Category Why Mars

Creating NASA

When the Soviet Union put Sputnik into space in 1957, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a protracted Cold War struggle. The issue was which political/economic system was superior and constituted the wave of the future which other nations would follow. Technology was a symbol of national capacity to lead. It was emblematic of national power.6 Sputnik came as a great psychological victory for the Soviets, even though President Eisenhower down­played its military significance. But to most observers it seemed to indicate not only rocket-lifting capacity but national power generally—not only in military missiles, but also in scientific and technical education. Even fellow Republicans were angered that the Eisenhower administration had not been sufficiently vigi­lant and had let Sputnik happen. It grated that the Soviet Union was the first nation in space. America’s pride was bent and its prestige tarnished.

Eisenhower appointed a science advisor and science advisory committee in part to help him establish America’s course in space. Although Eisenhower did not want to engage in a “race,” he wanted the United States to be competitive, and that would take some time. The Soviet Union followed up Sputnik with other successes, while the U. S. effort floundered. There was no existing space agency. To the extent that there was space-related activity at all, it was found in only a few places in government and was an uncertain priority in all.

One place was the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), an old agency that went back to World War 1 and housed a number of research laboratories to advance the field of aeronautics. Another place was the Depart­ment of Defense (DOD). There was a scientific group in the Navy (Naval Re­search Laboratory) active in space research and poised to launch an American satellite as part of a large international science undertaking at the time called the International Geophysical Year (IGY). Another body in DOD consisted of von Braun’s German rocketeers, who were working for the army on mis­siles. Also active was the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which served the army via management by the California Institute of Technology. The political consensus that emerged in late 1957 and 1958 was that the American space effort was too fragmented and low priority and a new agency for which space science and technology was the mission had to be established.

Eisenhower was strongly influenced by his science advisors, as well as his own predilections, to establish a civilian space agency. The scientists feared that if DOD became the de facto space agency, it would concentrate space research on strictly military missions, and secrecy and classification would be the rule. The scientists immediately saw tremendous opportunities for space research in an agency with a nonmilitary orientation. Indeed, they wanted an agency with an agenda scientists could influence. Eisenhower, feeling pressures for space-oriented weapons which eventually helped compel him to warn against a “military-industrial complex,” agreed that a civilian agency was best for the country.

The NACA, with its 8 ,ooo-person civil servant staff, was selected to be the core of the new agency. NACA brought with it three major laboratories, or field centers: Ames in California, Lewis in Ohio, and Langley in Virginia. Other facilities would be grafted onto the new agency from DOD. These would in­clude JPL, the von Braun team, and a naval science group. Von Braun and his associates would form the nucleus of the new Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. The navy group would be the keystone for the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

As the White House and Congress worked on enabling legislation for the new agency, they decided that the new entity would have to have a broad charter in science and technology which would give it unusual flexibility. Space was seen as a new frontier, and no one was sure what it would entail. What was clear was that everyone wanted the agency to move quickly and begin competing with the Soviets as soon as possible. There was a general feeling that NACA was sluggish and bureaucratic.

Hence, there was attention paid, directly and indirectly, to the question of bureaucratic power. This was exemplified most clearly in giving the new agency a single leader. NACA was led by a committee and director under the commit­tee. The other leading technical agency of the time was the Atomic Energy Commission. Again, there was plural leadership. The political architects draft­ing legislation wanted an individual to be in charge, one clearly responsible and accountable. The original bill created a National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA). The word “Agency” was changed to “Administration.” The head would be called not a “director,” as originally written, but an “Administra­tor.” “Administration” and “Administrator” seemed to the political founders more substantial terms for an agency that would be charged with leading the U. S. drive against the Soviets, and which would have to work with formidable bureaucratic rivals, such as DOD.7

There was no question that NASA was going to have a strong robotic science emphasis, even if the human spaceflight side of the agency came to be dominant. Eisenhower’s science advisors and other scientists who testified during hear­ings leading up to the NASA bill pressed hard to have a science mission that was explicit in NASA’s legislative charter. That it did, the charter saying simply that the new agency should carry out “the expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.” The legislation moved into law with relative ease, given the sense of urgency. On October i, 1958, NASA officially opened for business. The generality of the legislation and anxiety of the country meant that the first NASA Administrator, T. Keith Glennan, would have a lot of discretion in how he went about his job and organized NASA.

Searching for Life

The shuttle decision provided a measure of stability for the agency. However, there were still annual budget fights between NASA and the Office of Man­agement and Budget, and Fletcher was clear about his need to protect Viking, NASA’s top priority after the shuttle.1 Fletcher’s personal interest in Viking was symbolized by a globe of Mars he featured prominently in his office.2 He was willing to move money from lesser NASA priorities to Viking to assure success and personally looked into technical matters affecting development.

The approach NASA took with Viking was “Apollo-style.” Murray, a con­tinuing critic, called this method the “great leap forward” strategy. It was a “technology-forcing” approach, he charged. Murray preferred the steadier, gradual, “evolutionary” style of Mariner. Sagan, for one, argued that the incre­mental strategy was not ambitious enough. The reason was that the end—to find extraterrestrial life—justified the means. NASA’s strategy could be even bolder than it was in his view.3 For Sagan and others in the exobiology camp, Viking, not the shuttle, was NASA’s most important project.

Fletcher saw Viking as the beginning of a program of robotic Mars landers, each more sophisticated than the next, leading to the return of a Martian soil and rock sample. In May 1972, Deputy Administrator Low told Naugle that Fletcher wanted Naugle to brief him on the state of NASA’s thinking about Mars Sample Return. In August, following the briefing, Naugle established a

study group to start a planning process.4 Fletcher was looking ahead, with a multiproject Viking program in mind. However, there was no approved Mars mission beyond this Viking mission. It had to succeed in its search for life, or NASA’s Mars program would face a crisis. This crisis would be in maintaining cohesion among Mars advocates, much less sustaining political support within the space policy sector and among national policymakers.

Keeping the Dream Alive

While NASA pondered options and postponed advocacy to the White House and Congress, a diminished but persistent band of supporters inside and outside government struggled to keep the dream of Mars exploration alive. Rather than being depressed by the consensus view of Viking’s failure to find life, a cluster of planetary science graduate students at the University of Colorado Boulder were electrified by what Viking did discover. Carol Stoker, one of their leaders, read everything she could about Viking and concluded that there had been a “rush to judgment” about the absence of life on Mars.39 Also, if life perhaps was not on Mars, then human life should be brought to Mars, she and her peers believed. Another of the leaders of the group—one who, like Stoker, would later work for NASA—was Chris McKay.40 Meeting in halls, over meals, and eventually organizing a course, this group in the late 1970s began studying what it would take to revive robotic and human Mars exploration in the post-Viking period.

The students were given legitimacy by Charles Barth, the director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder. However, they acted largely on their own. Another person who ener­gized them was Ben Clark, a former Viking team member from Martin-Marietta, the prime contractor for Viking. Clark was based in Denver and had written a paper titled “The Viking Project—the Case for Men on Mars.” He extolled the possibilities and communicated with the students. The students were enthused and let their imaginations soar, considering the potential of “terraforming” Mars, engineering the planet so as to make it habitable.

As the group reached out, they gained new members, developed their “Mars Study Project,” and took on a catchy and enticing name, the “Mars Under­ground.”41 Members wore red buttons they concealed and could flash to nonbe­lievers and others. The buttons conveyed the impression that the group consti­tuted a secret society. Members discovered many other “closet Martians” willing to join their cause. Stoker recalled that the group seemed to be filling a need, attracting adherents in the manner of a “social movement.” A journalist the stu­dents met suggested they hold a national workshop on Mars. He thought there would be considerable interest. The students, even as many looked to graduate, began planning such a conference for 1981. It took place, and 100 scientists, engineers, and others came. Those from NASA were primarily from JPL and Ames. Participants gave papers and networked. This ranged from serious Mars researchers to what McKay called “the lunatic fringe” of the Mars community. In contrast to the majority view that there were no intelligent Martians, this group, known as the “Face on Mars” advocates, believed that Viking had re­vealed a structure on Mars that resembled a face. Moreover, they charged that NASA had conspired to hide this reality from the public. They were a distinct minority at the “Case for Mars” conference, as it was called, but they were wel­come. The Mars Underground was open to all Mars adherents.42

What the Boulder meeting did for those who attended went well beyond technical matters that consumed most of the formal presentations. “The first conference was magic,” Stoker said. “People walked out of there feeling like they’d been freed from prison… we broke the taboo.” It was possible to think about Mars and all its possibilities for those who came.43 By the time this meet­ing took place, there was another advocacy group also asserting its claims. The Mars Underground was ad hoc, calling itself a “closely knit but loosely woven network of individuals, representing government, private industry, and indi – viduals.”44 In contrast to the Mars Underground, this other body was organized, well funded, and led by established and influential scientists.

The dynamo was Carl Sagan, who refused to give up on his quest. Sagan was convinced that Mars needed grassroots advocacy. Perhaps more than any other scientist of his time, Sagan sensed the public pulse and what it would take to mobilize opinion behind space exploration. He also was frustrated with NASA and various fellow Mars scientists. He sensed a “disreputability about looking for life on another planet.”45 He wanted to take his case more forcefully to the public and political establishment. The Mars Underground and like-minded interests in the public, he felt, needed an organized interest group working on their behalf to persuade politicians to spend more money on space exploration. He passionately wanted NASA to go back to Mars and search for life.

His former nemesis, Murray, the JPL director, felt similarly about the need to generate support to study Mars and other planets. Once adversaries and still disagreeing on the life issue, Sagan and Murray nevertheless sought common ground in organized advocacy lest the nation lose sight of a noble dream. Ener­gized by what they perceived as NASA indecision and the budget travails of the Carter years, they discussed the concept of an organized interest group with a third individual, Louis Friedman.

Friedman was an advanced-program manager at JPL with an activist tem­perament, broad perspective, and enthusiasm for Mars. In 1979, he was just back from a year as a staff member on a congressional science committee. He recalled how Murray had summoned him “to his office on the top floor of the administration building at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.” Murray explained that he and Sagan believed that planetary exploration was “threatened” and to save it they had “to form an organization with tens of thousands of members to demonstrate that people wanted space exploration to continue.” “Would you lead it?” Murray asked. Friedman readily agreed.46

The next year, 1980, Sagan and Murray established an entity, the Planetary Society, with Friedman as its executive director; Sagan, president; and Murray, vice president. They gathered a board of prominent individuals. The Planetary Society was announced to be “dedicated to planetary exploration and the search for life.” With Sagan actively publicizing the organization, it would eventually grow to 125,000 members, publish a newsletter, get support from foundations and wealthy individuals, and become a force in influencing federal space policy.47 From the beginning, the Planetary Society “focused much of its activity on the exploration of Mars.”48 Sagan announced the formation of the Planetary Society in 1980 during one of his many appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.

The Mars Underground, the Planetary Society, and a few other external in­terest groups gave evidence that public support for Mars exploration remained in the wake of Viking. They were complemented to some extent by certain advocates within NASA, particularly in the field centers. One field center espe­cially nurtured exobiology.

Perhaps the greatest casualty of Viking disappointment had been exobiology. Detractors had derided the field as being a discipline without a known subject to study. They now said, “We told you so!” Most Mars scientists were down on exobiology, as was NASA in general. What helped keep the field going, albeit with fewer researchers, was the maintenance of an institutional base at the re­search center, Ames. There, Harold Klein refused to give up after Viking, and he encouraged other researchers to persist, especially Sherwood Chang. They were able to mine Viking images and data. Even at Ames there were occasions when Klein “went to the mat” to protect exobiology from being shut down by an Ames center director.49

It helped enormously, in the view of David Des Marais, an Ames veteran, that Ames was a civil service laboratory.50 The researchers had more leeway and security in what they did than scientists and engineers at JPL, who had to seek contracts on more fashionable and/or fundable topics. Many JPL employees

had to work for agencies other than NASA, especially the Department of De­fense, to survive in the post-Viking years.

There was precious little money for exobiology research at Ames. What there was came from intrepid program officers committed to the field. Des Marais estimated that the funds Ames had averaged $6 million a year.51 Don DeVincenzi ran a modest exobiology program at NASA Headquarters and pro­vided funds to Ames. John Rummel, NASA’s planetary protection officer, also funneled some money to Ames for exobiology. Beginning with Apollo and other lunar journeys, NASA had been attentive to contamination risks from Earth and also back to Earth. Lederberg and Sagan had helped get planetary protection inserted into NASA policy. Sterilization procedures for Viking were “so vigor­ous that the mission’s launches may have had fewer terrestrial microbes aboard than any other craft yet launched,” according to Michael Meltzer, whose book on planetary protection was published in 2011.52

At a time when exobiology was decidedly unpopular in the Mars scientific community, the low funding levels may have been helpful in its survival. Des Marais remembered that it was “too small a budget item to attract much atten­tion,” but there was a payoff. Over time, researchers at Ames played an impor­tant role in helping to reframe exobiology from a direct search for life to a search for “habitable environments.” A habitable environment could be a subject of study.53 Moreover, it brought exobiology closer to nonlife scientists, who had been arguing for more attention to the physical setting of Mars.

A New Start

In early February 1994, the White House unveiled the president’s budget pro­posal. The request for NASA was $250 million below the previous year’s budget.

This reduction was the first time since 1974 that the White House had requested a decrease in NASA funding.36 However, within this budget, there was a new start in robotic spaceflight, the Mars Surveyor Program. The budget proposed initial funding for a new Mars orbiter, one that would be smaller and less ex­pensive than Mars Observer. It would carry a number of the eight instruments borne by Mars Observer. It would be called Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) and be managed by JPL. Subsequent orbiters would bear the remainder of Mars Observer’s instruments. In essence, the new program would do what Goldin wanted: carry out Mars Observer’s missions and then some, in a “product line” of smaller spacecraft. The Mars Surveyor Program was extremely significant. For the first time since Mariner, there was political acceptance of a sustained series of spaceflights to Mars. This program would embody and be a showcase for FBC and the notion that government could be reinvented to produce more for less. It conveyed the idea that big science could be made into smaller and more affordable science through distributing missions and costs over time.

In mid-March, at a senior management meeting, Goldin indicated that find­ing more funds for space science was a top priority.37 On April 1, NASA issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to develop and build the MGS craft. Martin Marietta won the MGS task in July. The process from RFP to award was seven to eight months shorter than usual. Under Goldin’s new “faster” rules, Martin Marietta would have 28 months to build MGS in order to meet the 1996 Mars launch window. Getting the RFP out this fast was new, a result of administrative streamlining. So was the award decision.38

Congress was meanwhile coming through with authorization of a program line for the Mars Surveyor Program, as well as the money for implementing NASA’s first mission in the series. Sagan helped NASA promote the program to Congress. So did the National Academy of Sciences, which gave it endorsement. Congress listened to such supporters. So, apparently, did OMB. The country would get more science for less money. Said Huntress, “There was consensus.”39

It was not just Goldin who was pushing FBC efficiency to the agency. Hunt­ress was doing so also, and on April 12 he attacked NASA’s “outdated tech­nologies and attitudes.” He condemned NASA’s “resistance to change,” saying NASA was “two decades behind the curve in engineering the way we operate our missions.”40

In September, NASA chose a landing site for Pathfinder, scheduled to arrive at Mars in 1997. Tony Spear, project manager for Pathfinder, said that this mis­sion would indeed reveal the new way of doing business. He declared he had “as­sembled a team and dumped all the formality.”41 As Huntress later commented, “Tony ran the show. He established a Skunk Works at JPL. . . . JPL didn’t like this approach. It is used to certain engineering practices. JPL expected fail­ure. Tony made it work. He recruited young engineers and scientists who did not know what had been done in the past. He pushed innovative practices. He mined their creativity and put it to work. The old guard watched with no con­fidence in what he was doing.”42

Goldin’s Surprise Decision

The Hubbard team now had the full flexibility it sought to plan a new program, with no specific MSR goal with a hard or even soft deadline forcing an arbitrary pace. Weiler made it abundantly clear that the FBC approach was no longer gospel. Success was foremost, although costs were also important. He declared that the Mars Surveyor Program, as previously constructed, had ended.61 Hub­bard was to design a new program. As Hubbard saw it, he had a Mars fund­ing line “without a workable strategic content.”62 It was up to him to give that content. In early conversations with Weiler and others, Hubbard decided that NASA would use the following expression to convey their overall new approach: “follow the water.” Weiler had already used that expression publicly. Now it became “official rhetoric.” Specific missions would connect through following the water and lead, hopefully, in the direction of life.63

The time for another big decision was looming. With MSR out as a short­term driver, what were Hubbard and his associates to do about 2003? That mission, Hubbard knew, had to fit into the new strategic approach. The basic strategy he and his team formulated was to alternate orbiters and landers over the decade—one mission for each launch opportunity. (Mars Surveyor Program had featured two missions every opportunity.) Hubbard spoke of them as a “lad­der to Mars.”64 Since NASA was sending Odyssey, an orbiter, up in 2001, the strategy would seem to call for a lander in 2003. However, there were those at NASA who worried about advancing too far beyond what the agency had done, as the previous lander had been a failure.

Hubbard saw NASA’s options for 2003 as (1) do not fly at all, (2) fly an or­biter, or (3) fly a lander. The lander mission was increasingly seen as carrying a rover, with the rover playing the dominant role in the mission. Such a mission would be more challenging than Pathfinder, with its tiny and short-lived rover, Sojourner. This rover would last longer and go farther. A meeting took place to discuss these options, attended by various Viking “graybeards,” including Martin, Lee, and Mike Carr. There were also representatives from the “new generation,” such as Steve Squyres. Sixteen people attended this meeting. Ad­vocates of different approaches spoke.65 At the end of the discussion, Hubbard called for a vote on the orbiter/lander options. The vote turned out to be split, virtually even. Hubbard announced the result. Someone shouted, “Well, then, you can do what you want.”66

While Hubbard and his associates considered the 2003 mission in the context of a long-term strategic approach, rumors circulated that Mars Global Surveyor had made a tantalizing discovery. It may have spotted “evidence of liquid water” on Mars. NASA hastily called a press conference to report that MGS had not “seen” water but had detected images that appeared to look like springs or seep­age from underground sources.67 This information bolstered the strategy for the new program of “follow the water.” It also strengthened the argument for a 2003 option that could follow up on this orbiter-based report with surface study.

By late July, Weiler had the benefit of Hubbard’s counsel (which favored the lander/rover option), JPL and Lockheed Martin studies, and other sources of information about what to do in 2003. He also had the intriguing MGS findings. It was obvious that another orbiter following Odyssey would not carry as much public interest as a lander that released a plucky rover that could go a consider­able distance and last longer than Sojourner. There was something about a rover that seemed to capture the public imagination. The question was, would JPL be up to the challenge of building one? Doubts were raised by JPL critics. Naderi told Stone that JPL would “have to prove our merit.”68

Weiler, Hubbard, and Garvin now went to see Goldin. Weiler advised the NASA Administrator that the 2003 mission should be a repeat of Pathfinder, but with a larger rover that could have greater range and survive longer. Goldin was highly receptive. Then, Goldin asked, “What about two rovers?” He meant two lander/rovers. The suggestion came as a complete surprise to his three sub­ordinates.69 As Goldin saw it, this mission had to succeed, and adding another lander/rover lowered the risk of failure. That was the “old” NASA way, not the FBC way. Goldin asked Hubbard to check on the cost issue. “You study this,” he ordered Hubbard. “Tell me the pros and cons of such a mission.”70

Hubbard called Naderi. It was 9:30 a. m. in Washington and 6:30 a. m. at JPL in Pasadena, and Naderi was in his office. “Could you let me know in three hours how much an additional lander will cost?” Hubbard asked. Naderi immediately sought out Pete Theisinger, an engineer and highly regarded proj­ect manager, who also was in his office. Together, they estimated a one-third increase over the cost of one lander/rover combination. Their estimate was a total of $600 million.71

Hubbard had some additional studies undertaken, while Goldin traveled abroad. Garvin added more justification for sending two spacecraft: the rov­ers could go to two different places, making it more likely to find something scientifically important. Hubbard kept Goldin informed, sending him faxes of pro and con arguments. It was obvious Goldin was eager to move forward and do what was necessary to succeed. Weiler was also fully engaged in the decision­making process. He grilled Hubbard. Weiler worried about how he would come up with more money.72

On July 27, Weiler announced publicly that NASA had decided to go with the lander/rover option for the 2003 launch. He said the rover would be larger than Sojourner and far more capable of going great distances. He also revealed that NASA was considering a second lander/rover possibility, but that no final decision had been made on that front. He noted that NASA would decide in a few weeks.73

When Goldin returned from his trip, he met with Hubbard, who had gotten estimates for a second lander/rover from various sources.74 Hubbard recalled that the number he used was $700 million, an inflated figure from the origi­nal $600 million estimate.75 Hubbard noted, “Goldin got right up in my face, pointed his long finger at my nose, and questioned, ‘are you absolutely sure that we can do this for the amount of money you quoted?’ ” Hubbard responded “yes” or “I am absolutely sure.” Hubbard really wasn’t certain, but later wrote that “sometimes you just have to play to win.”76

Goldin subsequently decided he could not ask Weiler to pay for the entire increase out of a science budget already overextended. He checked with the White House, but got no financial help from that source.77 He then gathered his senior managers together, including the various associate administrators responsible for all NASA programs. He said that it was critical for NASA to recover its reputation fully from the two Mars failures. He stated that Mars was a NASA priority, not just a Science Directorate priority. “Do you not agree?” he asked. The senior managers concurred. That being the case, he asked them if they also agreed with the idea of sending two rovers to narrow the risk of failure. They replied, “Yes.” “If you agree,” continued Goldin, “will you put up some money to help support the dual mission? You said it was a good idea!” Most of the managers went along.78

That was that. On August 10 NASA announced the decision. The agency would send twin rovers to Mars in 2003. The first mission would go up in May; the second, in June. The journey of each to Mars would take seven and a half months. They would land in different places. The $600 million figure was stated as the estimated cost of the duel mission. Goldin called the mission an “agency priority,” a designation NASA made public.79

If the dual mission was an agency priority, it was even more critical for JPL. In August, Stone retired as director ofJPL. Before doing so, he committed JPL to the two-rover mission, but defined success as having at least one rover make it to Mars.80 Charles Elachi, 53, succeeded him. Elachi was closely connected to Mars research, especially MSR planning, but had not been blamed for the 1999 failures. He was a hard-driving space enthusiast who had spent his career at JPL. He initially questioned the wisdom of the two-rover approach. There were issues of time, risk, and money. He told Goldin of his reservations. Upon further thought, however, and his sense that headquarters would provide suf­ficient resources to enable JPL to succeed, he called Goldin and said he agreed.81 Elachi’s assent was critical in view of his new position as chief implementer of the decision.

When Elachi sat down with Naderi to discuss what needed to be done to make the two rovers effective, Naderi had a message for his JPL director. Naderi told Elachi that the lab would have to put its full force behind this mission. “What do you want?” Elachi asked. Naderi said JPL had to put its best technical personnel on the project, and Naderi told him who he thought they were. Elachi concurred.82 The reputation and role of JPL in NASA were at stake.

Hubbard and his associates worked furiously to finish the new Mars archi­tecture by October, the deadline Goldin had set, and the month when plans had to start getting into the next year’s budget. As October approached, Hubbard found Goldin constantly intervening in his deliberations with his team. Goldin would call frequently and ask Hubbard about this or that fact or option. He even called him at 2 a. m. Weiler tried to buffer Hubbard, but to no avail. Hub­bard developed different tactics to avoid Goldin so the administrator would not know he was around when he was at NASA. He did not want to meet him on the elevator. “I took to going up and down the fire escape steps and using the freight elevator in the back of the building,” Hubbard admitted.83 Finally, the architecture was completed and vetted by Weiler and Goldin.84

On October 6, Hubbard and Garvin discussed the new program with the Of­fice of Management and Budget. Given positive signals from Clinton and Gore, OMB was helpful. Hubbard had kept the political side of the White House informed, via Leon Feurth, Gore’s science advisor.85 OMB’s criticisms were constructive. It was clear that the White House wanted NASA to recover and get the new 10-year Mars strategy off to a good start. It shared Hubbard’s view

that it was best to start slow, move incrementally, and postpone MSR. There was no fixed date for MSR, but OMB wanted to make sure the missions in the new design moved systematically in the MSR direction. The OMB discussions were led by Steve Isakowitz, OMB’s chief budget examiner for NASA. Isakowitz had an aerospace engineering degree from MIT and was personally interested in the Mars program.

Mary Cleave as Associate Administrator

At the time NASA launched MRO, Griffin made a series of across-the-board changes in his management team. They affected most aspects of NASA, mainly human spaceflight. However, they also had impacts for Mars. Griffin replaced Diaz, who retired, with Mary Cleave as associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. Cleave came out of the Earth science division of the SMD, a fact that some observers considered indicative of Griffin’s rebalancing effort. She was also a former astronaut, as well as an engineer. Finally, she was someone with whom Griffin had long-term connections. Whatever her merits, she was not an advocate of robotic Mars as her directorate’s top priority. That brought her into conflict with Mars proponents.

Figueroa, not happy with Griffin’s policies, moved to a new position at the Goddard Space Flight Center in nearby Greenbelt, Maryland. McCuis­tion stayed, frustrated with the trends for Mars. Garvin, however, soon joined Figueroa at Goddard. Griffin told Garvin he had no need for a chief scientist. Garvin believed that his outspoken advocacy for Mars as a priority made him especially expendable.9 Another individual who had been central to the Mars buildup was Isakowitz. He was also a casualty of Griffin’s actions to replace O’Keefe appointees with individuals of his choosing. Isakowitz wound up at the Department of Energy. The upshot of the various personnel moves was the distinct weakening of the Mars constituency at headquarters.

Cleave, meanwhile, inherited a program that had far more budget challenges than easy solutions. One huge issue was the James Webb Space Telescope, Hub­ble’s eventual successor, suffering an overrun of $1 billion.10 Her problems were also those of Griffin, but he had many additional and more pressing ones, most connected to human spaceflight. He was anxious to delegate responsibility for science decisions to her. In July, the shuttle returned to flight, and while it was successful in some respects, it still experienced foam-shedding problems that had caused the Columbia accident. It would need further repair work. Delays meant that more money had to be diverted from other activities to the shuttle, NASA’s most troubled (and most expensive) human spaceflight program. What Diaz had begun (cutting Mars), Cleave would have to continue.

Space News, a leading trade journal, had a suggestion for Griffin—and Cleave—which it claimed might help with their money troubles. Why not defer the MSL, scheduled for a 2009 launch? In an editorial entitled “Mars Science Lab Can Wait,” it made this argument as one way to get funds for more urgent needs.11 Mars proponents were appalled. MSL was the flagship of the MEP. Friedman wrote an impassioned response in a letter to the editor. He reminded readers of an earlier debate he had had with a senator who had suggested Mars could “wait.”

“Without Mars as a target,” Friedman said, “there will be no sustained pro­gram of space exploration. Mars is the compelling goal that drives the ‘Vision for Space Exploration’—not just for robots, but for human space flight as well.” He added up the recent decisions against Mars and said they came to $2 billion in long-term diversions and cancellations. The money extracted included funds from the SMD, as well as what the Exploration Systems Office had for precur­sor missions. “You take away the vision [of Mars],” he declared, “you lose public support.”12

The public was surely engaged with what was then happening robotically on Mars. The public seemed to identify innately with the intrepid rovers. Spirit made it to the top of a summit in August, a feat that NASA hailed as an unex­pected milestone. William Farrand, a researcher connected with the project, noted, “When we started the mission, if anyone had told us that we would not only drive all the way over to the Columbia Hills, but also drive to the highest point there, I think we would not have really believed it.”13

NASA seemed to be doing better on Mars than on Earth.

Mars Together with ESA

Weiler and Southwood were old friends who had been talking about collabora­tion for years. They saw eye to eye on the importance of Mars in planetary science and public support for space generally. Both had Mars programs with large ambitions and money shortages. From the time that Weiler had returned to head the Science Mission Directorate, the two men had speculated, with increased intensity, about linking their programs to a degree never before at­tempted. Both shared MSR as the goal of the two programs. In December 2008, when announcing the MSL delay, Weiler felt his discussions with Southwood had reached a point such that he could speak of them publicly. Indeed, South – wood had already informed his superiors in Europe of the Weiler interactions and received a go-ahead to keep talking.

Now, in early 2009, Weiler and Southwood agreed to go forward with a long-term program that would be jointly planned from the start, with one space agency taking the lead at one Mars opportunity and the other at the following opportunity. Every 26-month window would be used. Some characterized the approach as a “tag-team” strategy. Southwood termed the NASA-ESA conver­sations as a “courtship.”6

Whatever the case, Weiler did not at first see much support for this collabo­ration strategy within NASA. The new Administrator, Bolden, would not take office until July 17. In the meantime, Weiler did what he thought made sense. “I may be the only person in NASA who believes that this is the right thing to do. My toughest job is to get my view understood at all levels below me and especially at certain NASA centers.” He meant JPL in particular. He said that JPL would eventually conclude that it was better to lead one mission every four years than having control of a bankrupt program every two. Weiler felt he was fighting “psychology and nationalism.” But if scientists really wanted a strong Mars program, they would have to realize that the “flag” on the mission did not matter.7 It was more than psychology and nationalism for JPL; the Pasadena center needed major projects to maintain its workforce.

To help identify what those missions would be, while also gaining scientific support, Weiler looked to the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council, which was mounting the next Decadal Survey for the planetary pro­gram. The NRC panel was headed by Steve Squyres, the chief scientist behind

Spirit and Opportunity.8 The study got under way in March. In April, Weiler asked Hubbard to chair an MEP Analysis and Review Team. The Hubbard group, as the name implied, would focus on Mars.9 Weiler wanted both advi­sory bodies to think about priorities within a constrained budget. As he noted, “There is no greater thing than starting a sexy new mission. We all love it. The thing that prevents me is I’ve got new, sexy missions started five years ago that are costing more than they were supposed to.”10 MSL was one of his particular cases in point, the biggest project at JPL, and one undergoing technical and managerial change.11

Hubbard echoed many of Weiler’s concerns. “The [Mars] program is now at a crossroads,” he said, “with an indeterminate future for the next decade.”12 Friedman of the Planetary Society emphasized in his society’s publication that the crossroads for Mars extended to human spaceflight as well as the robotic program. “Are we to take the road to Mars all the way to an MSR mission and then on to a human destination?” he asked. He complained that Mars planning had been eliminated from the Moon-Mars human mission and that the Mars robotic program had had cuts of more than half a billion dollars in the past several years.13 For Friedman and other Mars enthusiasts, the hope was that the Obama administration would forge a national policy favoring Mars as a top priority. Under Bush, the Moon had become the overriding focus, as Griffin, with inadequate funding, had increasingly cut back to his immediate goal of narrowing the gap between a shuttle retirement and successor relevant to lunar exploration.

In May, Obama announced details of his budget plans, and these included modestly more funds for NASA—$18.7 billion for FY 2010—and continuity in all inherited space programs. However, he also created a blue-ribbon panel under the chair of Norman Augustine, a highly respected retired aerospace industrial­ist, who had led a similar panel concerned with space policy under President George H. W. Bush. The Augustine panel’s charge was to assess NASA’s human spaceflight program with particular reference to the Constellation Program. Should NASA stay on course or change direction? The Augustine committee’s task was to provide options to the White House and the NASA Administrator.14 The Administrator’s name was also announced in May, Charles Bolden.

MSL’s Stakes

While worrying about the future Mars program, NASA had to deal with the present challenge. The stakes were immense for MSL. NASA officials con­cerned with the upcoming MSL landing were increasingly restive. Jim Green, planetary chief at headquarters, admitted that MSL was keeping him awake at night. He was especially nervous about “the seven minutes of terror from the top of the [Mars] atmosphere to landing.”12 Grunsfeld responded to a media inquiry about what would happen to the Mars program if MSL failed. Grunsfeld said that there were “no guarantees,” but he thought that support would continue.13

NASA wanted to leverage MSL for support, if it were successful, and also to control for damage if it failed. Chris Carberry, the head of a pro-Mars interest group, Explore Mars, Inc., noted the pressure NASA was under, saying that “the stakes have never been higher for a Mars landing.” NASA was under intense “budgetary, political, and programmatic pressure,” he wrote in an op-ed in Space

News. “Every success and failure—no matter how minor—is being scrutinized to an extreme degree.” Worse, the landing was taking place “in the heart of the US presidential campaign season, which tends to magnify the impact—positive or negative—of any event.”14

He said messages had to be prepared in case the mission failed to emphasize the difficulty of what NASA was trying to do. NASA could not spread the mes­sages alone. It needed the help of many advocacy organizations in its support group. The advocacy coalition, in short, had to use MSL Curiosity as an op­portunity to build support for NASA programs, especially Mars, in the public and political world.

In July, as the landing date of early August approached, advocacy organiza­tions did indeed prepare. Many planned “celebrations,” assuming success. Car – berry said that his organization would coordinate a number of “got Curious” landing parties in the United States and abroad. Other organizations were also active, preparing for the event. The Planetary Society planned a “Planetfest” assemblage in Pasadena. Science museums and other organizations scheduled events.15

In Atlanta, Science Taxern, an organization that launched science talks for the public, planned five planetary science events leading up to the August land­ing. It scheduled a party beginning at midnight on the evening when NASA’s coverage of the landing commenced. “It’s science,” said the group’s director, Mark Merlin, “but it’s also a public celebration of scientific achievement.”16

NASA was also working to make the most of the event. The agency had to be careful. Under the law, agencies are not permitted to “market” themselves. But they could do “outreach.” “We don’t try to sell anything,” said Robert Jacobs, a NASA spokesperson. “Our job is to clean the windows to give the American public a better view of their space program.”17

What was NASA doing? For some time, it had been providing information to the media and others about the MSL and its landing. There was a website the public could use to learn more about the project as it developed. In the sum­mer of 2012, NASA’s outreach campaign moved into high gear. In June, NASA released “Seven Minutes of Terror,” a video that depicted the rover’s harrowing ride down to the Martian surface. The video began “with a computer-generated animation of a capsule falling toward the Red Planet, then used stark lighting, thumping music, fancy graphics and dramatic narration” to give the observer an acute sense of the event.18

In mid-July, NASA announced a collaboration with Microsoft, under which it had developed a new Xbox “outreach” game called Mars Rover Landing de­signed to give the public a sense of the challenge and adventures of landing in a precise location on the surface. The game was free.19

Later in the month, NASA released a video, “Grand Entrance,” narrated by William Shatner and Wil Wheaton from Star Trek, depicting the spacecraft’s entry, descent, and landing. “The goal is to educate the public about Curiosity and build awareness about the landing,” NASA said. It also announced that the Toshiba Vision screen in New York’s Times Square would provide live coverage of the rover’s landing.20

Alan Stern, former science director and now frequent critic of NASA, con­gratulated the agency for making the most of “modern” communication meth­ods. However, he warned that “too much” of this kind of public relations risked “trivializing and making a sideshow of a very expensive and ultimately a very serious endeavor.” “It’s a fine line,” he noted, implying that NASA had better not cross it.21

NASA knew that all this ballyhoo could backfire if MSL failed. NASA had to emphasize how difficult was the feat to be attempted. Nye pointed out in an article published July 30 that Europe had tried to land on Mars and failed, while the Soviet Union/Russia had tried 21 times over the decades and failed every time. NASA had recently succeeded, but his message emphasized the difficulty entailed. Nye’s other message was that it took a special skill set to succeed and that talent could be lost if the nation did not provide NASA the support the agency needed.22

On August 2, as the time for MSL’s arrival at Mars drew nearer, the agency initiated a daily round of media events at JPL.23 On the evening of August 5, MSL approached the Red Planet. In Chicago, the Adler Planetarium held a late-night pajama party so families could follow the landing live. Thousands gathered at the Planetfest in Pasadena. All over the country in institutions and in their homes, people waited to watch. In New York City, crowds gathered in Times Square to view a giant screen that usually only showed ads. NASA began to live-stream the event, and the traffic congested. Up to 23 million people watched one way or another as NASA made pictures available.24 The time for the real-life “seven minutes of terror” was now.

Putting the Moon First

Eisenhower’s appointee as NASA’s first Administrator was, in the words of historian Roger Launius, “the perfect choice.”8 He was trained as an engineer and had worked in government, industry, and the university world. Aged 52, he took leave of absence from the presidency of Cleveland’s Case Institute of Technology. Glennan shared Eisenhower’s view that the Soviets should not de­termine the U. S. space agenda. He wanted NASA to develop a space program on America’s own terms. He did, however, intend to position NASA to compete with the Soviet Union and ultimately achieve leadership in this competition. Like President Eisenhower, however, he wanted NASA to be a relatively small agency. He did not favor “big government.” The way he wished to get started, therefore, was to consolidate governmental institutions transferred from NACA and DOD and operate mainly through contracts with industry and universities.

The government-by-contract model became the enduring NASA approach, even though the agency expanded enormously in the Apollo years. Glennan’s deputy was the previous chief operating officer of NACA, Hugh Dryden, a physicist. Under these two political appointees were various associate adminis­trators, most of whom were government career officials. The senior associate administrator, Richard Horner, served as “general manager.” Others headed various NASA programs. The key associate administrator for the new mission of spaceflight was Abe Silverstein, an engineer and NACA veteran. Under him was Homer Newell, a scientist, who came to NASA from the Office of Naval

Research. The fact that science was under what was perceived as Silverstein’s human spaceflight operation bothered the scientific community. Scientists wanted the status of their unit raised to equal that of an engineering-oriented operation.

As NASA gradually began to succeed in launching rockets into space—with the Soviets still substantially ahead in weights they could lift—it became increas­ingly obvious that the prime arena of competition would be human spaceflight. NASA established a “man-in-space” program called Mercury and began to re­cruit the first group of astronauts. In various ways, Glennan began to emphasize the Moon as a possible destination. If humans were going to go to the Moon, however, robotic scouts would have to go first. Hence, from the outset, human and robotic programs were competitive in some ways and linked in others.

Glennan claimed not to be a “space cadet,” but he was an active and forceful proponent of space, although not as much as some in NASA would have liked or some in Congress would have preferred. He reported to Eisenhower, who was cool to any notion of a “crash” program to catch up to the Soviets. Glennan es­tablished the four program emphases that NASA would have thereafter: human spaceflight, space science, space applications (e. g., weather and communication satellites), and aeronautics.

The man responsible for creating a space science program at NASA was Newell. Age 43 at the time, Newell had a PhD in mathematics from the Uni­versity of Wisconsin and had subsequently turned to physics and high-altitude research. In 1955, when the Naval Research Laboratory was assigned the task of developing the Vanguard launch vehicle for the IGY satellite program, he was named Vanguard science program coordinator. Newell joined NASA shortly after it opened in 1958.

Recalling the mood at NASA at the time, Newell later wrote that “everything seemed to be happening at once.” The agency was new and had “to sell itself.” The exciting mission and novelty of the agency served to attract many young scientists, engineers, and technical managers. “In the white hot light of public interest,” it had to organize a staff, prepare budgets, develop a program of activ­ity, and work out relations internally and with external constituencies. Newell had to work on several fronts at once, and space science, like the rest of NASA, showed growing pains.9

Building a staff, establishing internal and external relationships, and design­ing an unprecedented program—all these activities took enormous time and energy. Newell found two external institutions particularly important as rep­resenting scientists’ views on policy relevant to space. One was the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), and the other was the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). NAS set up a Space Science Board (SSB) to advise NASA. It was a strong advocate for a higher science profile in the agency and an Office of Space Science that would be independent of the Silverstein operation.

Although these terms were not specifically used, Newell’s Science Office clearly had two thrusts: “little science” and “big science.” Little science referred to grants and contracts to individuals and specific groups of investigators chiefly at universities. Big science referred to major projects involving science aboard space vehicles, using NASA field centers. The science “payload” and rockets together constituted technical systems that required more money, more orga­nization, more diverse individuals and institutions, and complex management mechanisms. Newell regarded it as headquarters’ role to provide policy man­agement for “programs,” with technical management for specific missions or projects at the level of field centers. For the largest projects, this division of labor was inevitably blurred. However, the notion of decentralizing technical management was clear as NASA got under way. Headquarters and field centers would have to partner in the actual management, but there were differences in what each would do. The field centers expected headquarters to get the re­sources from the White House and Congress and send them to the field centers, which would handle decisions day to day to get projects carried out.

Each headquarters office had certain field centers assigned to it. For space science, this meant two field centers in particular. One was Goddard, which was given responsibility for missions in near-Earth space. The other was JPL, which was charged with deep space—meaning the Moon and planets. Other field centers could contribute in terms of their expertise as agency needs so required. Early on, Ames Research Center (primarily under the Aeronautics Office) developed an interest in “exobiology.” Nobel Prize-winning Stanford biologist Joshua Lederberg lobbied NASA to concern itself with possible con­tamination of the Moon and Mars with earthly machines. He was intrigued by the possibility of life on other planets, especially Mars. He took his case directly to Glennan. Glennan was responsive and set up a research activity concerned with extraterrestrial life and contamination issues. Ames took responsibility for this mission. It was Lederberg who coined the field’s name, “exobiology,” a field detractors characterized as a science without a known subject.10

Organizationally, it was up to headquarters to determine direction and pace of programs and projects. That meant decisions about which programs to em­phasize and how fast to go. Within headquarters, Administrator Glennan was quite clear that he wanted NASA to go at a measured pace, step by step, so as to spend taxpayer dollars prudently. Such a policy required Newell to emphasize the Moon over the planetary programs when it came to big science. Newell recollected that Glennan “just did not want to talk about planetary things.”11 Mars, therefore, would have to wait in line for resources. This policy was not what the director of JPL, William Pickering, wanted to hear, and he fought for resources to give the planets, especially Mars, greater attention.

Forcing Technology

The problem for Fletcher was that the existing Viking project truly presented a number of unprecedented technical challenges to NASA. These issues made implementation extremely daunting as the Viking team got fully under way in the early 1970s. NASA officials were grateful for having until 1975 to resolve them. They realized that the previous 1973 deadline was too close. However, even 1975 looked demanding in 1972. No one fretted more than James Mar­tin, the project manager. “I am worried about the fact that Viking has a fixed launch window,” he said. “It opens August 11, 1975 and closes about the 20th of September. And the window will close whether we launch anything or not.” If NASA missed it, the agency could not launch again to Mars for more than another two years. This narrow launch window meant that all decisions related to Viking had an urgency that could not be avoided. It caused Martin to drive the project’s team of scientists, engineers, and contractors ceaselessly.5 Naugle established his own team of engineers to help him oversee Martin. To avoid offending Martin, he had the group report to Martin first. However, members of the team had the right to go all the way up to Fletcher if they saw an issue not being addressed.6

Among the technology development issues, none were more important or perplexing than developing the lander and life detection hardware. Much of the hardware development pressed the state of the art. Some issues seemed to go beyond. Martin initiated a list of “Top 10 Problems” as a management tool to concentrate energy and focus. Some problems were solved quickly, but others stayed on his list for virtually the entire time before launch.7

The prime contractor was Martin Marietta, but there were a myriad of sub­contractors. Some of these performed well—on time and within cost. Others did not. One was fired early in the project because it could not do the work it was assigned and claimed that it was not feasible. NASA found another firm that said it could meet the requirements.8 Even among those who clearly tried, there were challenges that were wholly novel.

The ones that proved most complicated related to Viking’s distinctive mis­sion—to find life. There were two basic instruments, one being the automated biology laboratory and the other one called the Gas Chromatograph Mass Spec­trometer (GCMS). Initially, the biology lab contained four experiments selected by NASA through a competitive process. In March 1972, it became necessary to eliminate one of the experiments, a difficult decision that reflected on not only the nature of the experiments but the size, weight, and cost requirements of the biology laboratory.9 Naugle, drawing on independent scientific advice, had to make the unpopular decision. The decision proved even more unfortunate when the scientist whose research was removed, Wolf Vishniac, died in Antarc­tica while trying to prove that his approach would work.10

But Naugle had no choice. The laboratory could be “no bigger than a gallon milk carton” and had to weigh “no more than 30 pounds.” It had to be this small to fit aboard the 1300-pound Viking spacecraft, itself an unprecedented techni­cal system.11 The biology lab would have the equivalent of “three rooms of in­struments on Earth, plus the people to work them.” The lab would have 40,000 parts, including 22,000 transistors. There were tiny ovens where soils would be heated and ampoules of water and nutrients which would have to be broken by remote control at just the right time to mix with Martian soils inside the box. Bottles of radioactive gases, Geiger counters, and three chromatographs would be placed in the laboratory. There would even be a xenon lamp to duplicate sunlight inside the laboratory to be used in a photosynthesis test.12

Failures in the biology unit required major redesign in the September – December 1973 period. Martin established a task force to evaluate progress in early 1974. The task force, concerned that the contractor responsible for the lab, TRW, could not make the launch date window, recommended simplifying the project by dropping more experiments. TRW disagreed, and NASA decided to persevere, keeping the three it had. By September, TRW was still behind schedule, but catching up.13

Meanwhile, the GCMS proved almost as difficult a system to engineer. It had to isolate and identify organic molecules in Martian soil down to five parts per million. Doing that required virtually inventing a new technology. Then there were also many computer issues that came up again and again.14 Everything was complicated by the fact that what landed on Mars had to go through a severe “decontamination” process so NASA did not bring microscopic life to Mars.

NASA decided that the urgency of the deadline required unusual manage­ment measures. If Martin needed help in pushing contractors, higher-ups be­came involved. Naugle and Cortright made trips to pressure contractors. In some instances, Fletcher himself had meetings with CEOs of particular contrac­tors, “setting off an alarm in the front office” to impress on them the seriousness of delays.15 Fletcher was especially forceful in getting topside attention from the computer contractor, Honeywell. He insisted that Honeywell put its best talent on the Viking project. Many contractors, especially those associated with the “Top 10 Problems,” had to work overtime, even seven days a week, to ac­celerate progress. NASA personnel associated with Viking customarily worked 60-hour weeks. Viking was by far the most complex robotic mission NASA had undertaken to date. It was in some ways proving more technically difficult than Apollo because NASA knew so much less about Mars than the Moon.

Why did NASA push so hard? A. Thomas Young, Martin’s deputy, explained years later: “You don’t go to Mars that often. You do push things to do it… people who get involved in this business are. . . pushing the envelope and trying to get a little bit more here and a little bit more there. I think that’s why you’re willing to invest ten years for something that might blow up. Because if it really does work, it’s been extraordinary.”16