Category Why Mars

Why Mars

W. Henry Lambright

In 2006, a conference took place at Syracuse University’s Minnowbrook Cen­ter in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. The focus of the conference was on the “great stories” of humanity, including Greek tales such as Homer’s Odyssey. The conference organizer, Kaye Lindauer, asked me to speak about a contemporary great story, namely, space exploration. The immediate interest of those attending my talk, a cross section of professionals, was the Moon and Apollo, about which I had written. However, it was clear that most also wanted to discuss “what next,” or Mars. I left the conference feeling that Mars would be my next book.

I needed resources to accomplish this work. NASA, which celebrated its fif­tieth anniversary in 2008, was interested in having its history told. It opened a competition involving various topics, and I was fortunate to be an awardee. NASA provided funds, but left it to me to do the research and writing without any constraints.

I soon commenced research. In undertaking this task, I felt a responsibility not only to examine the past and convey an active present, but also to analyze what it takes to sustain a very long and difficult quest. NASA and its allies have chosen to keep at the Mars endeavor over many decades in spite of ever-shifting political winds. That the program has achieved much in spite of obstacles is testament to the persistence of scientists, engineers, managers, and the political appointees heading NASA. The Mars record has flaws to be sure, and these are chronicled in this work. But, for the most part, the Mars story is remarkable. Exploration is a struggle. Individuals and their institutions have stretched to perform deeds that are daunting. They have been motivated mainly by the lure of Mars and its association with life.

This book emphasizes what they have done to formulate missions, establish priorities, and get the funds to accomplish technical miracles. It is thus a politi­cal history of the Mars program. It is about decisions, policy, and power—the push for exploration. It is about leaders behind NASA’s Mars program, and their

Washington, D. C., travails. It is primarily about the robotic program that has taken NASA, the nation, and Earth from a Mariner flyby in the mid-1960s to Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover in the second decade of the twenty – first century. The robotic program is immensely valuable in itself, especially in regard to finding evidence of Martian life, present or past. It is also essential to eventual human exploration of Mars.

I have had much help in accomplishing my own Mars project. Once under­way in 2008, I had the aid of many at NASA’s history office: Steve Dick, NASA historian, at the outset and then Bill Barry, his successor; Steve Garber, who read early drafts of the manuscript; and archivists who helped me locate mate­rials, including Liz Suckow, John Hargenrader, Colin Fries, and Jane Odom. Nadine Andreassen, on the staff of the history office, helped maneuver funds through NASA’s bureaucratic complexities. Jens Feeley, of the Science Mission Directorate, was always available to help me set up essential interviews with busy agency officials. I wish to thank the many individuals inside and outside NASA who gave their time for interviews. There are too many to list separately. I also had the help of history staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, including Julie Cooper and Charlene Nichols. Erik Conway, JPL historian, aided me enormously with background information and interview arrangements. I also drew on voluminous files at the National Archives, where David Pfeiffer and his staff helped me greatly.

At Syracuse, I was assisted by a sequence of students, particularly Erin D’Loughy, Kimberly Pierce, Madison Quinn, Bindya Zachariah, and Dayana Bobko. Also helping me were staff at the Center for Environmental Policy and Administration of the Maxwell School, where I am based: Carley Parsons and Marlene Westfall Rizzo. I am grateful also for the assistance of the Johns Hopkins University Press staff, including Bob Brugger and Melissa Solarz. An anonymous Johns Hopkins reviewer provided valuable advice. Jeremy Horse – field added his editorial skills to measurably improve the book.

My sons and their wives—Dan and Sue, Nathaniel and Kristina—and my grandchildren, Ben, Katie, Bryce, and Darius, have been a source of inspiration. They will all someday, I believe, see humans on Mars. Finally, I owe a special sense of gratitude to my wife, Nancy. She got me started on this project by urg­ing me to accept the invitation to speak at the Minnowbrook Conference. She then endured its frustrations along the way and provided the final push for its conclusion. To all who helped, directly or indirectly, I hope the final product is worth the time you gave me. Any errors are my responsibility.

Achieving Success: Mariner

Although NASA and the Soviet Union both sent missions to Venus, they both made Mars the overarching priority. For years, Soviet scientists and their politi­cal masters “consistently targeted the planet Mars as the singular most impor­tant objective in plans to explore space.” First, they would send robotic space­craft, and then they planned to dispatch human explorers.12 The Soviets, like the Americans, believed that the nation to be the first to not only get to Mars but find life would have a scientific and propaganda victory of historic proportion.

The Soviets had sought unsuccessfully to reach Mars in i960. They tried again in 1962. Again they failed. The next launch window was 1964, and the Soviets were sure to try once more. This time, the United States intended to

be ready to make an attempt at a flyby. NASA was fully aware of the difficulties. JPL referred to a “Great Galactic Ghoul” lurking in space between Earth and Mars, ready to devour all spaceships that sailed into its lair.13 NASA, under­standing risk, if not the ghoul, planned to send two spacecraft.

NASA and its various constituencies were unsure what the flyby would reveal of Earth’s mysterious neighbor. The media attention was frenetic and reflected the substantial public and scientific interest. In October 1962, the National Academy of Sciences Space Science Board called Mars the “primary goal . . . in the exploration of the planets.” One month later, NASA gave the official go – ahead for a 1964 launch. JPL was well along in its preparations. Casani contin­ued his association with Mariner Mars. However, Pickering appointed as overall project manager a well-regarded division manager, J. N. James. He was able to attract some of the best and brightest of JPL’s engineering talent to the effort.14

In 1964 NASA sponsored a summer study, one aim being to nurture the exobiological community. Lederberg was there. So was Carl Sagan, 30 years old, blending astronomical and biological interests with exceptional eloquence. He was already articulating an intense belief that life was possible on Mars. Among the scientists who attended was Gerald Soffen, then 38, who had joined NASA in 1961 soon after getting his PhD in biology from Princeton.

Mariner 3, launched in November 1964, failed soon after launch. A few weeks later, NASA tried with Mariner 4, this time successfully launching the space­craft. The Soviet Union also launched in this year and again failed. The United States had an open opportunity for a first after trailing the Soviet Union in most other aspects of space.

On July 15, 1965, Mariner 4 sped past Mars, snapping photos as it went. Politicians called this event an important Cold War victory. Virtually everyone hailed Mariner 4 and congratulated NASA and JPL. Pickering, seen by most observers as the key leader behind Mariner 4, won special praise, including a profile in the New York Times and the cover of Time magazine.15

But from the perspective of those academic scientists, media, and NASA/JPL personnel anxious to find evidence of life, the Mars photographs were a disap­pointment. Where were the canals? Instead, the photos showed craters. Also, Mariner 4 sensors found no significant magnetic field, as well as an atmosphere so thin it would allow radiation to reach Mars that might well kill anything on the surface. The media pronounced Mars boring. In effect, said the media, NASA looked for Mars and found the Moon! Pickering tried his best at a press conference following the flyby to emphasize how little of the Mars surface was viewed. Mariner 4 was not intended to deal with the life issue, he said. Hence, as far as he was concerned, “the evidence of possible life on Mars … is still there.”16

Still, reaching Mars first was a great accomplishment, and President Lyndon Johnson wanted to make the most of it for public relations and propaganda purposes. Johnson had taken power when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and he promised to continue the journey to the Moon. He also understood the importance of Mars from a political perspective. Webb, anxious to maximize NASA’s advantage from Mariner 4, coached NASA/JPL officials and scientists on how to deal with the president, Congress, and media. Bruce Murray, Caltech and Mariner scientist and later JPL director, was impressed with Webb. He was “shrewd and skilled in negotiating Washington’s corridors of power.” He could play the informal southern politician with Congress, but in the privacy of the NASA meeting room, he was “crisp,” all “Washington, DC.” “He left no ques­tion as to who was in charge and what was expected of us.”17

A few days after the encounter with Mars, NASA and JPL officials, along with various scientists associated with Mariner 4, met with Johnson. He gave the Mariner team medals for their good work and was attentive when Pickering explained what the pictures of Mars revealed. Johnson did not express unhappi­ness with the failure to find Lowell’s canals. “As a member of the generation that Orson Welles scared out of its wits,” he declared, “I must confess that I’m a little bit relieved that your photograph doesn’t show more signs of life out there.”18

The New York Times and other general media called Mars “dead.”19 But what incensed many scientists of the exobiology camp was the “I told you so attitude” of some other scientists. Phil Abelson, editor of the prestigious Science maga­zine, had written an editorial on February 12,1965, predicting that searching for life on Mars was a fool’s errand. “In looking for life on Mars, we could establish for ourselves the reputation of being the greatest Simple Simons of all time,” he wrote.20

Sagan was offended and angry. He said a photo of Earth taken from 6,000 miles out (as Mariner did for Mars) might show that no life existed on Earth. Sagan could think of all kinds of possibilities for life that Mariner 4 did not ad­dress. What about life “beneath the surface,” asked Sagan, “where there might be ice deposits and, in some places, even pockets of liquid water?” He suggested that there might even be underground lakes and other habitats where life could thrive which would have been absolutely undetectable to Mariner’s instruments. “Sagan insisted that critics who called Mars ‘dead’ were making more out of the data than anyone had a right to do.”21

Like Pickering, Sagan pointed out that Mariner 4 had taken photos of only a small portion of the Red Planet. As he later recalled, “So I took it as my respon­sibility, maybe a quixotic mission, to point out the possibilities [of Martian life], which were being excluded.”22 It was a remarkable personal decision. He opened himself to media interviews and used his rare communication skills to advantage on late-night television talk shows. His campaign to rouse interest in space and especially the search for life would cost him professionally with a number of his scientific colleagues. He did not get tenure at Harvard, but secured a position at Cornell. His lifelong public advocacy, beginning with Mariner, would contrib­ute to his fame, fortune, and ridicule.

Along with other self-described “diehards,” Sagan was frustrated and in some ways desperate to reframe the life debate after Mariner 4. Exobiologists chafed at the writing off of life on Mars and Abelson’s negativism. They concluded that if life did not exist, then it was important to discover, “why not?” This ques­tion was scientifically important, monumentally so, they avowed. As scientists, they needed to get at the truth. The Mariner program had to continue, in their view, and produce better photographs over far more of the Mars surface, and eventually a lander had to go.23 The academic exobiologists were at the forefront of Mars advocacy in the wake of Mariner 4. Among agency insiders, Pickering continued to play the lead role, writing, lecturing, and seeking support.

The Mariner program continued. It was indeed a “program,” not a single mission, and seen as such inside and outside NASA. NASA and JPL—with JPL as locus of decision making most of the time—planned additional Mariner flights for later in the decade. Pickering saw Mariner 4 as a critical milestone in technological development of spacecraft. “We now know how to do it,” he stated.24

Viking Launches

In 1975 the various technology development problems affecting Viking gradu­ally gave way to solutions. Martin’s “Top 10 Problems” were narrowed and then resolved enough for NASA to schedule a launch for August. As August ap­proached, media interest expanded, and so did the angst of all associated with Viking.

From Fletcher on down, there was heightened anticipation of what could go wrong. Fletcher warned associates about how to frame the project in media interviews. He thought NASA might have overreached in emphasizing “life” as

the goal. His staff suggested that NASA speak of the launch as about “compara­tive planetology.”37 Hinners sought to shift the rhetoric to “find[ing] evidence of life,” and to get Sagan to “tone down his rhetoric.” “But I could not get him to change much, and you didn’t want to quell his passion in any event,” Hinners re­called. Sagan “was a tremendously effective advocate, and salesman,” he stated.38 Sagan, who, more than anyone, had framed Viking as a quest for life, worried that the lander would crash and Viking would not discover what was waiting to be found.39 Soffen worried about the biology laboratory. He lamented the deci­sion to drop one of the four experiments it carried. “There was no way to keep it,” he confided. But he worried: what if it had “been the one to detect life?”40

Martin was concerned about everything, but particularly the decision to kill the backup system. What if Viking failed? After all, the four Soviet spacecraft sent to Mars had failed in 1974 either to reach Mars or to perform once there. Would Viking suffer the same fate? As late as July 1975, one month before launch, Martin badgered Robert Kraemer, Hinners’s deputy for planetary mis­sions, about needing a third Viking. It had been killed by Petrone and Hinners, and Kraemer pointed out what Martin already knew—there was no money! Moreover, to go up in 1977 (the next window) would take another launch vehicle (a Titan-Centaur), and the only way to get one would be by “stealing” it from another mission that had been waiting in line. He promised that the spare parts and other hardware of the partially built Viking 3 would be kept for a possible succeeding window.41 Martin was not encouraged. He worried that the political window on Mars exploration might be closing: “I think we will have to find something exciting to have another mission to Mars,” he complained in a media interview.42

Shortly before launch on August 20,1975, a valve issue came up on the launch vehicle. Fletcher, Low, Naugle (now the senior NASA associate administrator), and Hinners all sat around a table in a teleconference with Martin, who was at Cape Canaveral, peering at drawings of the valve, trying to figure out how to fix the problem.43 That the top officials of the agency were so engaged indicated how important all viewed Viking. Fortunately, the problem was solved. Viking 1 went up. The four-ton spacecraft sped away from its Cape Canaveral launchpad “atop a Titan-Centaur rocket, a bright orange and yellow colored flame behind it. Burning solid rocket fuel that built up to 2.4 million pounds of thrust in sec­onds, the Titan-Centaur and its payload of instruments were 30 miles out over the Atlantic in two minutes and moving 5000 miles an hour.” After going briefly into a “parking orbit” 100 miles above Earth, the rocket engine lifted Viking out of orbit at a speed of over 25,000 miles an hour. “We’re finally on our way to Mars,” Martin beamed. “All systems are working fine,” he said. “It’s been sheer hell,” commented Kraemer. “There were times I thought we’d never make it.”44

On September 9, Viking 2 went up—successfully. NASA officials were elated. As the Vikings sped toward Mars, NASA planned political strategy. In December, Low instructed the Science Directorate to prepare a supplemental request for funds in the event of “spectacular results” emanating from Viking. He wanted it ready to go to the White House and Congress by July 1976.45

Delaying Mars Observer

The shuttle accident brought much of NASA to a halt—certainly the human spaceflight program. But to a severe degree various robotic programs were also affected, since many were dependent on the shuttle for launch. Fletcher stated that his highest priority was to “get the shuttle flying again.” It was not obvious when that would be, however. He now spoke of a “mixed fleet,” involving shuttle and expendable rockets. However, he had been father to the shuttle during his first tour as NASA Administrator, devoutly believed in its worth, and wanted to maintain its role as America’s prime launch system as much as possible.5

In August, Fletcher decided that the shuttle could not return to flight early enough for all its launch assignments, including the 1990 Mars Observer mis­sion. He set back the date for Observer’s launch to 1992. Those who had banked on Observer to revive the Mars program were shocked and angry. Sagan, Mur­ray, and Friedman knew that an expendable rocket could serve just as well for Mars Observer and that one could be made available by the Air Force. The Air Force, which had been restricted in using expendable rockets under President Carter’s policy to maximize use of the shuttle, had extricated itself from this policy. President Reagan changed the Carter policy and was making expend­able rockets usable for national security and commercial launches. Why not Mars Observer? As far as Planetary Society leaders could tell, Fletcher had not even considered the expendable rocket option when he made his Observer post­ponement decision. Moreover, they discovered he planned to move money that would now not be needed in the next two years for Mars Observer to other priorities.6

The Planetary Society decided to fight the Fletcher decision. “We raised a cry in the news media and elsewhere,” Murray recalled. At first, it appeared that the Society had persuaded the NASA Administrator to change his mind. In Sep­tember, Fletcher stated, “We have decided. . . to continue working on the Mars Observer on schedule to provide launch readiness for the 1990 opportunity.”7 It looked as though Mars Observer would go forward as planned, although it was not settled whether it would go on a shuttle or expendable rocket.

On January 2,1987, Fletcher informed Congress of another change in NASA’s plans. Instead of launching Mars Observer in 1990, NASA would delay launch to 1992. The reason he cited was the Challenger accident. With the shuttle down, there was a logjam in flights scheduled to use the shuttle. In spite of his earlier statement about a 1990 launch, he was now holding to the 1992 schedule. Something had to give, he said, and he had decided (again) that Mars Observer could be postponed two years.8

The new decision came as a second shock to the Mars community. In many ways, the affected scientists felt betrayed. One reason was that the Solar System Exploration Committee had carefully developed plans to reconstruct the plan­etary program and had made Mars Observer not only an inner-planet priority but a key to a sequence of missions demonstrating low-cost planetary explora­tion. In its 1986 report on an “augmented” program, SSEC had proposed that

Observer be followed by long-coveted rover and sample return missions. But it was more than a matter of scientific planning for Sagan and the Planetary So­ciety. For them, Mars stood as a beacon of NASA’s commitment to exploration in general after Challenger.

As Fletcher was postponing Mars Observer, he brought back Sally Ride, a member of the Rogers Commission, to chart NASA’s post-Challenger future. To the Mars advocates, Mars Observer, whatever its limits, was central to that future.9 As Friedman put it, Mars Observer had become “enormously symbolic” to the Mars community, as well as space enthusiasts in the general public. The reasons, Friedman declared, were threefold. First, “it was Mars and therefore an object that we believe should represent the focus and long-range goal of space exploration. Mars Observer was a step toward that goal. So, by putting a low priority on it, NASA was putting a low priority on the one goal that we thought was the most widely accepted and most important to the agency.” Second, he said, “As the first of the Observer-class missions, Mars Observer represents the minimum planetary mission, devised to reconstruct the [Mars] program.” Third, he argued, the Mars Observer represented “the first chance to cooperate with the Soviets in Mars exploration. How could the United States cooperate with the Soviets, which had announced an ambitious program, if the U. S. policy was to delay our only approved program?”10

Sagan, Murray, and Friedman decided to launch a multifront fight and asked the then-ioo, ooo-plus Planetary Society members to write letters to Fletcher and Congress protesting the decision. In addition, Murray took direct action by calling Dale Myers, Fletcher’s deputy administrator, whom he knew, to persuade him to change Fletcher’s direction. Murray found Myers not particularly inter­ested in speaking to him when he placed his call. The former JPL director had a “solution” to propose to Myers. “Why not use the Titan expendable launch vehicle rather than the shuttle?” Murray asked. Myers shouted back at him, “Where am I going to get the $150 million” to pay for the launch?11

Indeed, there was a problem about money. Using a Titan would be expensive. But so would a two-year delay for a shuttle. Fletcher, feeling the heat from the Mars community, discussed with Congress the possibility of using a Titan and getting the money to pay for it, but he ran into resistance from the House Appropriations Committee chairman responsible for NASA’s budget. The con­gressional authorization committees were supportive, but they did not have final word on funding.12 On March 13, NASA confirmed that its spending plan for the year did not include Mars Observer and that money already approved by Congress for the project would be reprogrammed in the next two years to higher priorities.

Sagan and his allies at the Planetary Society reacted sharply. They took their case to the media, Congress, and the general public. Sagan went to the Mars Underground’s third conference in Boulder and gave the keynote address, rous­ing the 400 attendees to the Mars cause. In speaking to the media, Sagan, on March 15, called NASA’s decision “a great mistake and an example of a consis­tent lack of vision that NASA has had since the middle 1970s.”13

NASA’s leaders sought to head off criticism, especially with Congress. Myers wrote Congressman Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the House Subcommit­tee on Space Science and Applications, explaining the agency’s position—and that Challenger had caused a backlog of shuttle missions for the 1990 period and that NASA did not have the money to use an Air Force expendable Titan rocket.14 He also wrote Murray, saying the obstacles to launching in 1990 were “insurmountable.”15

But Sagan and his allies were not quieted. They condemned the decision and pointed out that delaying the launch would cost almost as much as using an expendable Titan. The real reason, the Planetary Society leaders said, was that not using a shuttle would undermine NASA’s claims about the shuttle’s necessity as a launch system. They specifically chastised Fletcher, who was “besieged by personal phone calls from members of Congress, some of whom were key to his important budget items like the Shuttle and Space Station.” More than 10,000 Planetary Society members sent off 25,000 letters to Congress.16 On April 27, the three Planetary Society leaders testified before Congress. NASA’s public affairs director called the press release preceding the testimony an “unconscionable attack on both Dr. Fletcher and the agency in general.” She recommended that NASA and JPL not cooperate with the Society in using JPL facilities for meet­ings involving possible joint U. S.-USSR activities the Society was promoting.17

She did not get her way. The next month, in May, the first International Conference on Solar System Exploration was held in Pasadena. The Soviet Union sent delegates who unveiled grand plans for exploring Mars, starting with the Phobos mission. The Soviets said they intended to sponsor a Mars rover and sample return project by the end of the century. David Morrison, head of the SSEC, spoke. He said that the United States had “fine plans. We have great inherent capability. But we have been very slow to turn those plans into actual programs.”18

On May 14, Murray paid a personal visit to Myers in hope of mending fences and getting him to help in reversing Fletcher’s Mars Observer decision. What he found was that Myers “was really steamed up.” He and Fletcher were furi­ous that the Planetary Society had created such a big public relations problem for them. Murray wanted to see whether NASA and the Society could work together and he could rebuild the personal relationship he had with Myers. “How can we help, Dale?” Murray asked, hoping he would use that opening to outline an area of future cooperation. “We’re 100,000 dues-paying members, a real Mars constituency.” Murray reminded Myers that Fletcher had recently brought astronaut Sally Ride to lead a task force studying long-term options for NASA’s future. Ride’s report was not public as yet, but there was ample reason to assume that her options would include Mars robotic and human missions.

“We may not choose the Mars options,” Myers replied in a manner Murray called “gruffly.” “If we do, we’ll contact you,” he declared. That was that! Mur­ray had found no common ground, and Myers signaled that Murray’s time was up. As Murray interpreted the meeting, Myers considered the Planetary Society just another pressure group, one giving the agency headaches rather than sup­port.19 The Planetary Society could not get NASA to budge on the decision to delay Observer.

The man responsible for directing science at NASA was now Lennard Fisk, 43, who had succeeded Edelson as associate administrator for space science and applications in April 1987. Fisk had been vice president for research and financial affairs at the University of New Hampshire. He was an astrophysicist who had a number of projects other than Mars on his agenda when he came to NASA. Moreover, he became increasingly interested in a new activity within NASA that would be called “Mission to Planet Earth” (MTPE).20 Started by Edelson, this effort was rapidly developing in NASA, and the earth sciences along with it. NASA had played the lead role in the mid-1980s for determining the causes of the ozone hole over Antarctica. Some of its scientists provided technical advice contributing to the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting chemicals in 1987.

The issue of climate change was rising on the national and international agenda, and Fisk, like Edelson, wanted to position the agency for leading in a growing and important mission. Moreover, the NASA Administrator, Fletcher, personally cared about NASA’s environmental role. In his earlier tenure as Administrator he had termed NASA “an environmental agency.” His strong Mormon beliefs, which had mattered in his Viking advocacy, also made him extremely attentive to the concept of stewardship of the planet.21

In short, Fisk had good reasons to push the new Earth priority for the Office of Space Science and Applications. He supported, but did not stress, the Mars program. Like Edelson, he let his subordinate, Briggs, largely direct Mars ac­tivity. In addition, he took seriously the SSEC emphasis on broad solar system exploration as opposed to Mars-centered exploration. The next new start in planetary science he wanted to sponsor, pursuant to recent SSEC recommenda­tions, was Saturn, with an expensive mission that would be called Cassini. For a while, Cassini was connected in planning with another project, the Comet Rendezvous Asteroid Flyby (CRAF). These projects were aimed at the outer solar system.

But the most important reason Fisk did not give Mars exploration the prior­ity its advocates wanted was that he was spending a great deal of money from his program on missions that were well past Observer’s development stage and were literally sitting, waiting in storage, to be launched on a shuttle. There was little Fisk could do about Fletcher’s intent to use the shuttle for major science launches. That being the case, he recollected his challenge as follows:

Everything was stacked up. We were spending $5 million a month just to watch the Hubble Space Telescope. We had Galileo [Jupiter] at the Cape and shipped it back to JPL. We had Ulysses [a project to study the Sun] at the Cape. We came at it [decision making] this way: What’s the most cost/effective way to get rid of this backlog? It cost us $2 billion to stand down science in the post-Challenger period. We had to get Hubble off the ground. The most expensive science missions went first. Mars had to wait. Hubble especially had to launch. Our most expensive science mission. Tremendous hype about Hubble.22


The media gave the discovery extensive coverage. As John Noble Wilford, vet­eran science writer for the New York Times, recalled of his thinking at the time, if the claims were true, “this would be the biggest story of my career—bar none.”26 His newspaper editorialized that the claims needed confirmation, but the cred­ibility of the scientists involved meant that they had to be taken seriously. One of them, from Stanford, was Richard Zare, prominent chemist and chairman of the National Science Foundation’s board. The New York Times said that the discovery could be “a transforming event of our time.” The Washington Post commented that the announcement made normal politics in Washington stop “for a moment or two of wonder.”27

Many scientists were quoted in the media, a number of whom expressed skep­ticism. One was Thomas Ahrens, a planetary scientist at Caltech. He called the

findings “hypothetical” and said if any one of the assumptions the investigators made were false, the whole interpretation would collapse “like a house of cards.” Sagan’s past general statement that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” was used by critics against these particular claims. But Sagan, who had reviewed the Science article, emphasized the significance of the claims: “If the results are verified, it is a turning point in human history.”28 Amidst the scientific give and take, one scientist, Harry McSweet of the University of Tennessee, expressed a very personal reaction: “I don’t know if this is evidence of life or not, but I want it to be.”29

Goldin quickly established an ad hoc Mars Science Strategy Group under Dan McCleese of JPL to advise on what NASA should do in response. Mc- Cleese was a long-term Mars scientist who was now manager of exploration and space science at JPL. On August 14, 1996, one day before the McCleese group met, Huntress wrote Goldin a memo that the group would commence a reorientation in Mars strategy. “Our current strategy for the Mars Surveyor Program is driven by the goals of looking for water, resources, and evidence of climate change as well as life. This group will look at how the current strategy should be changed to focus on the search for evidence of life as the single most important priority.” Huntress said he would also engage the National Academy of Sciences Space Studies Board (previously known as the Space Science Board) in the reorienting process.30

Goldin, on August 15, met with the McCleese group. McCleese remembered Goldin discussing the Mars meteorite and what its implications were for NASA in making “life” a focus for science strategy. “How do we follow-up” on the meteorite? Goldin asked McCleese and his team. “We have to have a sample return,” they responded. Well, said Goldin, “can you do it in 2001 ?” The scien­tists stated that they did not think that would be possible. There were issues of money, technology, and “we don’t know where to look.” They also told Goldin that the science since Viking had centered on “habitability” as a theme. It was critical, they said, not to repeat the mistake of Viking, which had framed the life question in “yes or no” terms. The answer had seemed to come back “no,” and that had made it difficult for NASA and the Mars science community to talk about Martian life ever since as a rationale for exploration.31

Goldin wanted to know if the missions currently on NASA’s drawing board, specifically Mars Global Surveyor and Pathfinder, would get at the life question. No, said the scientists. It would take different technology, and NASA would have to look at Mars in a planet-wide context. Ok, said Goldin, “what’s the next step?” McCleese and his team said they would try to answer him, but it would require some study.32

Goldin told the group to forget the politics, ignore the aerospace contrac­tors, and concentrate on “what is the right thing to do” from the standpoint of good science. He asked for three options for accelerating progress toward MSR: “relaxed,” “nominal,” and “fast.” He indicated that NASA might have to have international cooperation to do the job. In any event, he declared that while science could provide the direction, “the political process will say how fast we can go.”33

Three days later, McCleese’s panel made recommendations. McCleese told the media that NASA could reduce the amount of research on climate and other topics and develop more land rovers and subsurface drilling equipment. As early as 2001, robots could gather samples of Mars soil and rocks at especially promis­ing places, with those samples brought back to Earth in 2003. Money was obvi­ously critical to the “fast” option. The group suggested that international col­laboration might well be needed. McCleese commented also that one problem his group had in making recommendations was the absence of exobiologists. Since Viking, he said, “there has been a turning away from biology as an active part of the NASA program.” Now, “we are looking for a resurgence of a field.” NASA would have to find specialists and “convince them NASA is serious.”34

The 2001 option for a crash project for MSR did not last. McCleese and NASA wound up with 2005 as more realistic.35 Not everyone agreed with this date, which seemed to fit the “nominal” option Goldin had requested. Some thought sooner, some later—but virtually everyone involved in NASA’s decision process wanted to accelerate the quest for Martian life.

On September 19, Clinton issued his National Space Policy. The policy had been in the works prior to the Mars meteorite excitement. It was broader than civil space. However, it reflected the recent meteorite discovery and gave clear emphasis to Mars exploration as the top NASA and White House priority in space science. For the first time, an administration committed NASA to “sup­port a robotic presence on the surface of Mars by the year 2000.” Calling for sample return, the policy also endorsed the Origins initiative. It directed that NASA should look for “planetary bodies in orbit around other stars.”36

What the Clinton policy did not do was call for a human Mars program, even as a long-term goal, as Goldin and advocates such as Zubrin might have hoped.

The Clinton administration wanted NASA to finish assembling the much – troubled space station before considering a human Mars decision.37

The Mars rock, still being debated scientifically, had already made a politi­cal and policy difference. The driver in Mars exploration was now established at the NASA Administrator and presidential level: the search for evidence of past or present extraterrestrial life. Gore decided that before the end-of-year policy summit took place he would bring together scientists, philosophers, and theologians to discuss the broader implications of the Mars meteorite. Gibbons, in turn, asked NASA and the NAS National Research Council to convene an interdisciplinary group of scientists to better delineate the Origins theme and Mars strategy. On October 28-30, NASA and the NAS-NRC convened three dozen leading scientists to consider the concept of Origins as a unifying strategy for shaping NASA’s scientific future, including that of Mars exploration.

NASA intended Origins as a “big tent” under which many space scientists could gather and which could unite them and also attract public support. It was about studying origins of the universe and the beginnings of life wherever it could be found. Mars was central, but since Viking, space exploration had broadened and extended to the outer planets and solar systems of stars beyond. There was speculation about life under ice at Europa, a Jupiter moon, and at “other Earths” around distant stars.38

The aim of the meeting was to gain a scientific consensus on Origins as a theme for space science and—from NASA’s perspective—“to convince the Clin­ton Administration that further cuts to NASA’s science budget will endanger efforts to understand how life emerged.”39 Mars was integral to Origins. Ulti­mately, the question of priorities and money would come up, but the meetings, as well as the upcoming Gore conference, were primarily about “what” and not “how much.”

Meanwhile, on November 7, NASA launched MGS. The cost was approxi­mately $250 million, a fact that gave Goldin the opportunity to say that “Global Surveyor will give us 80% of Observer’s science at one-quarter of the cost.”40 As MGS lifted off, Huntress beamed: “These are the kinds of days you. . . live for in space science and exploration.” He commented that “it seems to have come together for Mars this year.” But “to put a nail on that”—the question of life—he said, “NASA had to return samples.”41 “We will go to Mars,” Goldin stated unequivocally at a George Washington University Space Policy Confer­ence on the Mars rock.42

Keeping Spirit and Opportunity on Track

O’Keefe gave general support to the MEP and left it to Weiler to make major decisions. It was up to Figueroa, the new Mars director, to take those decisions and implement them effectively on a day-to-day basis. One issue that had to be resolved in connection with the 2003 MER was the tension between maximizing chances for successful landing for Spirit and Opportunity and also pursuing the most exciting science. In May, a major meeting took place among scientists and engineers at a hotel near JPL, where NASA and the research community nar­rowed down the number of possible sites for the 2003 rover missions.17 A final decision on where to land would be made at a later date.

A second large issue affecting the rover mission was budgetary. Inexorably, the budget for the rovers rose significantly to deal with a host of technical prob­lems that came up as development proceeded. Reluctantly, Weiler provided more resources. He did so more than once. By December 2002, the budget was pushing $800 million and Weiler was not happy. In fact, he was close to a deci­sion to kill one of the rovers. Steve Squyres, the principal scientist, was deeply worried about how Weiler would decide. He pled to Naderi and others at JPL.

They pled to Figueroa. Figueroa beseeched Weiler for yet one more chance to keep the project as conceived alive. “Convince me why we should not cancel one of these rovers,” Weiler demanded. Weiler trusted Figueroa and weighed his opinions of others involved. “In the end, administration comes down to people. We had to succeed. The whole world had its eyes on us,” said Weiler.18 Weiler and Figueroa worked out an arrangement whereby Figueroa could bor­row money to cover the extra costs against reserves intended for 2004 and 2005.19 MER survived as a two-rover project, but the decision had been a close one.

While concentrating on Spirit and Opportunity, Figueroa dealt with other aspects of the overall MEP. He initiated competition for a Scout mission sched­uled for 2007. The Scout concept, modeled on Discovery missions, was geared to smaller projects proposed by the academic community. They would be capped at $325 million, the approximate cost of Odyssey. These were the new program’s version of faster, better, cheaper—a term utterly out of favor in the era of O’Keefe.20

Exactly what would be the cost of MSL, still very much in a planning stage, was unknown. At NASA’s suggestion, the NRC was conducting a decadal survey of future NASA planetary missions. As it did its work in 2002, it endorsed MSR as a long-term goal, with MSL as a critical enabler. It put cost estimates on missions, with MSL listed as moderate at $650 million. The scientists involved in the survey did not have the benefit of independent cost expertise. Moreover, NASA was still determining what instruments should go on MSL and grappling with engineering questions. NASA could not understand how the NRC arrived at a $650 million figure. That might have been suitable for MSL when it stood for Mars Smart Lander. But MSL now stood for Mars Science Laboratory, and this was a much more ambitious mission. Garvin was at this point estimating costs for MSL at $1 billion.21

The cost was not an issue at this point. The design of MSL was still un­finished. The NASA budget, overall, seemed to be doing well, allowing for expansive thinking about MSL. At the beginning of 2003, NASA was preparing to announce an FY 2004 budget that was especially good for space science. The O’Keefe vision called for a science-driven NASA. The agency was scheduled for a 2% raise, putting it at $15.4 billion, but space science was set for a 19% raise, going from $2.9 billion to $4 billion. The five-year projection showed steady increases moving NASA to $17.3 billion overall in FY 2008. The biggest percentage winner would continue to be space science, which would jump to $5.6 billion by FY 2008. Mars exploration, as the dominant planetary program,

would gain accordingly. Weiler gave credit to O’Keefe and his clout with OMB and the White House. “Without [O’Keefe’s] support,” he said, “these increases never would have gotten through.”

Griffin Splits with Scientists

What the SSB and scientists generally wanted to do cost a great deal of money, and Griffin was increasingly annoyed with scientific criticism and calls for NASA to do more when it had a flat budget. He had reconstituted the top-level NASA Advisory Council to reflect his and Bush’s priority, the Moon-Mars mission. He had appointed Harrison Schmitt, former Apollo astronaut and New Mexico senator, as NAC chairman. Schmitt was not happy with the role some leading scientists played on the council. He wanted them to advise Griffin how to carry out existing priorities. They disagreed with the priorities. He complained they were not being useful. Griffin backed Schmitt, and on August 21 he sent a mes­sage to the NAC that revealed his frustration not only with the scientists on NAC but with his scientist-critics generally.

“The scientific community. . . expects to have far too large a role in pre­scribing what work NASA should do,” Griffin charged. He noted that the com­munity spoke of effectiveness in NASA policy. “By ‘effectiveness,’ ” said Griffin, “what the scientific community really means is ‘the extent to which we are able to get NASA to do what we want to do.’ ” He said that if NAC members wanted to have NASA take a different course than it was taking, “the most appropriate recourse” was “to resign.”

The chair of NAC’s scientific subcommittee, Charles Kennel, a former NASA Earth Science Division leader, currently director of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, did resign. Griffin then personally requested that two other members, Wesley Huntress and Eugene Levy, the provost of Rice University, step down. Huntress countered, “This is a different NAC. Our advice was sim­ply not required nor desired.” The current council, he added, “has no under­standing or patience for the science community process.”52

While Griffin battled over policy with scientists in Washington, including Fisk and Huntress, former associate administrators of NASA’s Science Direc­torate, NASA’s operations on Mars continued to go extremely well and provide remarkable discoveries. In early October, Opportunity began complicated ma­neuvers 242 million miles from Earth at the massive Victoria Crater. This was potentially the most spectacular and significant target of the entire $800 million twin-rover mission. “We are frankly feeling a little overwhelmed by what we see so far,” said Squyres.53

Later in the month, the first results from MRO yielded new evidence of diverse watery habitats capable of supporting life eons ago. MRO also found evidence of recent climate changes only hundreds of years apart.54 As November began, MRO’s predecessor, MGS, reported technical problems. Launched in 1996, it had been the longest-lived Mars mission in history, and one of the most productive. On November 21, Michael Meyer of NASA’s SMD said at a press briefing at JPL, “We may have lost a dear old friend and teacher.” He declared that MGS had “surpassed all expectations.”55 Its most important findings had come in its waning days of operation and were not announced publicly until NASA had carefully confirmed them in December.

A comparison of photos taken several years apart by MGS found that two gullies, at least, had apparently experienced flash floods between the photo shoots. “Water seems to have flowed on the surface of today’s Mars, said Meyer at a December 6 news conference. “The big question is how does it happen, and does it point to a habitat for life?”56 “This is the sort of thing you dream about, what everybody’s been waiting for,” said planetary scientist Jennifer Hellmann of NASA’s Ames Research Center. The discovery lent support to the existence of liquid water so near the surface, at least in places, that it could spurt out on rare occasions.57 MGS also found evidence of recent high-velocity impacts from meteorites. This finding was critical in that it pointed up hazards for human exploration. Either way, MGS could not have ended its life on a more significant note.

MSL’s “Cameron” Camera

While planning for a joint flagship mission, NASA also had to implement its existing flagship, MSL. MSL’s centerpiece was the rover, and the rover now had a name, Curiosity. NASA’s hope was that that name, chosen on the basis of a national competition, would become as familiar as Spirit and Opportunity.

In late March, NASA reluctantly decided that the special 3-D camera being built for MSL would not be ready in time for the November-December MSL launch window. This camera was being developed by Malin Space Science Sys­tems of San Diego. Malin, a longtime Mars enthusiast and contractor, had been joined by James Cameron, whose space science fiction film Avatar had been a blockbuster success. Cameron was himself an advocate of Mars exploration and was serving NASA as a public engagement coinvestigator with Malin on MSL.40

The camera had been descoped in the Stern period and been reestablished subsequently by Weiler. NASA Administrator Bolden had himself provided ad­ditional resources from his own reserve fund to try to speed the development of the camera. For Bolden, Mars was an agency priority, and Mars exploration was one of two science missions to which he gave significant personal attention (the other was the James Webb Space Telescope, a project whose cost overrun was a major headache for the Administrator).41 But NASA could not make up the lost time from the 2007 descope.42 This camera (which some called the “Cameron” Camera) provided exceptional imaging capability that would bring the public along as a rider on MSL. There were other cameras on MSL which would help in this respect, just not as dramatically as the Cameron Camera. But the dead­line for launch was getting closer, and time precluded waiting for the camera to be fully ready. The total MSL package had to come together.43

Bilateral Talks Continue

Throughout April, the joint working group between NASA and ESA labored to find ways to merge the two programs. Southwood retired, as scheduled, and passed his ESA science leadership torch to Alvaro Gimenez in May. Gimenez regarded the joint effort as a “hot potato,” but he agreed with Southwood’s analysis of the situation NASA and ESA faced: “As for Mars, the fact is that neither of us can realize the ambitious goals of Mars exploration on our own. We are, I think, linked in this.”44

NASA was telling ESA in May it would contribute $1.2 billion to the revised 2018 mission, plus an estimated $300 million in launch costs—or $1.5 billion. This was $700 million below what it had projected when Weiler and Southwood had begun discussions and assumed two separate spacecraft. In considering the 2016 and 2018 missions as one ExoMars program, ESA had authorized 1 billion euros (U. S. $1.4 billion). The top official of ESA, Jean-Jacques Dordain, was personally steering the merger through key ESA governing boards.

In selling the revised (but still formative) program to the boards (and na­tions), Dordain promised to hold to the approved 1 billion euro ceiling and protect the 2018 mission from cost overruns by the 2016 mission. He had ESA take the unusual step of waiving almost all of its usual management fees—a $50 million saving—as a show of commitment to the project and holding the line on costs. Dordain’s big problem was that he had to get at least a tentative agree­ment to the concept of a NASA-ESA merged program from his ESA masters to restart payment to contractors on ExoMars 2016. Because of 2016 launch windows, he felt that work had to recommence July i.45

Dordain wanted a formal assurance from his counterpart, Bolden, that NASA would provide promised funds for the 2018 mission. This assurance would help him persuade his superiors to provide authorization for the July i, 2016, mission restart. International collaboration, wonderful in theory, was cumbersome in practice. But on May 26-27, Dordain got from ESA’s policy body, the Human Spaceflight and Operations Directorate, agreement to the general outlines of the NASA-ESA program. He would now go to the Industrial Policy Commit­tee for financial approval in June. One body provided policy legitimacy, the other money. He needed both affirmations.46 The verbal promise of U. S. re­sources helped leverage decisions with ESA to some extent. He awaited a letter from Bolden which he could show the Industrial Policy Committee to close the arrangement.

The Long Journey

Mars is a program in a science directorate in an agency. Not elevated orga­nizationally, it has a high visibility to the political world. That visibility has helped make it a focus of agency attention and controversy over the years. The history of robotic Mars exploration has seen a sequence of overlapping eras. The eras overlap because NASA is usually trying to sell a new program as it is implementing an older one. The history has seen recurring issues. One has been conflict between the priority given Mars and that for other planets. Another has been the tension between those who would explore Mars incrementally and comprehensively and those who favor faster leaps forward and specifically target the search for life. A third is the debate between Mars and space activities other than planetary exploration, such as telescopes or human spaceflight. A fourth is the conflict between NASA and external forces that want to contain space costs generally—sometimes for non-space priorities—and press NASA to cut back expenditures, including those for Mars.

These and other issues have played out in the various eras. They illuminate the politics of Mars. The first era involved the pioneering flights of Mariner— the flybys of the 1960s and orbiters of the early 1970s. Mariner took place when the emphasis at NASA was on the Moon. Second came the aborted program Voy­ager, and then Viking, America’s initial landings on Mars, in 1976. Viking was an extraordinary success in many ways, but critics saw it as a failure because it did not achieve its avowed goal to find life. There was dispute over the findings, but the scientific consensus was negative as to life, and this perceived failure helped halt momentum in the program. Calls for a mobile Viking (Viking 3) follow-up went nowhere, as did those for Mars Sample Return.

The third era was an interregnum, in which advocates of other missions made their claims and Mars proponents struggled to get a hearing. As Mars dimmed on NASA’s agenda, the agency’s planetary program in general also suffered fi­nancially. A relatively few adherents kept the flame of Mars burning, but not brightly. Eventually, Mars Observer launched and approached Mars 17 years after Viking. Although Mars Observer failed as it encountered the Red Planet in 1993, it gave rise to a fourth era of Mars exploration. The new era, called Mars Surveyor Program, featured a sequence of two missions that were relatively small and simple and that were launched every 26 months when Mars and Earth were in an optimal alignment. NASA’s strategy of “faster, better, cheaper” fit the political times of post-Cold War America. A premature attempt to accelerate

MSR and failure of two Mars probes in succession brought this era to an abrupt close.

The fifth era of Mars exploration was the “follow-the-water” Mars Explora­tion Program. It was more incremental, comprehensive, and realistic about pace and cost and began in 2001 with the Odyssey orbiter.

Those who wished for greater leaps rather than incremental steps made the most ambitious mission of this series, MSL, even more sophisticated than its original planners had recommended. It was the mission that transitioned from following the water to looking for organic carbon compounds and other in­dicators of life potential. The boldest and most expensive Mars mission since Viking, in many ways MSL was the Viking 3 that never happened in the late 1970s—except that MSL was far more capable than Viking 3 could have been. MSL’s cost soared to $2.5 billion as it was deferred to 2011 from its 2007 and then 2009 schedule. It built on everything NASA had learned scientifically and technically up to this point.1

What NASA would do after MSL and the smaller project sent in 2013, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission, was unclear at the time of writing. What had initially emerged for the sixth era had been a bilateral pro­gram with Europe. NASA and the European Space Agency had designed a joint program that would begin in 2016 and 2018 and take advantage of succeeding opportunities to build toward an MSR after 2020. Under severe cost-contain­ment pressure from OMB, the United States withdrew from a major role in the 2016 and 2018 missions as originally planned. To help maintain Mars momen­tum in the wake of the MSL Curiosity landing, NASA instituted a smaller U. S. mission, InSight, for 2016. It also said it would contribute to the European mis­sions via certain instruments. Most significantly, NASA got approval for a $1.5 billion rover in 2020 that would build on MSL’s Curiosity. The MSR sequence of missions might or might not be initiated with this later mission. In 2012, NASA Administrator Bolden pledged that NASA would continue Mars exploration and better integrate robotic and human spaceflight requirements in a proposed new programmatic era, which he called Mars Next Decade.2

But the initiation and contours of Mars Next Decade were uncertain. There is hope that missions after MSL Curiosity and MAVEN would lead to a coher­ent program aimed at MSR. In any event, a sixth era presumably will begin in 2016 and build to bolder ventures. That there has been a rocky start to this post – MSL era is not surprising. History shows that Mars exploration has had a long and tortuous journey, consuming decades, with ebbs and flows in momentum. A

program of programs, it has not been a steady evolution. It has been marked by punctuation points and key decisions between programs, and sometimes within programs and specific projects.

Mars exploration represents not only a set of missions and hardware but an agreed-upon scientific and political strategy. However, that strategy is a re­sult of conflict and consensus building among interest groups, governmental and nongovernmental. A program constitutes an equilibrium of interests.3 The equilibrium exemplifies agreements among specialists in a space policy subsys­tem—bureaucrats, legislators, scientists, others—about a particular course of action. There is relative stability. Events, key individuals, and disagreements within the subsystem, or pressures from larger forces from outside, can disrupt the subsystem and bring about policy change. The task of Mars advocates gen­erally and NASA leaders particularly has been to make the case for Mars. It has been to build and then rebuild consensus within the space sector and relate it to national and international policy as circumstances have necessitated. Situations internal or external to NASA require decision makers to adapt. Change is to be expected. Managing it is an art more than a science.

What and who have been the moving forces behind NASA’s journey from Mariner to MSL and beyond? What and who have stood in the way of the Mars proponents? How has their clash of interest influenced the course of Mars exploration? What decisions by NASA have favored one side or the other in the politics of Mars? Where is the program headed?


At 1:25 a. m. (EDT) on August 6, 2012, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), encased in a larger spacecraft and protected by a heat shield, hit the atmosphere of Mars. After a journey of eight months and 352 million miles, MSL embarked on what NASA called “seven minutes of terror.” In this brief span of time, MSL would need to decrease its speed from 13,000 miles per hour to almost zero—or it would crash. Failure was unthinkable for a $2.5 billion mission at a time when NASA was under budgetary siege. The Mars atmosphere immediately caused the spacecraft to slow, but seven miles above the Mars surface the spacecraft was still flying at 900 miles per hour. At this point, the spacecraft unfurled a giant, 51-foot parachute.

As the spacecraft’s rate of descent gradually diminished, MSL disconnected from the spacecraft that had been carrying it to this point. The spacecraft flew off, and retro-rockets blasted from MSL, causing it to come to a virtual hover two stories above the Mars surface. At one ton in weight, containing delicate instruments, the car-sized machine was too heavy to complete its landing with retro-rockets or airbags. Instead, for the first time, a newly invented device attached to MSL, called the sky crane, deployed, and cables carefully lowered the machine to the ground. Finally, with cables disconnected, the sky crane rocketed away from what NASA had now safely placed on the surface—the nuclear-powered MSL rover called Curiosity. All this happened automatically

154 million miles from Earth. The landing occurred at 1:32 a. m. (EDT). It took another 14 minutes for radio signals to go from Mars to Earth and reach the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Allen Chen, flight dynamics engineer at JPL, received the information. He announced excitedly, “Touchdown confirmed. We’re safe on Mars!”1

Never before had a technology this complex gone to Mars. MSL, with its Curiosity rover, climaxed a multiyear program geared to “following the water.” Its goal was to discover whether Mars was now or previously capable of being inhabited. MSL Curiosity would not actually find life. It aimed at locating the chemical “building blocks” of life. A later flight, or series of flights, would return a sample of Mars soil and rock to Earth’s laboratories for analysis. Such a mis­sion of far greater expense lay well in the future. But this particular mission was critical to Mars exploration—a milestone in a long-term quest that had begun over a half century earlier, building on what had gone before, enabling what might come ahead.

Getting to this point was a remarkable accomplishment, not only in science and technology, but in public policy and program implementation. Not only did NASA have to surmount severe technological barriers, but it also had to meet daunting political challenges along the way. In some ways, the political problems were greater than those that were technical. Large technical achieve­ment, especially when dealing with government and costing billions over many years, does not happen automatically. It takes a strong push of political advocacy from inside and outside NASA to make Mars a funding priority, establish a program, and carry it out successfully. Who does what to forward Mars explora­tion? How? The answers are critical to the history of NASA and the Red Planet.

The intent of this book is to illuminate the role of key individuals and institu­tions that have constituted a moving force for policy action in Mars exploration. Its thesis is that an informal and changing coalition of advocates inside and out­side NASA has sought to make NASA the institutional embodiment and lever for their quest to the Red Planet. The influence and limits of this coalition, as well as their scientific and political strategies, have shaped the course and pace of the Mars exploration program.

The study contends that over the long haul, the advocacy coalition has pro­pelled Mars exploration forward. This has been particularly the case as it has turned individual missions into an integrated and sequential whole, beginning in the early 1990s. It has built political support for this program and sustained it in the face of changing times and opposition. The actors most critical to coali­

tion leadership and influence affecting the Mars exploration program have been senior officials of NASA. Decisions and strategies in Washington, D. C., have powered (or frustrated) exploration on Mars.

The focus of this book is not the history of science, or advance of technology, or cultural aspects of Mars. Such subjects come up, but not as foreground. This book seeks to reveal and analyze the politics and policy behind Mars exploration.