Category Why Mars

Augmenting Viking

Naugle and Cortright debated the design of Viking. Cortright (in contrast to Pickering) had been a big supporter of Voyager and had been burned by the cancellation. He was now cautious, wanting to keep Viking’s budget (and thus political visibility) low. He was willing to eliminate the orbiter (assigned to JPL). Naugle believed the orbiter was crucial to determining the best place to land. This mission was now about finding life. The more observation of the Mars surface, the better. But Naugle was also concerned about money and whether Paine and Congress would go along with a bigger, more complicated project. After much discussion in November, Cortright came down for the minimal project. Naugle opted for a project intermediate in scale. Neither favored an option that would be even more advanced, aggressive, and expensive in terms of technological development.21

In December 1968 Naugle met with Paine. Naugle recalled the sense at the time that the United States was still competing with the Soviet Union, and that competition included the robotic Mars program. As he later wrote, “We had to establish a good, solid, scientific mission.” If “the Russians landed [on Mars] successfully in ’71 or ’73, what we landed. . . had to be something that would stand up against what they had done.” It was in this context that Naugle proposed an intermediate design. Paine told Naugle to go with the most tech­nically advanced and challenging Viking project possible, however. For Paine, NASA was about bold endeavors.22 He regarded Viking (and it was he who gave the mission this name) as NASA’s most important mission outside human spaceflight.23 Paine wanted NASA to think big—and “big science” was OK. He was willing to take risks that were both technical and political.24 However, this decision meant that the estimated cost would rise substantially from the $384 million NASA used to sell the program under Webb.

Paine’s decision catalyzed organization of Viking as a project. Paine con­firmed that Naugle’s OSSA would be fully in charge. This meant that Naugle would have Langley, as lead center, under his authority for this particular proj­ect. Langley, an aeronautics-oriented center, was typically under another NASA directorate, but for this project, Naugle would also have responsibility. Naugle would in addition have JPL, as was usually the case for OSSA.

Paine affirmed that JPL would design the orbiter and Langley would develop the lander and be overall technical manager. The lander would carry extraordi­narily sophisticated science payloads, serving many disciplines, particularly exo­biology. NASA would have to involve many scientists, from both government and universities, in decision-making roles—70 as it turned out, organized into teams. There would be NASA centers other than Langley and JPL participat­ing as necessary, particularly Ames, with its exobiology expertise, along with a number of industrial contractors.

Paine refashioned Viking into a larger-scale technical project than contem­plated previously. It was destined to be a great leap beyond Mariner. He knew history would link Webb with Apollo and the Moon. Paine envisioned Mars as his potential legacy, with Viking his first major decision in this respect. Viking would rival Apollo in some ways when it came to technical ambition. The risks were immense, the technical challenges unprecedented. To bring down risk, NASA opted for redundancy as much as possible. For example, two Vikings would go to Mars in order to lower the risk of failure. Paine wanted Viking to succeed and was willing to spend more to do so. Webb had sold Viking as a single mission—not a program. That was the best he could do. What came after, no one knew for sure, but Paine and others were hopeful it would help launch a sequence of robotic missions leading to human spaceflight to Mars.

The man to whom Paine, Naugle, and Cortright looked to integrate the various parts of Viking was James Martin, a highly experienced and hard-driving engineer and project manager at Langley. Age 48 in 1968, Martin was a tall, crew-cut, no-nonsense kind of man. Martin moved rapidly to establish a project office and begin development of Viking hardware. He was joined by Gerald (“Jerry”) Soffen, who left JPL to come to Langley as chief scientist for Viking. Pickering resisted the reassignment of Soffen but lost again in the intercenter dispute.

Soffen, age 42, was one of the few exobiologists at NASA. Soffen went to Langley because he figured “that was where the action” would be in exobiology. That was because of Cortright and his power within the agency. Cortright and the “Lord were very closely allied with one another,” Soffen later recalled.25 Soffen knew he would be “the interface between [NASA] engineering and the outside [science] world of academia.” The external scientists, he said, “would be the only ones able to interpret our data from Mars.” He would have to manage some extremely large egos among the many scientists who would be enlisted in the quest for life at Mars, most notably science superstars Joshua Lederberg and Carl Sagan.26

Building a “Program”

Nevertheless, all these macropolitical events at the international and national policy level, as well as pressure from external advocates (especially Sagan), were making a difference for NASA’s Mars science program. The priority was going up. Fisk saw MESUR as “part of a larger program of Mars Science Exploration in OSSA.”61 Such a Mars program did not exist at the moment. It would have to be designed. In late 1990 Briggs had left NASA Headquarters for another position, being succeeded by Wesley Huntress. Huntress was an astrochemist who came to Washington after 20 years of research and project management at JPL. He was activistic in temperament and intended to be a strong advocate internally. He saw the environment in which he served as favorable to innova­tion as long as costs were contained. He wanted programs that could appeal to both scientists and the public and came to his job with an agenda. He was supportive of expanded Mars activity, but his initial emphasis in 1991 was a solar system-wide program called Discovery. It featured low-cost missions that could launch frequently. For Huntress, Mars Observer was revealing a way not to run a planetary program, and he pushed for Discovery as the right way.

Complicating getting MESUR under way was its origin at Ames and the fact that Ames was under a NASA directorate other than OSSA. Fisk sought in 1991 to make MESUR “a leading example of successful intercenter cooperation in Mars exploration.” His discussions about MESUR with the director of Ames did not go well, however, much to Hubbard’s dismay. As Hubbard recalled, Dale Compton, the Ames director, came across as ambivalent. In contrast, JPL’s director, now Edward Stone, clearly wanted the program. As before, JPL lob­bied aggressively to run all planetary efforts.62 On November 8 Fisk wrote JPL and Ames that he wanted to move ahead with a comprehensive and evolutionary program for the scientific exploration of Mars and that he had decided to make JPL the lead center in this endeavor.63

As Fisk was making the requisite scientific and institutional choices for MESUR, and Mars research generally, Huntress was moving Discovery for­ward. Discovery, with its emphasis on a range of low-cost missions, fit the times. It also matched the political situation Fisk faced. Fisk was getting pressure from

congressional supporters of the Applied Physics Lab (APL) of Johns Hopkins University. APL, an entity somewhat similar to JPL, worked primarily for the Defense Department and wished to perform more substantially for NASA. These legislative allies indicated they would help NASA establish a “program line” in NASA’s budget for Discovery if NASA would be willing to entertain a proposal from APL.64 NASA had sought a program line for the Observer series years before and failed to get it owing to the traditional reluctance of OMB and Congress to provide long-term authorization for a particular program. Also, Huntress wanted competition for JPL and planned Discovery to be open to proposals from the scientific community beyond JPL. He decided that the first low-cost mission would go to APL—a relatively simple project called NEAR, for Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous.65

However, Huntress wanted Discovery’s second mission to be much more demanding so as to prove the point that difficult missions could also be low cost. As NASA and JPL had already been discussing the initial MESUR mis­sion, one entailing both landing and roving, he decided to move that mission from MESUR to Discovery. That project would go to JPL. With the prospect of congressional backing for Discovery, OMB also went along with the concept of a program line, by which NASA could determine the sequence of missions within an established budget category without negotiating each mission sepa­rately as a “new start.”

Such a line provided continuity. It was an extremely important and strategic move.66 It gave NASA more power over its future missions and scientists greater sense of sustainment. The bargain NASA struck with its budgetary and political masters was that these missions would be low cost as well as open to various per­formers. It gave NASA greater flexibility and autonomy in choosing and manag­ing projects. It enabled NASA to transfigure MESUR Pathfinder into what later became Mars Pathfinder, the combination lander-rover. MESUR Pathfinder got into the president’s budget as part of the Discovery series. The president’s proposed budget went to Congress in early 1992, with the way smoothed for Discovery’s approval. Discovery was designed to be a general program, not a Mars-specific program—but it was a model for how to proceed, and it would get the first Mars effort after Observer under way.

Criticism from Mars Rivals

The euphoria of the Mars science community was not shared by other scientists who saw both their status and resources diminished. In spite of Weiler’s denials, they saw a zero-sum game of winners and losers. Astronomers and advocates of planetary missions other than Mars were vocally unhappy. They spoke of “collateral damage” and pointed to O’Keefe’s Hubble cancellation decision as evidence that Bush and O’Keefe had no real understanding for science. Refer­ring to funding choices, Fisk remarked, “Some of us feel like lesser species.”

Fisk warned O’Keefe that NASA was creating first – and second-class citizens, by splitting the agency’s scientific constituency into haves and have-nots. This was “an unnecessary distinction which I think will work against the program.” What non-Mars scientists saw as a problem, others viewed as good manage­ment. Dave Radzanowski, the White House OMB official overseeing the NASA budget, applauded O’Keefe’s decisions and spoke of “setting priorities and showing leadership.” NASA was getting the largest increase in budget among agencies, other than Defense and Homeland Security, and making decisions in accord with presidential preferences, he pointed out.

Weiler, who was a telescope astronomer, not a planetary scientist, tried to assuage the self-identified losers by arguing they were seeing their wishes de­ferred, not cancelled. Over the long haul, if NASA gained, everyone would ben­efit. “I love all my children,” he avowed.46 However, in August, O’Keefe shocked many scientists by moving Weiler from his SMD leadership and making him director of the Goddard Space Flight Center, a shift many observers regarded as a demotion for the dynamic science chief and possibly related to differences with O’Keefe over the Hubble service termination issue. O’Keefe replaced him with Al Diaz, who had been director of Goddard. Diaz was an engineer by training and had been Fisk’s deputy when Fisk ran the Science Office. Although an able manager and interested in Mars, Diaz was not regarded by the science community as “one of us,” as Weiler had been so regarded. Nor did Diaz seem comfortable with the science advocacy role that came with the job.47

Criticism of the budgetary choices also came from Congress. Politicians were generally supportive of the Moon-Mars destinations in principle. But several worried about costs, and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), chair of the House Sci­ence Committee, expressed concern that NASA could become a one-mission agency.48 He especially worried about the future of the Earth Science activity.

Throughout most of 2004, lawmakers sparred over the new NASA mission in committee hearings, awaiting the November election results, and postponing most federal spending actions. John Kerry opposed Bush for the White House, and neither presidential candidate had much to say about space. Kerry agreed in general with the human exploration goal but claimed he could manage the space program better. Neither said anything about paying for the mission. When the votes were counted in November, Bush prevailed, as did Republican control of Congress. Stability in political leadership seemed to presage relatively smooth sailing for Moon-Mars and NASA, at least for a while.

But there were technical issues complicating funding which had little to do with the election. The repairs to the shuttle fleet, grounded since February 2003, were proving both quite difficult and very expensive. It looked like the shuttle return-to-flight bill could be $2.2 billion. At the same time, O’Keefe had bent with the avalanche of criticism he had received for his Hubble decision. He still refused to use a shuttle for the Hubble servicing mission, but he did agree to seriously consider a robotic-repair mission. He had announced that fact in June at an American Astronomical Society meeting, to loud applause. But work since then was showing that a robotic-repair mission was exceedingly complex and could also cost $2 billion or more.

Even with the raises contemplated at the time of Bush’s decision, these un­anticipated shuttle and Hubble costs would prove a serious burden. O’Keefe pled for help for these unforeseen costs from the White House and was refused. Comptroller Isakowitz admonished Congress to give the agency what Bush had requested. He said that anything less in money would not only affect human spaceflight but also have a “negative” impact on science.49

Those scientists and their allies who did not identify with the Bush vision were more wary than ever of the trends they saw. It did not help their cause that many leading U. S. scientists had vehemently and visibly opposed Bush during the election. James Hansen, NASA’s best-known climate change researcher, had been especially vocal in opposition to Bush. Marburger himself admitted that Bush and the scientific community had differences.50 Mars was doing extremely well under the vision—but other fields were perceived as suffering. However, Mars scientists were not entirely pleased because of Diaz. Diaz asked Figueroa to be his deputy. Figueroa in turn had to relinquish his Mars program director

role and asked Doug McCuistion to take on that task. McCuistion was a 48-year – old systems engineer with a background as a manager in Earth sciences. In ef­fect, Diaz appeared to have “demoted” Mars organizationally since McCuistion reported to a deputy rather than directly to the associate administrator.51

MSL Launches

On November 26, MSL, carrying its Curiosity rover, blasted into space. At last, two years late, it was on its way to the Red Planet. Thirteen thousand onlook­ers watched it soar from Cape Canaveral. It would take eight months for the spacecraft to journey the 352 million miles to Mars. Its goal was to search for evidence that microscopic life might once have lived on Mars—or be capable of living there now. It also contained sensors that would detect radiation affecting the ability of astronauts to land there some day.64 Administrator Bolden de­clared, “We are very excited about sending the world’s most advanced scientific laboratory to Mars. MSL will tell us critical things we need to know about Mars, and while it advances science, we’ll be working on the capabilities for a human mission to the red planet and to other destinations where we’ve never been.”65

Everyone connected with the mission was elated, but they also knew the risk of failure. A Russian probe to Phobos, a Mars moon, had launched on No­vember 9 and failed to escape Earth’s orbit. The U. S. spacecraft was now on a trajectory to Mars. But the landing, several months hence, would be daunting. And what would the rover find? Time would tell. The future of the Mars pro­gram—and maybe NASA—depended greatly on the answer.

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.

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

Reactions

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

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.

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?

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.