Category Mars Wars

Mariner and Viking

While there was substantial progress made in telescope technology during the 70 years after Lowell’s sensational observations, it was still beyond the abilities of astronomers of the time to unequivocally disprove his theories. In fact, during this period there was little sustained interest in planetary astronomy, and as a result, few new discoveries were made. In 1957, the Soviet launch of Sputnik opened vast new opportunities for scientific investigations. Once the concept of robotic planetary exploration was conceived during the coming years, it was taken for granted that missions to Mars would be a priority. Several failed attempts by both the Americans and Soviets to send spacecraft to Mars during the early 1960s, however, delayed the first close up examination of the red planet.[26]

On 28 December 1964, NASA launched Mariner 4 on a mission to explore Mars. About halfway to the planet, the spacecraft experienced technical difficulties that greatly concerned ground controllers. The “Great Galactic Ghoul,”[27] however, was unsuccessful in its efforts at crippling the probe. On 14 July 1965, Mariner 4 made a flyby to within 6,118 miles of the planet’s surface. It was able to relay 22 images back to Earth with its single camera before passing out of range. The data that was obtained from those images, as well as from the spacecraft’s other instru­ments,[28] were nothing less than stunning. Instead of the living planet that Lowell had envisioned, Mariner 4 discovered a surface that was apparently devoid of life and seemingly unchanged for billions of years. In addition, results of an S-band radio occultation experiment found that the Martian atmospheric density was con­siderably lower than expected and that its makeup was approximately 95% carbon dioxide. Finally, it was discovered that the planet had no discernible magnetic field. The information returned by Mariner 4 resulted in a complete revision of human thinking about Mars, ending forever Lowellian theories regarding vegetation and intelligent beings.[29]

During the early months of 1969, the Americans and the Soviets each sent two more spacecraft towards Mars.[30] While the Soviets continued their string of failures, both Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 were successful. These spacecraft, like Mariner 4, were designed as flyby missions, but they were capable of photographing the planet at much greater distances. Mariner 6 sent 75 images earthward, while Mariner 7 produced 126 photographs. In total, the two probes, which passed within 2,120 miles of the planet, returned data about approximately 20% of the surface. Once again, the information obtained showed a largely cratered landscape, although it also showed large expanses that were like an exceedingly dry and cold desert.[31]

As chance would have it, the first three Mariner missions explored some of the most geographically lackluster areas of Mars. Launched on 30 May 1971, Mari­ner 9, the first successful orbiter to reach Mars, finally revealed the topographical diversity of the red planet. When the spacecraft arrived in November, however, the planet was obscured for weeks by a massive dust storm. Two Soviet landers, Mars 2 and Mars 3, were lost in the storm, because they were not capable of waiting in orbit for it to clear. They did, however, become the first machines to reach the Mar­tian surface. A month after Mariner 9 reached orbit, the dust finally cleared, and it was able to begin mapping the planet. The first features that were discovered were a series of gigantic shield volcanoes—the largest being Olympus Mons, the largest known mountain in the solar system. The second major finding was the immense Valles Marineris system, which dwarfed the Grand Canyon and stretched one-quar­ter of the way around the planet. Finally, the spacecraft detected wide channels (reminiscent of river valleys) and the hummocky terrain that is characteristic of the south polar regions. In October 1972, when the probe ran out of fuel, it had taken 7,239 photographs and revealed a truly unique planet.[32]

After the success of the Mariner program, the next step in the exploration of Mars involved sending robotic vehicles to conduct in situ experiments. In the late summer of 1975, Viking 1 and Viking 2 were launched to the red planet to carry out a search for Martian life, among other scientific objectives. Each spacecraft actually had two separate components—an orbiter based on Mariner 9 technolo­gies and a lander equipped with various scientific instruments. On 20 July 1976, about a month after it had entered orbit and seven years after the first human land­ing on the moon, the 1,300-pound Viking 1 lander settled onto the western slopes of Chryse Planitia—it was the first probe to safely reach the planets surface. The lander quickly began photographing its surroundings, including a stunning 300- degree panorama that showed sand dunes, a large impact crater, low ridges, scattered boulders, and a pink sky.[33]

The Viking 1 lander was outfitted with a large array of sophisticated equipment, including: antennas for communicating with ground controllers on Earth; cam­

eras capable of transmitting photographs in black and white, color, and infrared; a mechanical arm capable of scooping soil for examination; and a meteorology boom for assessing atmospheric humidity, temperature, and wind speed. Eight days after landing, the mechanical arm went into action and scooped up its first sample of Martian soil. The soil was released through a funnel that automatically separated it for chemical and biological analysis. While the findings of the landers various experiments were initially ambiguous, it is the widely held opinion of most of the scientific community that they revealed no signs of Martian life.[34] The Viking 2 lander, which touched down on Utopia Planitia on 3 September 1976, similarly

Mariner and Viking

First Viking 1 panoramic photograph of Martian surface (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech, Image #PIA00383)

revealed a Mars with no visible signs of living organisms. Despite the conclusions drawn by mission scientists that Mars was lifeless, however, there is still active debate regarding the possibility that the red planet once harbored life. When the durable Viking 1 lander finally ceased operations in November 1982, the first phase of robotic exploration of the planet officially came to an end. Although many of the beliefs that had endured during the first two-thirds of the 20th century had been disproved by robotic probes, there remained considerable interest in future journeys to Mars. The question at that time was whether this second phase of discovery would be centered on robotic or human exploration.

The ensuing chapters will examine the events leading up to the announcement of SEI, including an effort by NASA to garner political support for a crewed mission to Mars during post-Apollo planning. The central focus of this story, however, will be a detailed account of the agenda setting process that placed SEI on the govern­ment agenda and the intense political battles that virtually guaranteed that an actual program would not be adopted. Finally, the manuscript will investigate the lessons learned from this failed policy process in an effort to provide a tool to current and future policy makers attempting to garner continued political and public support for human exploration beyond Earth orbit.


Waiting for NASA

By late August, the White House was getting gradually more worried about the progress NASA was making on the 90-Day Study. Mark Albrecht was concerned with the weekly status reports he was receiving from the Technical Study Group (TSG), which was the JSC-led team tasked with carrying out the study. “We didn’t like the reaction we got from NASA,” he remembered. “It had an uh oh’ quality to it. NASA reports seemed to be full of lofty verbiage but few technical outlines or alternatives for what a lunar base and a Mars mission would actually look like.”[197] Throughout this period, Albrecht kept emphasizing that the President wanted to see a lot of technical and budgetary options. Based on the space agency’s responses, however, the council staff was beginning to get the strong feeling that it wasn’t going to get any alternatives. Although Congress wasn’t heavily engaged during this period, there was rising concern because of the increasingly frayed Space Council – NASA relationship. The feeling on Capitol Hill was that this strain was caused largely because NASA was “running their own plan, which wasn’t the same as the White House’s plan.”[198]

As time went on, these stressed relations escalated into an all out war between the TSG and the Space Council. NASA’s Douglas O’Handley had actually made a few friends among the Space Council staff, and they were pleading with him to provide assistance. In the end, however, he was not able to provide any support because Admiral Truly and the TSG controlled all information relating to the 90-Day Study. Things got so bad that every time senior NASA officials returned from a White House meeting, there was another story about “those dumb [expletive] on the Space

Council. I have often thought,” O’Handley stated later, that the conflicting “per­sonalities caused many of the problems. If, instead of fighting with the Space Coun­cil, we had tried to work with them, the outcome might have been different.”[199]

While this external battle was being waged between the Space Council and NASA, there was another internal battle being waged within the agency. There was rising apprehension regarding JSC’s control of strategic planning for the initiative. Although the TSG was to a degree soliciting advice from other field centers, there was a feeling that the JSC leadership didn’t really take outside advice very well. Douglas O’Handley argued later, “I absolutely think a wider net should have been cast within NASA, but JSC deprived the other centers an opportunity to contribute to the initiative.”[200] The aerospace industry also wanted to play a role in the mission development, but weren’t heavily involved. Although there were numerous techni­cal concepts and architectural options floating about, the TSG essentially ignored them. JSC became “Fortress NASA” and outside ideas were not welcome.[201]

Despite ongoing problems between the Space Council and NASA, and misgiv­ings about the initiative on Capitol Hill, the TSG was allowed to continue compil­ing the 90-Day Study. The study group was staffed with about 450 people led on a day-to-day basis by Mark Craig, with an average of 250 people working directly on the study on any given day—although the core team was formed by the members of the AHWG.[202] The study began by decomposing the President’s objectives into top level technology requirements. These requirements were then used to develop an end-to-end architecture, which included the following features:

• Characterize the environment in which humans and machines must function with robotic missions

• Launch personnel and equipment from Earth

• Exploit the unique capabilities of human presence aboard the Space Station Freedom

• Transport crew and cargo from Earth orbit to lunar and Mars orbits and surfaces

• Conduct scientific studies and investigate in-situ resource development

The TSG assumed the agency would utilize the Space Shuttle and Space Station Freedom to implement SEI. This, in essence, meant the group never considered whether leveraging these systems was feasible or desirable given the existing fiscal environment. The inclusion of the two systems was almost a foregone conclusion because JSC wanted to protect the Shuttle and continue Station development—in the near term, this meant the ultimate success of SEI was not necessarily the agency’s top priority. From the agency’s perspective, completion of an orbital station was part of a serial progression that started with the shuttle and would eventually end with a human mission to Mars—an idea that dated back to post-Apollo planning. This viewpoint was directly influenced by Admiral Truly’s decision to base the 90- Day Study’s technical analysis on past NASA studies. Douglas O’Handley argues, “this is where the Space Council and the agency were on a collision course. NASA was documenting the past and the Space Council wanted options and innovative thinking. None of the NASA principals knew how to go about” providing those alternatives.[203]

The 90-Day Study alternative generation process was far from optimal. Because the TSG was so JSC-centric, technical and architectural concepts from other seg­ments of the space policy community were not solicited. Perhaps more importantly, the group considered budgetary constraints last. This should have been the first thing that was evaluated, with all programmatic options tailored to the fiscal reali­ties. Instead, the TSG put together a virtual ‘wish list’ for human exploration with­out taking into account the existing political environment. This eventually became an even greater problem because the group never paid “much attention to lowering the initiative’s costs by using emergent technologies.”[204] There is some indication that part of the reason for this was because NASA had been directed to virtually guarantee the safety of the astronauts. Based upon the Apollo experience and a con­temporary understanding of the life science challenges, the TSG had calculated that one member of a seven-person crew may not return. The Space Council staff told agency planners they wanted ‘seven out and seven back.’[205] This would have required 99-9999% mission reliability. As much as anything done by the space agency, this

White House decision drove costs up enormously.[206]

The Origins of SEI

“Mars responds to a fundamental need in all of us.

There is a human imperative to explore. People must explore because
they are human beings with a desire to expand the scope of human
experience. Exploration adds to our knowledge, satisfies our curiosity,
and responds to our sense of adventure. We are going to Mars because
we are alive, and because it reflects something very special inside
each and every one of us. ”

NASA Associate Administrator, Arnold Aldrich, 1 May 1990

During the four decades prior to President Bush’s announcement of SEI, send­ing humans to Mars had often captured the imagination of the space community as the ultimate 20th century goal for the space program.1 Throughout that time period, inspired engineers generated scores of sophisticated mission architectures for accomplishing this objective. During the early Nixon administration, NASA’s leaders proposed exploration of the red planet as the post-Apollo goal of the Ameri­can space program. This effort was thwarted, however, by powerful political and budgetary forces. In the early 1980s, a group of enthusiasts held several confer­ences aimed at reviving interest in exploration of Mars. This campaign, combined with the recommendations of two important advisory committees, resulted in the [35]

Reagan administration officially placing human exploration beyond Earth orbit on the space agenda. This chapter highlights the 40-year “softening up” process that laid the foundation for President Bush’s announcement of SEI in the summer of 1989- This historical background will set the context under which human exploration of Mars ultimately reached the government agenda. More important, it will provide insights regarding emergent trends that increased the likelihood that Mars explo­ration would receive favorable consideration within important parts of the space policy making community, but also should have forewarned key policy makers that there were great challenges to adopting a costly new human spaceflight program from other parts of that community.

SEI Takes Shape

In early November, the Report of the 90-Day Study on Human Exploration of the Moon and Mars began circulating at the Space Council.[207] The cover letter attached to the report stated the purpose of the study was intended as a data source for the Space Council to refer to as it considered strategic planning issues related to SEI. The document purported not to contain any official recommendations or estimates of total mission cost.[208] The preface made it abundantly clear that the TSG regarded President Bush’s announcement speech as the initiatives guiding policy directive. As a result, the key doctrine that emerged from the report was expressed as follows. “The five reference approaches presented reflect the Presidents strategy: First, Space Station Freedom, and next, back to the Moon, and then a journey to Mars. The des­tination is, therefore, determined, and with that determination the general mission objectives and key program and supporting elements are defined. As a result, regard­less of the implementation approach selected, heavy-lift launch vehicles, space-based transportation systems, surface vehicles, habitats, and support systems for living and working in an extraterrestrial environment are required.” The analytic team did not include any alternative paths, but chose to strictly interpret Bush’s announce­ment speech. This dogmatic approach was carried through the entire report, with a predictable outcome—a set of reference approaches requiring a massive in-orbit infrastructure and large capital investments.[209]

Подпись: Space Station Freedom (Source: 90-Day Study)
SEI Takes Shape

To achieve the objectives set out in President Bush’s announcement speech, the TSG adopted an evolutionary 30-year plan for SEI implementation. As the AHWG had done before it, the group put forth a strategic approach that depended on Space Station Freedom and followed initial human missions to the Moon and Mars with phased development of permanent human outposts on these celestial bodies—start­ing with emplacement, continuing with consolidation, and finishing with opera­tions. Unlike the briefing that had been prepared during the agenda setting pro­cess, the 90-Day Study included a highly detailed description of NASA’s vision for the robotic, lunar, and Martian phases of exploration beyond Earth orbit.[210]

The initiative would begin with precursor robotic missions intended to “obtain data to assist in the design and development of subsequent human exploration mis­sions and systems, demonstrate technology and long communication time operation concepts, and dramatically advance scientific knowledge of the Moon and Mars.” The TSG developed a logical progression of robotic explorers to address specific operational and scientific priorities. First, a Lunar Observer program would launch two identical flight systems on one-year polar mapping missions. Second, a Mars Global Network program would launch two identical flight systems carrying orbit – ers and multiple landers to provide high-resolution surface data at several locations. Third, a Mars Sample Return program would launch two identical flight systems to return five kilograms each of Martian rocks, soil, and atmosphere to Earth—this was the centerpiece of the robotic sequence. Fourth, a Mars Site Reconnaissance Orbiter program would launch two orbiters and two communications satellites to charac­terize landing sites, assess landing hazards, and provide data for subsequent rover navigation. Finally, up to five Mars Rover missions would certify three sites to deter­mine the greatest potential for piloted vehicle landing and outpost establishment.[211]

Lunar Transfer Vehicle would have provided transportation between Space Station Freedom and lunar orbit (Source: 90-Day Study)

SEI Takes ShapeAs robotic exploration of the red planet was ongoing, the TSG strategy called for the development of a permanent lunar outpost. The mission concept for achieving this goal was highly complicated, relying on a vast in-orbit infrastructure, numer­ous spacecraft, and multiple resource transfers. The plan called for “two to three launches of the lunar payload, crew, transportation vehicles, and propellants from Earth to Space Station Freedom. At Freedom, the crew, payloads, and propellants are loaded onto the lunar transfer vehicle that will take them to low lunar orbit. The lunar transfer vehicle meets in lunar orbit with an excursion vehicle, which will either be parked in lunar orbit or will ascend from the lunar surface, and payload, crew, and propellants are transferred. [Then] the excursion vehicle descends to the lunar surface.” A combination of cargo and piloted flights (with four crew mem­bers) would be utilized to construct the lunar outpost. The emplacement phase would begin with two cargo flights to deliver the initial habitation facilities, which included a habitation module (to be covered with lunar regolith to provide radia­tion shielding), airlock, power system, unpressurized manned/robotic rover, and associated support equipment. Emplacement would prepare the way for extended human missions during the consolidation phase, which would include erection of a constructible habitat to provide additional living space and experimentation with in situ resource utilization.[212]

The final step in the TSG strategy was the establishment of a human outpost on Mars. Similar to the lunar program, the Martian sequence would begin with the launch of the crew, surface payload, transportation vehicles, and propellant from Earth to Space Station Freedom. In LEO, the transfer and excursion vehicles would be inspected before setting out on the long journey toward the red planet. “Upon approach to Mars, the transfer and excursion vehicles separate and perform aero – braking maneuvers to enter the Martian atmosphere separately. The vehicles rendez-

Inflatable lunar habitat would have been outpost for up to 12 astronauts (Source: 90-Day Study)

SEI Takes Shapevous in Mars orbit, and the crew of four transfers to the excursion vehicle, which descends to the surface using the same aero-brake. When their tour of duty is com­plete, the crew leaves the surface in the ascent module of the Mars excursion vehicle to rendezvous with the transfer vehicle in Mars orbit. The transfer vehicle leaves Mars orbit and returns the crew to Space Station Freedom.”[213] Standard mission profiles for crewed flights to Mars would follow two different trajectory classes: one for a 500-day roundtrip with surface stays up to 100 days and one for a 1,000-day roundtrip with surface stays of approximately 600 days. After initial emplacement, the consolidation phase would entail assembly of a constructible habitat and utiliza­tion of a pressurized rover for long-range surface exploration.[214]

As envisioned by theTSG, implementation of SEI would require the construc­tion of a new launch vehicle and multiple spacecraft to travel beyond Earth orbit. The study introduced two primary concepts for a heavy launcher, one a Shuttle – derived alternative and the other based on the proposed Advanced Launch System.[215] [216] As indicated above, the in-space transportation system consisted of transfer and excursion vehicles—these systems would utilize chemical propulsion, although the report called for research funding to investigate nuclear propulsion. For Mars exploration, the transfer vehicle would actually carry the excursion vehicle to the red planet utilizing a large trans-Mars injection stage. The transfer vehicle would

Mars Transfer Vehicle would have propelled crew and mars excursion vehicle to Mars orbit (Source: 90-Day Study)

SEI Takes ShapeSEI Takes ShapeMars Excursion Vehicle would have transported four astronauts and 25-tons of cargo to Martian surface (Source: 90 Day Study)

include a crew module that would be a “single, pressurized structure 7.6 meters in diameter and 9 meters in length with…a life support system that recycles water and oxygen. The crew is provided private quarters, exercise equipment, and space suits that are appropriate for the long mission duration.” The excursion vehicle crew module would provide living space during descent, ascent, and for up to 30 days in case of problems with the surface habitat.44

The TSG developed similar planetary surface systems for both Moon and Mar­tian missions. In fact, the main rationale for development of a lunar outpost was as a testing ground for subsystem technologies for later missions to the red planet. The initial habitats for both outposts would be horizontal Space Station Freedom- derived cylinders 4.45 meters in diameter and 8.2 meters long. Laboratory modules would be attached to add expanded living volume. Each of these habitats would have regenerative life support systems capable of recovering 90% of the oxygen from carbon dioxide and potable water from hygiene and waste water. During the consolidation phase, an expanded habitat would be required to accommodate large crews and longer stays by providing more space. This would be a “constructible [11 meter] diameter inflatable structure partially buried in a crater or a prepared hole. This structure is an order of magnitude lighter than multi-module configurations of equivalent volume. Its internal structure includes self-deploying columns that [217]
telescope upward and lock into place when the structure is inflated. When fully assembled and outfitted, the constructible habitat provides three levels, and has the volume required for expansion of habitat and science facilities. Major subsystems of the constructible habitat include the life support and thermal control systems, pressure vessels and internal structure, communications and information manage­ment systems, and interior outfitting.” During this stage, a 100- kilowatt nuclear dynamic power system would begin providing the growing outpost much needed electric power (the plan called for ongoing progression of this capability, leading to a 550-kilowatt system). Initial surface exploration would be conducted using electric powered, unpressurized rovers. These vehicles would only have a range of 50 kilometers with human occupants, although they could be telerobotically oper­ated for missions up to 1,000 kilometers from the outpost. This provided very lim­ited capacity for long-range human exploration, which was nominally the primary reason for making the journey.[218]

The TSG mission plan was designed as the framework for selection of an overall “reference approach.” The 90-Day Study included five different reference approaches, which were intended to provide different options (using only one mis­sion strategy) for achieving President Bush’s goals. The report introduced a set of metrics (cost, schedule, complexity, and program risk) that could be used by policy makers to decide the appropriate timeframe for SEI implementation. The reference approaches simply altered these metrics to provide different milestones for a single strategic plan. Thus, instead of examining numerous technical, operational, or stra­tegic alternatives, the TSG chose to put forward one basic system architecture with slight timeline modifications. The different reference approaches included:

• Reference Approach A: Formulated to establish human presence on the Moon in 2001, using the lunar outpost as a learning center to develop the capabilities to move on to Mars. An initial expedition to Mars would allow a 30-day stay on the surface, with the first 600-day visit in 2018.

• Reference Approach B: A variation of Reference Approach A, which advanced the date of the first human Mars landing to 2011. This would reduce the ability to use the lunar outpost as a learning center for the Mars outpost.

• Reference Approach C: A variation of Reference Approach A, which advanced even further the date of the first Mars mission, but maintained the same expansion schedule for Mars outpost development.

• Reference Approach D: A variation of Reference Approach A, which

slipped all major milestones two to three years.

• Reference Approach E: Formulated to reduce the scale of lunar outpost activity by using only a human-tended mode of operation and limiting the flight rate to the Moon to one mission per year. Three expeditionary missions to Mars (with 90-day surface stays) would precede the 2027 establishment of a permanent outpost with 600-day occupancy.

In essence, this set of reference approaches provided two limited alternatives (Refer­ence Approaches A and E). The only difference between the two was the magnitude of lunar development and the timing of different milestones. There were no alterna­tives provided that suggested that it was not feasible from a budgetary perspective to attempt both a permanent return to the Moon and human exploration of Mars. In addition, as pointed out above, there were no alternatives that were based on sig­nificantly different mission profiles or technical systems. This represented a major shortcoming of the report, which would come back to haunt the space agency in subsequent months and years.[219]

The 90-Day Study included a cost estimate for the TSG’s vision of SEI. It was based on a 30-year planning horizon and employed historical experience to “derive the approximate values for supporting development, systems engineering and inte­gration, program management, recurring operations, new facilities, and civil service staffing levels.” The TSG performed a parametric cost analysis using three regression models developed at different NASA field centers. The Marshall Space Flight Center Cost Model consisted of subsystem level data gathered from past human spaceflight programs, which was employed to estimate space transportation vehicle costs as a function of mass (assigning each reference approach a subjective complexity factor). The Johnson Space Center Advanced Mission Cost Model used a broader dataset drawing on developmental program statistics from NASA and other technology organizations to calculate expected surface system costs. Finally, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Project Cost Model estimated program costs for robotic missions draw­ing on past analogous mission figures.[220]

The study provided funding estimates for reference approaches A and E, apprais­ing expected costs from 1991 to 2025 (in constant fiscal year 1991 dollars). The esti­mates included reserves that accounted for nearly 55% of predicted expenditures, which was intended to allow for programmatic uncertainties. The report included tables that detailed the cost estimates for both reference approaches, separated into key phases:

• Reference Approach A

— Lunar Outpost: $100 billion (FY 1991-2001)

— Lunar Outpost Emplacement &: Operations: $208 billion (FY 2002-2025)

— Mars Outpost: $158 billion (FY 1991-2016)

— Mars Outpost Emplacement & Operations: $75 billion (FY2017-2025)

— Total: $541 billion

• Reference Approach E

— Lunar Outpost: $98 billion (FY 1991-2004)

— Lunar Outpost Emplacement & Operations: $137 billion (FY 2005-2025)

— Mars Outpost: $160 billion (FY 1991-2016)

— Mars Outpost Emplacement & Operations: $76 billion (FY2017-2025)

— Total: $471 billion

The report also included two startling charts, which illustrated the impact of the reference approaches on the overall NASA budget. Starting with a base budget of approximately $ 15 billion, the implementation of both reference approaches would require increasing the annual agency appropriation to $30 billion by FY 2000, where it would stay for another 25 years.[221] In the coming weeks and months, it would become increasingly clear that these budgetary requirements were simply staggering to all outside observers. Admiral Truly and the TSG clearly believed that President Bush was prepared to support a major escalation in annual spending for the space program. This judgment was reached despite the fact that the nation was facing large budget deficits and almost every other sector of the government was expecting significant funding cuts. It proved to be a tremendous miscalculation.