once again, this was not the reaction the administration was hoping to elicit from a presidential address on the importance of space exploration.

A few weeks later, Vice President Quayle met briefly with the person the Space Council hoped would be able to build confidence in SEI—Lieutenant General Tom Stafford (USAF-retired). Stafford was a former astronaut who commanded Apollo 10, the ‘dress rehearsal’ for the first lunar landing mission, and the U. S. portion of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. He had recently agreed to head the Explora­tion Outreach Program, which had been created by NASA in response to the Space Council request that the agency seek out new technical approaches that might reduce SEI’s implementation costs. Under this outreach effort, the space agency expected to obtain wide-ranging ideas through public solicitations, which would be evaluated by the RAND Corporation—a California-based think tank. The most promising of these proposals, and others directly from NASA, DOD, and DOE, would then go to a “Synthesis Group” headed by General Stafford. This group’s recommenda­tions would be reviewed by the NRC and reported directly to the Space Council in early 1991. At the meeting with Stafford, Vice President Quayle expressed his belief that the Synthesis Group would serve as a vehicle for generating enthusiasm and support for SEI. He concluded the meeting by conveying his hope that the group would identify at least two fundamentally different approaches to carrying out the initiative.[291]

In early June, at the fourth Case for Mars conference, an alternative emerged that would captivate Mars enthusiasts for years to come—and would work its way into NASA planning years later. The most talked about presentation of the symposium was delivered by Martin Marietta aerospace engineers Robert Zubrin and David Baker. Named ‘Mars Direct,’ their system architecture included several key elements designed to reduce mission costs and increase scientific return, including:

• Direct flight to and from the Martian surface (which eliminated the need to use Space Station Freedom)

• No earth orbit or lunar orbit rendezvous (which eliminated the need for multiple spacecraft)

• Fueling of the Earth Return Vehicle using propellant generated on Mars from the atmosphere

• Extended operations on the Martian surface (up to 555 days)

Although this approach was considered a high risk alternative to the TSG architec­ture highlighted in the 90-Day Study, Zubrin and Baker argued Mars Direct would only cost $20 billion—approximately one-twentieth the price tag associated with the space agency plan. Because it was based on existing technologies packaged in an innovative system architecture, many in the space policy community viewed this as an option worth serious consideration.[292]

In mid-June, the Bush administration set in motion a flurry of events intended to garner public support for SEI. These activities were commenced largely in response to a House Appropriations subcommittee vote to eliminate all spending associated with the initiative.[293] This lobbying effort began with a series of meetings to brief key actors within the space policy community. Held at the White House, the presenta­tions were tailored to the corresponding audiences in a coordinated effort—with Vice President Quayle and Admiral Truly as the featured speakers. The message conveyed to a group of congressional staffers was that a failure to provide funding for SEI would create the impression that the United States lacked the political will to take risks to expand humanity’s reach into the solar system. Reporters that regularly covered NASA were told that SEI would produce significant economic, technical, and educational benefits for the nation. Finally, industry and academic leaders were informed that SEI would be part of an overarching administration strategy designed to foster innovation by permanently extending the research and experimentation tax credit and reducing regulatory burdens on corporations.[294]

These briefings were immediately followed by a major presidential address on space policy at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama. After attending a fundraising luncheon for Governor Guy Hunt, President Bush arrived at the center for a tour. This included a visit to the Hubble Space Tele­scope (HST) Orbital Verification Engineering Control Room, where a NASA team was coordinating the adjustment and final checkout of the groundbreaking orbital observatory.[295] Bush then conducted a full press conference on the center grounds. Despite the setting, the majority of the event was spent detailing the American response to ongoing unrest in the Middle East. However, Bush was asked a few questions regarding the national space program, among them one directed at SEI:

Q: A question about space. How serious are you about this lunar base and Mars mission proposal? Would you go so far as to veto the bill that con­tains NASA appropriations if Congress decides to delete all the money?

A: I haven’t even contemplated any veto strategy. I’d like to get what I want. I think it’s in the national interest. I think that the United States must remain way out front on science and technology; and this broad pro­gram that I’ve outlined, seed money that I’ve asked for, should be sup­ported. But I think it’s way too early to discuss a veto strategy. We took one on the chops in a House committee the other day, and I’ve got to turn around now and fight for what I believe.[296]

Following the press confer­ence, the President took the stage before a crowd of 4,000 MSFC employees.[297] President Bush opened his remarks by recalling his campaign speech at MSFC two and a half years earlier, during which he had vowed to launch a dynamic new program of exploration.

Подпись: President Bush at MSFC (NASA History Division, Folder 12601) “I’m pleased to return to Mar­shall to report that we have made good on these prom­ises,” Bush said, “and we’ve done it the old-fashioned way, done it the American way— step by step, program by program, all adding up to the most ambitious and far – reaching effort since Marshall and Apollo took America to the Moon.” He criticized House Democrats for voting to deny funding for SEI-related concept and technol­ogy development, stating that partisan politics had led his opponents to turn their backs on progress. He compared them to naysayers in the Court of Queen Isabella who argued against Columbus’ voyage that discovered the New World. President Bush stated that during the Apollo era, significant funding for the space program had fostered a golden age of technology and advancement—one that he hoped would be equaled by a permanent return to the Moon and crewed missions to Mars. He concluded his remarks with a challenge for Congress “to step forth with the will that the moment requires. Don’t postpone greatness. History tells us what happens to nations that forget how to dream. The American people want us in space. So, let us continue the dream for our students, for ourselves, and for all humankind.”[298] The day after President Bush spoke at MSFC, the administration coordinated a full day of events aimed at further building support for SEI. Newspapers through­out the nation contained opinion editorials written by supporters of the initiative, including: Representative Tom Lewis (R-FL) in the Orlando Sentinel, former astro-

naut Buzz Aldrin in the Los Angeles Times-, Dartmouth University Professor Robert Jastrow in the Baltimore Sun-, and former astronaut Eugene Cernan in the Hous­ton Chronicle.[299] [300] [301] On Capitol Hill, Representatives Bob Walker and Newt Gingrich hosted a press conference praising Bush for his leadership with regard to the Ameri­can space program. On the Senate floor, Senator Jake Garn formally introduced the program and Senators Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, and Malcolm Wallop spoke on SEI’s behalf. In the late afternoon Vice President Quayle appeared in a series of satellite interviews in targeted states, including California, Florida, Texas, and Virginia. Finally, the Republican National Committee released radio actualities in key districts around the country.3839 By mid-June, there was a feeling that “SEI was gaining momentum.”[302]

National Commission on Space

In 1981, after the initial flight of the Space Shuttle, NASA began to formulate plans for its next large human spaceflight program. During the next two years, the space agency laid the foundation for a presidential decision in support of a space

station. NASA Administrator James Beggs regularly justified the station as the “next logical step” for the civilian space program. When policy makers outside the space agency inquired what an orbiting laboratory was a step toward, NASA officials answered that there were a great many missions that a space station could support. NASA, however, resisted pressure from President Reagans Science Advisor, George Keyworth, to link the station with an eventual human mission to Mars. Beggs, remembering the negative outcome of the STG s endorsement of an expedition to the red planet, decided that the timing was not right to associate the space station with such an undertaking.[67]

In 1984, Congress adopted legislation requiring President Reagan to appoint a National Commission on Space to develop a long-term agenda for the American space program. In March of the following year, Reagan chose Thomas Paine to lead a commission that included Neil Armstrong, Chuck Yeager, and UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick. The selection of Paine, who had spent the past 15 years arguing in favor of an aggressive space program, almost ensured a report that supported an expansive future for NASA. The 15-member commission, which held public hear­ings to solicit ideas, worked for over a year to prepare its report—which was com­pleted a few days after the 28 January 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger accident. This unfortunate coincidence limited any potential short-term impact the report might have had. In May 1986, Bantam Books published it in a glossy volume entitled Pioneering the Space Frontier,[68] Subtitled “An exciting vision of our next fifty years in space,” the report of the National Commission on Space was dedicated to the seven astronauts that had died in the tragic Challenger disaster.[69] That catastrophe had focused much attention on NASA’s shortcomings at the same time the commis­sion was offering a bold new vision for the future of the space program. Despite a skeptical reaction to the study from Congress, the media, and the public, the report had a significant impact on human spaceflight strategic planning in the years after 1986.[70]

The members of the National Commission on Space stated that the primary goal of the study was to provide a rationale that would set the American space program on a path to “lead the exploration and development of the space frontier, advanc­ing science, technology, and enterprise, and building institutions and systems that make accessible vast new resources and support human settlements beyond Earth orbit, from the highlands of the Moon to the plains of Mars.” To achieve those objectives, the commission put forward specific recommendations that outlined a logical approach for the future of the space agency. These proposals supported three overarching national goals for the civilian space program: earth and space science; human exploration and settlement of the solar system; and the development of space commerce.[71]

The section of the report dealing with exploration, prospecting, and settling the solar system set out a coherent phased approach for human spaceflight in the 21st century. The first phase entailed sending robotic probes to discover and characterize resources that could be used for later voyages to Mars. During the second phase, more sophisticated missions would be sent Marsward to obtain and return samples to Earth. The third phase would involve robotic and human exploration of the red planet. During this final phase, permanent Martian outposts would be established to support ongoing exploration. The overall tenor of these recommendations sug­gested that human extraction of chemical and mineral resources on the red planet would be one of the primary long-term goals of the space program.[72]

To support its bold vision for the future of the space program, the commis­sion recommended the establishment of seven demonstration programs to advance key technologies for expansion into the solar system, including: flight research on aerospace plane propulsion and aerodynamics; advanced rocket vehicles; aero-brak­ing for orbital transfer; long-duration closed-ecosystems (including water, air, and food); electric launch and propulsion systems; nuclear-electric space power; and space tethers and artificial gravity. The report further stated that the most impor­tant action the government could take to open the space frontier was to drastically reduce transportation costs within the inner solar system. The group advocated completing a new space transportation architecture—including an aerospace plane, cargo vehicle, and space transfer vehicle—that could replace the Shuttle fleet by the turn of the century. A next generation aerospace plane would be capable of provid­ing flexible, routine, and economical passenger service into low Earth orbit (LEO). A large cargo vehicle would be capable of delivering payloads into LEO at a cost of $200 per pound. Finally, a space transfer vehicle would be “developed to initiate a ‘Bridge Between Worlds.’”[73]

The National Commission on Space concluded that following its fifty-year stra­tegic plan for the future of the space program would have three tangible benefits, “‘pulling-through’ advances in science and technology of critical importance to the

Nation’s future economic strength and national security.. .providing direct economic returns from new space-based enterprises that capitalize upon broad, low-cost access to space, and…opening new worlds on the space Frontier, with vast resources that can free humanity’s aspirations from the limitations of our small planet of birth.”[74] The commission calculated that to accomplish the goals its report advocated, the annual NASA budget would have to increase threefold—to approximately $20 bil­lion a year. John Noble Wilford wrote in his book Mars Beckons that Pioneering the Space Frontier received a frosty reception because “its far-reaching proposals seemed to bear too much of a resemblance to science fiction to be embraced by political leaders. And the more modest recommendations tended to get lost in the ‘Bridge Between Worlds’ imagery of Buck Rogers spaceships.” During the mid-1980s, the American public was not highly receptive to long-range, costly space endeavors. As a result, both the White House and Congress largely disregarded the report of the National Commission on Space.[75]

Despite the negative reaction to the study, momentum began to build for a presidential decision making exploration of Mars the next objective of the human spaceflight program. One reason for endorsing this goal was the increased mission planning that the Soviets were undertaking to set the stage for an expedition to the red planet early in the 21st century. In the coming year, a dozen major publications advocated setting Mars exploration as the primary future goal of NASA—ranging from the New York Times to The New Republic. Support for Mars exploration was far from unanimous, however, with prominent space policy experts arguing for more limited programs aimed at better space science, earth science, and a permanent return to the Moon. In the face of these conflicting viewpoints, NASA decided to conduct its own study of options for the future of the space program.[76]

Losing Faith in NASA

Despite any progress that may have been made during mid-June, the emergence of a series of crises at the end of the month halted any momentum the administra­tion had gained. On 26 June, NASA held a press conference to reveal that its engi­neers had discovered a crippling flaw in the main light gathering mirrors of the $1.5 billion HST. The space agency reported that this defect would mean the largest and most complex civilian orbiting observatory ever launched would not be able to view the depths of space until a permanent correction could be made—which would likely have to wait two to three years for an astronaut visit with newly manufactured parts. Although many of the instruments aboard the HST would still be functional, the impacted wide-field and planetary camera would be inoperable (reducing by 40% the planned scientific work of the platform). Project managers announced they suspected the problem was in one of two precisely ground mirrors, although they were not sure which one. The two mirrors had tested perfectly on Earth, but once in orbit, they failed to perform together as expected—they were not tested together on the ground because of the huge potential expense and inability to replicate a zero-g environment. Associate Administrator for Space Science Dr. Lennard Fisk disclosed that the agency was forming a review board to investigate the problem.[303]

Two days after the HST revelation, NASA was forced to ground the entire space shuttle fleet because the Columbia and Atlantis had developed deadly hydrogen leaks. NASA was forced to admit that they did not know the cause of the leaks, although one possibility was a misalignment between the external tank and the orbiter vehicles. Program managers announced that expert teams of engineers were working feverishly to solve the problem before at least two missions were postponed to make way for the upcoming launch of the Ulysses spacecraft—a probe designed to study the sun. Coming on the heels of the HST announcement, this effectively killed any energy generated by recent administration activities designed to garner support for SEI.[304] The Washington Post opined, “the failure of the telescope, which two months ago rode into space amid great fanfare in the hold of a Space Shuttle, led more than a few Americans to wonder whether their country can get anything right anymore. The questioning became even more poignant…when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced that the shuttles, too, would be grounded indefinitely because of vexing and dangerous fuel leakages. [These prob­lems] may foster beliefs that the United States is a sunset power, incapable of repeat­ing its technological feats of the past.”[305] On Capitol Hill, Dick Malow recalled thinking that these problems greatly hampered the administrations ability to make a case for SEI. “There were a lot of other things on NASA’s plate and that hiccup certainly was a detractor. Given the budget environment, Hubble became the focus and SEI tended to get pushed back” on the congressional agenda.[306]

During this same period, the House Appropriations Committee released its mark-up of NASA’s budget. Although the space agency would receive a significant overall increase of $2.1 billion ($800 million less than the president’s request), the entire budget for SEI was eliminated. Fears that had been raised during budget hearings in April were confirmed. The committee had surgically removed all new monies associated with the initiative (see Table on next page).

Space Station (advanced programs)


Advanced Launch System


Heavy-Lift Vehicle




Lunar Observer


Exploration Mission Studies


Pathfinder Program


Civil Space Technology Initiative




SEI Budget Cuts

The budget report indicated that the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs should remain NASA’s top priorities. It stated that even if additional funds became available in the future, they should be directed toward these important programs rather than being targeted at SEI.[307] Chairman Traxler was quoted in the Washing­ton Post saying, “We didn’t have the money.”[308] The Senate Commerce Commit­tee promptly followed suit with the release of an authorization bill that similarly eliminated funding for SEI. Senator A1 Gore, who authored the legislation, said he feared that funding the initiative would endanger on-going efforts, in particular the Mission to Planet Earth.[309]

By early July, NASA was clearly reeling from this series of setbacks—with SEI a clear casualty, and in some respects a cause, of the outspoken criticism focused on the agency. The view within the White House was that the space program had been terribly crippled.[310] In his memoirs, Vice President Quayle wrote, “The Shuttle seemed to be grounded all the time with fuel leaks; the mirror on the Hubble tele­scope couldn’t focus; and the agency was pushing a space station design that was so overblown it looked as if we were asking to launch a big white elephant. The mood

at the Space Council was grim___ I was searching for a solution for NASA.”[311] On

11 July, Vice President Quayle invited a group of space experts (including Tom Paine, Gene Cernan, Dr. Bruce Murray from the California Institute of Technology, and Dr. Hans Mark of the University of Texas) aboard Air Force Two for a meeting to discuss the systemic problems with NASA. He asked for opinions regarding the appropriate actions, if any, the administration should take. During the meeting, an idea emerged to establish a task force to examine how the space program could be restructured to better support an era of sustained long-term space operations. Quayle liked the idea.

Six days later, Vice President Quayle hosted asecond meeting at the White House with senior administration officials Bill Kristol, Mark Albrecht, Admiral Truly, and Chief of Staff Sununu to discuss procedures to create such a panel. Quayle recalled

in his memoirs:

I wanted [the study] to get NASA moving again. If that was going to happen, then the commission had to have the authority to look into every aspect of the space agency. The result was a long negotiation about the commission’s scope. Truly’s original position was that it should look only at the future management structure of NASA—that is, what would come after the space station was built. “No,” I said, “it will look at the current management situation.” Truly next tried to exempt programs from review, and I said “No, programs will be reviewed as well.” He asked that the space station be “off the table” and said that we would all be better served if both it and the Moon-Mars missions were off limits to the commission. In other words, the commission shouldn’t pay attention to all the most important things we were trying to do during the next couple of decades. “I’m sorry,”

I said to Truly, “but everything is on the table, and let the chips fall where

they may__ ” I tried to soothe Truly’s feelings by making the commission

report through him to me.

By the end of the meeting, Quayle had directed Truly to put together an outside task force to consider the future long-term direction of the space program. That same afternoon the White House announced the creation of the board. On 25

July, the White House announced that Martin Marietta CEO Norm Augustine had been selected to chair the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U. S. Space Program. The 12-member task force was charged with reporting its findings within 120 days.[312] For all intents and purposes, combined with the work being conducted by Tom Staffords Synthesis Group, this put SEI on hold for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps the final blow for SEI came when final House-Senate budget delibera­tions began a few months later. In early September, upholding the cuts that appro­priated had made earlier, the Senate released a bill that eliminated all funding for SEI. The Senates intent was to maintain NASA’s core programs and remove any funding for new projects. The report accompanying the bill explained the Senate’s motivation for eliminating support for SEI:

…the Committee recommendation includes no funds for the Moon-Mars initiative because of the very severe limits imposed upon the overall NASA

budget__ The large increase recommended by the Presidents budget…

simply cannot be accommodated within a framework that restrains all domestic discretionary programs at the level insisted upon by the

administration___ The Committee believes that it is premature to proceed

with an extensive planning and technology program oriented toward a manned mission to return to the Moon and then to Mars without a clear, sustainable revenue source available for such an undertaking. NASA’s preliminary studies on a manned mission to the Moon and Mars estimate a total program cost of over $500,000,000,000. The Committee believes that these figures will likely underestimate the potential cost of such a mission, and believe that moving on such an initiative, in the absence of providing a way to pay for it, is ill-advised in an era of enormous fiscal constraint.[313]

The following month, House-Senate conference report was released, confirming the elimination of all funding for the initiative.[314] The real world result of these budget cuts was the death, at least from a congressional perspective, of SEI.

Dick Malow recalled, “because of the budget crunch SEI was an easy target. By that time, it became viewed as a non-starter. We were barely able to fund Station and were supporting Shuttle strongly. Given the budget climate we couldn’t spend $400 billion. The initiative started to fall off the cliff by the middle of 1990. The Administration kept going through the motions, but SEI basically went from birth to death in twelve to fifteen months, and was never heard from again. Station, on the other hand, was continually pushed by the administration.”[315] [316] Stephen Kohashi concurred with this assessment, remembering, “the primary concern regarding the FY 1991 NASA appropriation was having to deal with the rising cost profile of previously initiated projects such as the Space Station, Earth Observation System, and space science missions. No one had the stomach to commit to another program start, no matter how modest the initial price given the relative magnitude of out – year costs.

The only good news during this period was the decision by the House and Senate authorization committees to reinstate a small amount of funding for SEI-related research. In middle November, the authorizers approved $21 million for explora­tion mission studies. The purpose of these analyses was to “seek innovative tech­nologies that will make possible advanced human exploration initiatives, such as the establishment of a lunar base and the succeeding mission to Mars, and provide high

yield technology advancements for the national economy___ ”[317] This would prove to

be the only funding the initiative ever received.

The Ride Report

In 1986, NASA Administrator James Fletcher asked former astronaut Dr. Sally Ride to chair a task force assigned to respond to the National Commission on Space report and to develop focused alternatives for the agency’s future. In August of the following year, the committee released its report entitled Leadership and America’s Future in Space. In its preface the study suggested that in the aftermath of the Chal­lenger accident there were two conflicting views regarding the proper course for the space program. On one hand, many believed that NASA should adopt a major, visionary goal. On the other hand, many judged that the agency was already over­committed and should not take on another major program. The Ride Committee sided with the first group, although it concluded that the space program should not pursue a single visionary initiative to the exclusion of all others. It contended that championing a solitary project was not good science or good policy making, but argued that the space program did need a strategy to regain and retain leadership in space endeavors.[77]

The Ride Report identified four candidate initiatives for study, each bold enough to restore the United States to a position of leadership in space. Those proposals included:

• Mission to Planet Earth: a program designed to obtain a comprehen­sive scientific understanding of the entire Earth system—particularly emphasizing the impact of environmental changes on humanity

• Exploration of the Solar System: a robotic exploration program designed to continue the quest to understand our planetary system (including a comet rendezvous, a mission to Saturn, and three sample return mis­sions to Mars)

• Outpost on the Moon: a program designed to build upon the Apollo legacy with a new phase of lunar exploration and development, con­cluding with the establishment of a permanent moon base by 2010

• Humans to Mars: a program designed to land a crew of astronauts early in the 21st century and eventually develop a permanent outpost on the red planet

The panel made clear, however, that the report “was not intended to culminate in the selection of one initiative and the elimination of the other three, but rather to provide four concrete examples that would catalyze and focus the discussion of the objectives of the civilian space program and the efforts required to pursue them.”

If the Humans to Mars option was pursued, the report recommended a three – prong exploration strategy. During the 1990s, the first prong would involve com­prehensive robotic exploration, concluding with a pair of Mars Rover/Sample Return missions. The second prong would entail utilizing an orbiting space station to perform an assertive life sciences program intended to examine the physiologi­cal effects of long-duration spaceflight—the ultimate goal being to decide whether

Mars-bound spacecraft would require artificial gravity. During the final prong, the space agency would “design, prepare for, and perform three fast piloted round-trip missions to Mars. These flights would enable the commitment, by 2010, to con­struct an outpost on Mars.” The panel favored one-year human missions to the red planet, with astronauts exploring the planetary surface for 10 to 20 days. The plan called for slow, low-energy cargo vehicles to precede and rendezvous with the piloted spacecraft in Martian orbit. These cargo ships would take everything needed for surface activities, plus the fuel required for the return trip. The Ride Report indicated that the ultimate goal of the initiative was to recapture leadership in space activities.[78]

While human exploration of Mars received equal footing with the other three initiatives proposed by the committee, the report argued that an expedition to the red planet should not be the immediate goal of the space agency. The committee wrote, “…settling Mars should be our eventual goal, but it should not be our next goal. Understanding the requirements and implications of building and sustaining a permanent base on another world is equally important. We should adopt a strat­egy of natural progression which leads step by step, in an orderly, unhurried way, inexorably toward Mars.” This finding seemed to mesh with the general feeling of top NASA officials. In fact, Administrator Fletcher stated at the time his belief that Americans should return to the Moon before heading on to Mars. On the other hand, supporters of human exploration of the red planet argued that developing a lunar base would utilize resources that should be applied toward a journey to Mars. Thus, in the aftermath of the Ride Report it was still unclear what strategy the American space program should adopt as it neared the 21st century—although the report had provided policy makers with four well-conceived future alternatives.[79]

The Augustine and Synthesis Group Reports

In early December, with the Advisory Committee on the Future of U. S. Space Policy largely finished with its report, Vice President Quayle held a celebratory dinner at his official residence for the panelists. What was planned to be a salutation for a job well done, however, quickly became a working session that repackaged

the groups findings. Over dinner, Quayle asked what exciting new projects the committee was going to propose. Norm Augustine told him that they had ranked five space endeavors in order of priority: space science, technology development, Earth science, creation of a new launch vehicle to replace the space shuttle, and human exploration of Mars. Following a general discussion, OMB Director Rich­ard Darman lectured the group on how budget priorities worked. Listing some­thing last, he said, was an invitation to eliminate it. He asked rhetorically whether the commission really wished to announce to Congress and the public that space exploration was so unimportant that it could be scrapped. As the dessert course was served, the panel members agreed to recast their report—space science would remain the top priority, but the report would articulate the need for a balanced pro­gram and would not prioritize the remaining project areas. As Darman left for the evening, his farewell to Quayle was, “Thank you for a fine dinner, Dan. Good thing I came. I saved your damn report.”[318]

On 10 December, Norm Augustine presented the findings and recommenda­tions of the advisory panel to the full Space Council. The group’s most important finding was that the space program needed to shift its fundamental rationale from one dominated by national prestige, national security, and foreign policy (although these remained contributing motivations) to one predicated on global economic competitiveness and environmental protection. The committee determined that a reinvigorated space program would require increases in the NASA budget of 10% annually, reaching a peak of $30 billion by the end of the decade. This appropria­tion level would support science and technology programs, Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE), Space Station Freedom, a new heavy-lift launcher, and SEI. The panel concluded, however, that if NASA could not obtain authorization from the Admin­istration and Congress at this level, then MTPE and SEI should be scaled back (if not eliminated).[319] Based on these findings, the advisory committee made five over­arching recommendations:

• Sustaining space science programs as the highest priority element of the civil space program

• Obtaining exclusions for a portion of NASA’s employees from existing civil service rules or, failing that, beginning a gradual conversion of

selected centers to Federally Funded Research and Development Centers affiliated with universities, using as a model the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

• Redesigning Space Station Freedom to lessen complexity and reduce cost

• Pursuing a Mission^»? Planet Earth as a complement to Mission to Planet Earth, with the former having Mars exploration as its long-term goal and adopting a go-as-you-pay funding strategy

• Reducing dependence on the Space Shuttle by phasing over to a new unmanned heavy-lift launch vehicle for all but missions requiring human presence.

Although the panel felt it was premature to set a timetable for a crewed mission to the red planet, it did believe that Mars exploration was a valuable long-term goal for the space program because large organizations operate better when they have a challenging objective to guide future planning. The report itself stated that without the existence of an enduring aspiration, “we would lose the jewel represented by the vision of a seemingly unattainable goal, the technologies engendered, and the motivation provided to our nation’s scientists and engineers, its laboratories and industries, its students and its citizens.”[320]

At a press conference following the Space Council meeting, Vice President Quayle declared his support for the recommendations. Fie communicated his intention to task the Space Council and OMB staffs to prepare a specific plan for implement­ing the reports recommendations within 30 days.[321] Quayle wrote later, “The report the Commission submitted…was, no matter how politely phrased and presented, devastating. ‘Among the concerns that have most often been heard,’ it noted, ‘has been the suggestion that the civil space program has gradually become afflicted with some of the same ailments that are found in many other large, mature institutions, particularly those institutions which have no direct and immediate competition to stimulate change.’ The Space Council was now the competition, at least when it came to making policy, and we wanted the programs to be cheaper, smaller, and faster.”[322] The Space Council staff actually thought the report wasn’t hard enough on NASA. Mark Albrecht recalled the findings were “a little milder than we had hoped for and anticipated, but were considered quite strong in the community at large.”[323]

Press reaction to the Augustine report was relatively muted, mainly because everyone seemed to agree that the committee had assembled a thoughtful collec­tion of recommendations. The Administration was content and Congress seemed to be equally happy. Dick Malow recalled that it was “generally considered to be an excellent study. It was well received, particularly because there was a strong emphasis on science.”[324] Representative Bill Nelson, Chairman of the House Space Subcom­mittee, called it “the report of the decade.” Early rumblings within NASA, however, signaled that the agency’s engineers and managers were not entirely happy with the report—particularly with regard to the Shuttle. While praising the study in general terms, Admiral Truly expressed his reluctance to condemn the Shuttle. In fact, he urged the administration to consider building a fifth orbiter and to preserve the capability to build additional spacecraft. This signaled a continued disconnect between the strategic direction of the Space Council and NASA.[325]

After the report was released, even outspoken supporters of human spaceflight were saying that it was time to put plans for lunar and Martian exploration on hold. Former NASA Administrator Thomas Paine (a member of the Advisory Com­mittee) was quoted saying “the ’90s are going to be a decade of rethinking and regrouping.” Ray Williamson from the Office ofTechnology Assessment concurred, stating “Humans to Mars is much more a question of when than if. But a realiza­tion is percolating through the space community that we had better back off. I think the budget issues will force rethinking as to the balance between manned and unmanned missions.” Former Director General of the European Space Agency Roy Gibson opined that “we are quite likely to cause European ministerial support for space to decline further if this moment is chosen for a clarion call for a new mam­moth [human] space spectacular.” The concern in Europe seemed to be that SEI would detract attention from Space Station Freedom, to which the international partners had already committed time and resources.[326]

The following May, with SEI in a basically lifeless state, the Synthesis Group submitted its final report to the White House. Unlike the TSG, the panel focused its architectures on specific strategic goals—which provided policy makers with a somewhat enhanced set of alternatives. Like the TSG, however, the group based all of its options on a singe technical approach. While the former group had focused on chemical in-space propulsion systems, the latter favored nuclear-thermal systems— this was the fundamental technological difference between the TSG and Synthesis Group. The architectural options introduced by Stafford’s panel included:

• Mars Exploration: the major objective of this architecture was to conduct scientific exploration of Mars, while the emphasis of activities performed on the Moon was primarily to prepare for Mars missions

• Science Emphasis for the Moon and Mars: this architecture’s prime focus was balanced scientific return from both the Moon and Mars missions, both robotic and human

• Moon to Stay and Mars Exploration: this architecture emphasized permanent human presence on the Moon, combined with Mars exploration, to promote long term human habitation and exploration in space

• Space Resource Utilization: this architecture emphasized the development of lunar resources to provide energy for Earth and the production of propellants for lunar and solar system exploration.

The first three architectures progressed in both complexity and resource require­ments (although no actual budget estimates were provided), with the third being the closest to the basic reference approach introduced in the 90-Day Study. After receiv­ing the report, the administration chose to evaluate it for a month before releasing it publicly. In early June, 40,000 copies of the colorful 180-page document were circulated to the media, industry, educators, government agencies, and international organizations.[327]

Reaction to the Synthesis Group report was decidedly mixed. Some believed it provided the alternatives the 90-Day Study had not, while others contended it was woefully short on crucial details. Vice President Quayle believed it would serve as a valuable tool in making the case for increased funding for space exploration. George Washington University’s John Logsdon, on the other hand, argued the report was “a validation of NASA’s argument that there aren’t a lot of bright new ideas out there that it hasn’t considered.” By far the most verbalized criticism of the report was that it provided no cost estimates for the various architectures it introduced. Regardless, the study had little chance of positively impacting the implementation of SEI. By the time the report came out, the initiative was no longer politically viable. The

White House was not focusing on SEI as a means to reform NASA. Instead, the Space Council was taking initial actions intended to change the space agency’s lead­ership.56