Category Why Mars

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

Downsizing Mars Missions

In 1979, Hinners left the leadership of space science at NASA to become direc­tor of the National Air and Space Museum. Tim Mutch, inspired by his own experience on Viking, took leave of absence from Brown University to take Hin – ners’s place. He came to Washington determined to save planetary exploration and revive the Mars program. He wanted NASA to appoint a blue-ribbon panel of planetary scientists to help him develop a rational sequence of missions, in­cluding those for Mars.54 Although initially skeptical, he had, like others, come to believe that the next step in the Mars program should be a rover.55

He never got the chance to lead a return to Mars. Mutch was an experienced mountain climber. In October 1980, he took time off from NASA to go on an expedition to India. He and some companions scaled the 24,000-foot Mount Nun in the Himalayas. On the way down, Mutch disappeared and was presumed dead. The accident removed a potentially influential advocate for Mars, one the

program sorely needed. Mutch had been at NASA barely a year.56 The Viking 1 Lander site on Mars was subsequently named for him.

The planetary program at headquarters now drifted. Mutch’s deputy, Andy Stofan, was an engineer, primarily interested in launch vehicles. There appeared to outside Mars advocates to be a leadership vacuum within NASA. John Naugle stepped into the breach. He had recently left NASA for industry. Seeing the precarious situation of planetary science at NASA, he persuaded Frosch to form a Solar System Exploration Committee (SSEC) as an ad hoc panel of the top- level NASA Advisory Council (NAC), with himself as chair. It was painfully obvious that the “big science” and “great leap” approaches NASA, JPL, and Sagan favored were not helping their cause.

Frosch charged the SSEC not only to develop a planetary program that would be scientifically sound but also “to define new ways to reduce costs.”57 More than ever before, it was clear to Naugle and top NASA officials that what many Mars activists might most want—i. e., a Viking 3 rover leading to MSR— was not likely to be funded for some time. Moreover, planetary scientists were again debating respective priorities publicly, thereby weakening their clout with NASA, much less with the White House and Congress.

Naugle had forged a measure of unity among NASA scientific advisors after the Mars Voyager had been killed, and it had helped NASA strengthen the sci­ence voice in support for Viking. He saw such a need once more to help not just Mars but planetary science generally. The Mars community needed a strategy for the future and had to tie that strategy to a cost political officials would be willing to pay. In 1981, Naugle returned to NASA as chief scientist, a new posi­tion, and relinquished the chair of SSEC to Hinners. It was largely up to them to get Mars higher on the NASA agenda as a new start flight project. The political context in which they worked was continuing to deteriorate, however.

President Ronald Reagan came to office in 1981 determined to lead a conser­vative revolution that would augment defense spending and minimize govern­ment’s domestic role. NASA, like other civilian agencies, was adversely affected by this approach. The Space Shuttle, because it was linked with defense, a White House priority, was relatively protected from budget cuts by Reagan’s political staff. Not so the robotic programs, which were left to the policies of OMB.

Frosch left NASA in January, and it was not until June that a NASA Ad­ministrator, James Beggs, was confirmed. Age 55, Beggs was a Naval Academy graduate who had served at NASA in a high administrative position under Webb and subsequently been an executive in aerospace industry and undersecretary of transportation. At his confirmation hearings, Beggs was quite precise about his goals—to transition the shuttle from development to routine operation and guide NASA to its “next logical step” in space, the building of a space station. Beggs was deeply interested in NASA’s going to Mars with humans, but he knew that day was many years away. The space station, in his view, would help bring that day closer, however. While supportive of the robotic program, he was unswerving in his priorities.58

His deputy was Hans Mark, recently secretary of the Air Force under Carter. A physicist, Mark had in the early 1970s been director of NASA’s Ames Labora­tory. He shared Beggs’s priorities in terms of the shuttle and space station. He had questions about the value of the robotic planetary program. Burt Edelson, an engineer, became associate administrator for OSSA. He emphasized appli­cations, especially an initiative to use satellites to monitor planet Earth. The principal champion for Mars at headquarters was Geoffrey Briggs, a physicist who had come from JPL and worked on Viking. Briggs was first deputy, then acting, then director of planetary programs for OSSA.

By the time Beggs was confirmed and able to move into the NASA Admin­istrator’s office, David Stockman, Reagan’s budget director, had made his move to cut NASA’s budget. The axe fell particularly hard on the planetary program. A Venus mission, authorized in Carter’s last budget and which Reagan inherited, was rejected. Galileo, in development, was saved by sacrificing other space sci­ence efforts. The issue for Beggs was not one of new starts, but of saving the planetary program from termination. Mark seemed to side with detractors of the planetary program. In October he circulated a memo recommending “a de-emphasis” of planetary exploration until the futures of the shuttle and space station programs were clear. Reagan had yet to decide on the space station. Advocates of planetary science, such as Murray and Briggs, saw Mark as an adversary.59

Outside NASA, the president’s science advisor, George Keyworth, backed the astronomy program as a more fruitful investment than the planetary pro­gram at NASA, giving the former higher grades for “showbiz.” Murray sought aggressively to change Keyworth’s mind.60 But the major problem was OMB, which wanted to cut NASA further in Reagan’s second year. In the fall of 1981, Beggs and Stockman began a protracted contest of “chicken” in negotiating the upcoming budget. Murray, director of JPL, found himself and his organization very much a pawn in this negotiation.

As Beggs and Stockman dueled in the latter months of 1981, Stockman pro­posed a budgetary cut for NASA that was draconian. Beggs warned that if Stock­man persisted, Beggs would have no choice but to eliminate an entire program and that would be planetary exploration. Beggs reminded Stockman that be­hind the program was JPL, and, as Beggs put it, “JPL would become surplus to NASA’s needs.” Stockman refused to budge on the cuts he proposed. As Murray saw it, “NASA was playing hardball with Stockman, and JPL was the ball.”61 Beggs took his case to Stockman’s political superiors in the White House.

Caltech, which ran JPL, reacted to the threat to the laboratory. Its president and influential members of its board of trustees now joined the fray. Caltech president Marvin Goldberg met with senators interested in the space program in December 1981. In particular, he convinced Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-TN) to express his support for planetary exploration in a letter to President Reagan. The White House decided to preserve the planetary pro­gram and thus JPL.62

The planetary program was salvaged, but the only major planetary flight project NASA had for the future, as 1982 ended, was Galileo. Mars was not even a subject for debate at the policy level. It had been a “miserable” year at NASA, Naugle recalled.63 He retired not long after. Likewise, in early 1982, Murray announced he was leaving JPL, effective July. The planetary program had “survived,” he pointed out, along with JPL, and he took “satisfaction” in that. “It might have been worse,” he said.64

While various political machinations took place involving NASA, JPL, Caltech, Congress, and the White House, SSEC labored to devise a new plan­etary strategy, including one for Mars. The fact that Hinners was its chair in 1981-1982, and Briggs its executive director in these years and subsequently, helped assure a tight coupling between NASA and SSEC. Everyone knew that the stakes were huge and NASA and planetary scientists had to reach consensus on a sellable strategy. That strategy, it was agreed, had to be based on low-cost missions.

There was much debate within the SSEC over priorities. Some wanted to reconstitute the Mars emphasis and eventually link robotic exploration to human exploration of the Red Planet. Briggs argued for a “Mars-focused pro­gram within the overall 20-year program that SSEC was contemplating.” But there was a good deal of anti-Mars resentment in the group, Briggs recalled, in the sense that Mars had gotten too much emphasis in the past.65 Most of the panel wanted a “broad scientific exploration of the planetary system.” They also understood that the cost of missions had to come down. The entire planetary program had plummeted to 20% of its peak funding in the Viking era. SSEC sought to design a “core program” that would fit within the constraints, which it accomplished in 1982.66

SSEC formulated recommendations for a core program that would consist of “planetary missions designed to be conducted within a roughly constant budget of some $300 million per year.” It called for projects to inner planets, outer planets, comets, and asteroids. For the inner planets, SSEC gave top priority to a Venus radar mission, because Venus represented a large gap in knowledge. It had also been cancelled in the 1981 budget turmoil. The original mission was now stripped down and given a new name, Venus Radar Mapper (later called Magellan).

However, SSEC closely followed this inner-planet priority with Mars. There was no question about SSEC’s long-term goal for Mars—“the return of a sur­face sample to Earth.” The cost precluded a mission of that kind under the budgetary requirements NASA had laid down. Similarly, a Viking 3 rover mis­sion that would lead to sample return also would cost too much. Hence, SSEC recommended “early initiation of a Mars Orbiter, emphasizing investigation of geology and climate of the planet.” It would be called a Mars Geosciences/ Climatology Orbiter and represent the first in a line of low-cost inner-planetary missions, using off-the-shelf hardware. The Mars mission could be launched in 1990. It would determine the global surface composition of the planet and the role of water in shaping its climate. Estimated to cost $250 million, its name was eventually changed to Mars Observer.67

Among the behind-the-scenes proponents of the new Mars mission was Dan­iel McCleese. McCleese at JPL pushed from within the NASA organizational family to return to Mars “for specific narrow investigations that were opened by Viking and not settled.” He was particularly interested in the water issue and the hydrological cycle on Mars. McCleese found an ally in Charles Barth of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder (the same individual who had mentored the Mars Underground).68 Barth was strategically located as a member of SSEC.

NASA was able to use the SSEC proposals to advantage. It got the Venus mission into the president’s budget being formulated in late 1982, and Mars advocates hoped Mars would make it into the next year’s budget. Prospects were improving. As the year ended, Keyworth and Mark (if not Stockman) were shifting their stance. “There was never any intention of cancelling the planetary program,” Keyworth stated in November 1982. Mark extolled planetary explo­ration as important in NASA’s overall program. He praised SSEC for finding less expensive ways to conduct missions. “I think it had done a terrific job in understanding the problem and formulating the solution,” he said. The fight in late 1981 had produced “a lot of bad vibes and a lot of good dialogue.” Science magazine quoted another observer of what had transpired as saying, “It was a catharsis that forced people to take a hard look at what they were doing and how much it would cost.”69

Goldin’s Dream

The new strategy of Goldin and Huntress also called for more international partnership. In April, Goldin initiated a study of a “Mars Together” mission with the Russians. The proposed mission would be reviewed in December by Gore, with June 1995 as the final month for a decision one way or the other. The Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, set up to nurture U. S.-Russian collabora­tion in the post-Cold War era, had asked Goldin and Koptev to review pos­sibilities of robotic space cooperation with an eye to savings in cost and time.43

In July 1994 Goldin told the media that while he had to give priority as Administrator to the space station, which Congress was now backing more strongly, it was Mars that was his love. He recalled that he had watched in awe when Armstrong walked on the Moon. As a young man, he had pledged to himself that he would someday be part of a Mars mission. He declared that his “deepest dream” was “that in my lifetime I will some way be responsible for a [human] mission to Mars. It would be the next noble thing we could do as a society.” The first, he said, had been Apollo.44 The Clinton administration was not interested in a human mission to Mars but was supportive of the space sta­tion, robotic Mars development, and international collaboration. As Goldin saw it, these were stepping stones to human spaceflight to Mars.

NASA was discussing Mars exploration not only with the Russians but also with the Europeans and the Japanese, who were also planning a robotic Mars mission. The Russian mission of 1994 had slipped to 1996, and that meant Russia’s 1996 mission would slip to 1998. The 1998 mission would involve the French and include balloons to be released in the atmosphere of Mars. Given Russian delays and Mars Observer’s demise, the United States would not be helping the Russians as previously planned via Observer, but perhaps another U. S. mission could do that. “Mars Together” was taking a more ecumenical form, as the Japanese invited the United States to include a U. S. instrument on its Mars launch, scheduled also in 1998, called “Planet B.”

NASA had its Mars Science Working Group, an entity whose job was to take NAS Space Science Board recommendations and apply them more concretely to Mars planning. Now NASA and other nations established an International Mars Exploration Working Group. Its purpose was to plan a major interna­tional robotic effort to investigate Mars. In October this body convened for the first time, with Huntress chairing the first meeting. Involved were Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia, the European Space Agency, and the United States.45

Success internationally required success of national programs. For the United States that meant initially Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor. In December, Spear reported that all was going well with the development of Pathfinder. Being built at JPL with a number of contractors providing compo­nents, the project was well under way. Spear said design was completed, and the spacecraft was ready to be assembled.46

Protecting Mars, Reviving Exobiology

In November 1994, the Republicans captured control of Congress. Led in the House by Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), they brandished a “Contract for America,” in which they promised to end the deficit, balance the budget, provide tax relief, and drastically cut back “Big Government.” President Clinton, seeing the country shift to the right, decided that his own political future required him to get ahead of the Republicans and recapture initiative. At the beginning of 1995, he promised his own form of tax cut, deficit reduction, and government downsizing. For NASA, this meant more budget and personnel shrinkage and even greater emphasis on FBC science missions.47

On January 12, 1995, Goldin got a letter from OMB. It said NASA would have to reduce its projected budget over the ensuing five years by $5 billion.48 Goldin had thought he would have some stability in budget; instead, he faced even more stress. “My immediate reaction,” he later recalled, “was one of sad­ness and frustration. . . it took me two weeks. First you have shock, then you have denial. I went through all those emotions. Within a day, I said, ‘I support the president.’ Then, weeks later, I was enthusiastic. My position was, we’re not going to look at this as a budget cut. This is an opportunity to take the final step in reinvention. This is an opportunity to get NASA to do what it finally had to do.”49

The consequence was that Goldin led a drive to cut “infrastructure,” while

maintaining all existing programs. The aim was to do even more with even less. The Mars Surveyor Program, for example, went forward as planned, but in a context of personnel reduction and reorganization. Many employees feared for their jobs, especially at headquarters. The Science Directorate, along with other program offices, took a hit. There was much talk of a draconian personnel reduction, perhaps 50% at headquarters alone, with additional cuts throughout the centers.50 The contractor workforce would be even more decimated. Goldin vowed revolutionary management reform, and this change included moving more control over programs from headquarters to the centers. Decentralization also meant shifting control over funding. Project managers at JPL, for example, had fewer resources with which to work, but more control over those resources. The downside was that they would have to make exceptional cases to get more money from headquarters, since headquarters had less to provide.

With his vocal enthusiasm for reform and loyalty to the president, Goldin became the poster boy for Vice President Gore and his reinventing government campaign. This campaign, under way since the advent of the Clinton adminis­tration, became more pronounced in 1995 and seemed to be especially associ­ated with governmental downsizing. Goldin basked in favorable publicity as he did battle against “bureaucracy,” but, inside NASA, he was much criticized, and his seemingly callous offhand remarks helped create fears at JPL and elsewhere. “People are terrified,” said one aerospace industrial official. Goldin, in the view of his critics, equated disagreement with disloyalty. He would, it was said, kill the messengers of bad news. He called his senior managers “pale, male, and stale” and replaced half his center directors, although not the head of JPL.51

Planetary science suffered along with other science programs in the cutback atmosphere. However, within planetary science, Mars was relatively favored as a priority. Mars was the destination of choice, Huntress emphasized: “It is the most Earth-like planet, and it is a place where life may once have formed.”52 So, it was going to get the priority within space science generally and planetary pro­grams particularly. As part of the Mars priority, NASA was reviving exobiology.

For years, exobiology had languished. Under Huntress, exobiology was re­invented, with Michael Meyer, one of the few relatively younger scientists at NASA retaining this interest, in the lead. In 1995, Meyer brought together a number of researchers who had persisted in conducting exobiology research despite what Sagan had called its “disreputability.” Chuck Klein of Viking, now retired, was among them. They developed “an exobiological strategy for Mars

exploration.” The emphasis was on robotic research, but eventually there would be human exploration. Sagan was an advisor to the group. Klein and others, particularly at Ames, had worked to bridge the gap between exobiology and other fields in emphasizing “habitable environments” over life per se. Still there was an estrangement of “exobiology and the disciplines of traditional planetary science.” The group called for the research communities to work together, even though that might “strike some as far-fetched, even fanciful.”53

The Meyer role reflected not only renewed interest in exobiology but also new organizational clout for Mars within the Space Science Directorate. The same was seen at JPL. Indicating this Mars emphasis organizationally, JPL had appointed Donna Shirley to the position of manager of its Mars activities. She presided over Pathfinder and other Mars projects under the Mars Surveyor Pro­gram. In doing so, she advanced over Spear, a move that grated on Spear but did not hurt Pathfinder. She noted in May that in 1995 dollars, Viking cost $4 billion. In comparison, the spacecraft JPL were now developing to go to Mars would cost a small fraction of that amount, and they would do more science. The new Mars program would go beyond what Shirley called Viking’s “veneer science” to a point where you could actually start to bore in and do some in­depth studies.54

Mars Pathfinder, the first of the series of Mars ventures, would be the small­est planetary spacecraft ever, at 1,500 pounds. But it would be big compared to the 1998 probe NASA was developing, which would be half Pathfinder’s size. Then would come even smaller spacecraft. One JPL scientist said the labora­tory’s aim was “to create a ‘virtual presence’ for mankind” in the solar system through the various robotic devices JPL and NASA planned under the FBC regime.55 That “virtual presence” began at Mars.

In July, as NASA celebrated the 30th anniversary of Mariner 4, the first spacecraft to successfully view Mars, there was a strong sense among a growing number of advocates inside and outside the agency that NASA was gathering momentum in respect to Mars—in spite of the funding crunch. Goldin said that the adversity was forcing the agency to be more innovative, leaner, and meaner. He spoke of NASA’s long-range strategy and said that the robotic precursors would lead the way to human missions later on. “I want to go to Mars,” he avowed.56 He predicted that NASA could spend wisely in the remaining years of this century and then begin preparations for a concerted effort to send humans to Mars in the twenty-first century, with 2018 the target year.57

The governmental downsizing mood of the times, shared by the president and Congress, enhanced Goldin’s power to get his way within NASA. But there were many who were skeptical that more with less would work.58 Those crit­ics inside NASA tended to keep quiet, however, fearing for their jobs. Goldin avowed he was going to do what was right, and not worry about being loved. What was right, in his opinion, was to go to Mars—by way of the FBC strategy.

Announcing the Mars Exploration Program

No budget decisions were made at this NASA-OMB meeting. Subsequent to it, OMB conveyed administration guidelines for the official announcement of the new Mars strategy. Specifically, NASA was to make it clear that MSR would take place later, possibly in the following decade; that the U. S. program was not dependent on international partners; and that there would be no mention of the program’s connection with a possible human exploration mission.86

On October 26, after briefing staff of relevant congressional committees, NASA made known its revised Mars strategy in a press conference. Designated the Mars Exploration Program (MEP), there would be six major missions in the first decade of the twenty-first century. In addition to the previously announced Mars Odyssey (2001) and rover missions (2003), NASA planned an orbiter far more advanced than the existing ones called Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) (2005). It would be able to see objects on Mars the size of beach balls. This project would be followed by a fourth mission, a “smart lander” carrying a long-range, long-duration mobile laboratory. Initially designated the Mars Smart Lander, this mission came later to be called the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), keeping the same acronym and thereby causing some confusion. The Mars Smart Lander would have a rover, but this rover would be much more sophisticated than the two 2003 rovers. MSL would go up in 2007. The aim of Mars Smart Lander would be to reach difficult sites of compelling interest and conduct science at these sites.

In many ways, Mars Smart Lander would be the most spectacular mission of the new decadal plan, the de facto flagship. It would advance beyond the 2003 rovers to a very significant extent. It would be followed quickly by a relatively small “scout” mission proposed by the scientific community and selected com­petitively. One scout mission could be launched in 2007, the same year as MSL. This would be the fifth mission of the decade. The 2009 window was open for the sixth mission, and this mission could be a preparatory mission for MSR. Depending on how the previous missions went, an MSR might be attempted

immediately beyond the 10-year plan, perhaps as early as 2011 or perhaps in 2014, with a second launched in 2016. The missions after the Mars Smart Lander were left deliberately vague, since they would build on what the earlier ones accomplished.87

Weiler called the new program “a watershed in the history of Mars explora­tion.” Hubbard declared, “We will establish a sustained presence in orbit around Mars and on the surface with long duration exploration of some of the most scientifically promising and intriguing places on the planet.” He said the effort was directed toward a fundamental question: “Did life arise there, and is life

there now?”88

Weiler and Hubbard insisted that the program’s organizing principle— “follow the water”—was the right one, given the state of knowledge. It was slower and more systematic than its predecessor program. Its theme was clearer. It was not driven by FBC strictures, budget caps, or an arbitrary deadline. There was flexibility built into the new program. To those who were disappointed about the delay in MSR, Weiler replied that, given the billion-dollar estimates for the mission, NASA had better know where to look.89

Others complained about the lack of connection with human spaceflight. The Planetary Society gave the new strategy tepid support. “The U. S. govern­ment [in 1996] made a national space policy for a ‘permanent robotic presence on Mars,’ that now seems lost,” said Friedman in a written statement. “More disappointing. . . is the failure to connect the robotic program to the popular in­terest in the eventual human exploration of Mars.” Weiler again countered that “before you send humans, you like to know where you’re going.” The robotic program “is doing the groundwork for the eventual human missions to Mars.”90

Whatever the reaction, what everyone associated with the program knew was that there was additional uncertainty coming in the national political environ­ment. The presidential election of early November had yielded a virtual standoff between Vice President Gore and Texas governor George W. Bush. Congress would also be closely divided on partisan lines. The Mars program had a new scientific strategy. But what would be its political context? Who would be the next NASA Administrator? Would this leader endorse the new strategy or even care about Mars?

Katrina and “Apollo on Steroids”

As September came, so also did disaster to the United States. Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, wreaking havoc and causing floods, horrific dam­age, and loss of life. The impact on New Orleans, in particular, was devastating,

and television pictures of that city’s forlorn victims turned the disaster into a public relations calamity for the Bush administration. NASA was affected in many ways, most notably in the damage to two Gulf Coast facilities, Michoud and Stennis. Estimates of damage to these facilities hit $i billion.14

Katrina was obviously going to cost the United States a fortune in recovery money. The collective attention of the nation was trained on New Orleans and adjacent territory through most of September. Nevertheless, on September 19 Griffin chose to unveil NASA’s plans for how it would return to the Moon. Based on extensive study, Griffin pointed out, NASA’s intent was to use a shuttle – derived system he called “Apollo on Steroids.” There was to be a capsule atop a rocket, as was true of Apollo. This would be the basic approach of Project Constellation, the overall Moon-Mars effort. Constellation would develop first a rocket (Ares I) and capsule (Orion) to replace the shuttle. This system would pave the way for developing a larger, heavy-lift rocket (Ares V). The heavy-lift rocket could carry astronauts in the Orion capsule, along with newly designed landing equipment, to the Moon. Griffin estimated that the cost of going back to the Moon would be $104 billion, and that NASA could get there before the president’s deadline of 2020. He set a goal of 2018.15

The media, congressional, and public reaction was quiet, given the concen­tration of the nation on Katrina’s aftermath. Some critics questioned Griffin’s political sensitivity in terms of timing. Griffin noted that Moon-Mars was a long-term program and would have to take place in an environment of many national setbacks of one kind or another.16 At the press conference during which Griffin made his announcement, a reporter asked whether the money for a re­turn to the Moon would require taking funds from science. Griffin responded that “not one thin dime” would come from science.17 That point seemed impor­tant not only to scientists but also to some of their congressional allies.18

While thinking about future missions, Griffin had to deal with day-to­day funding issues. He was getting frustrated as he negotiated the NASA FY 2007 budget with OMB. He was having problems fixing the space shuttle and therefore could not finish ISS. He was finding getting resources from the Bush administration to match its Moon-Mars goal impossible. Then, there was the scientific community, which seemed to have no understanding that he had lim­ited finances.

In October, Griffin met with NASA’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee and said he was “fed up” with the conflicting advice and pressures from NASA’s various science constituencies. He had a finite budget, he ex­

plained, and the scientists should come up with priorities. He noted the over­runs on science projects and also scorned scientists for lobbying for specific projects—like Hubble repair—without considering the financial implications. He did reiterate that he would continue to back science and would not divert science funding to human spaceflight. “The good news,” Fisk commented, “is that Griffin was going to give us our fair share. The bad news is that we can’t execute the programs we have with the money we have available.”19

Transatlantic Alliance—and Concerns

On June 29-30, Weiler and Southwood met in Plymouth, England. The choice of Plymouth was at Southwood’s insistence. He had met Weiler on his turf. In a joint venture, Southwood believed, there had to be reciprocity in every way possible.15 Weiler recalled that the two men “argued” for hours. They were trying to forge a “genuine partnership,” and that meant dividing costs fairly evenly over the course of a multimission program. Typically, joint programs were dominated by one agency, but because of both “mutual interest and mutual dependence,” they realized they had to construct a different model. The goal and costs of MSR required it.16

They agreed to create a joint initiative. The basic road map they worked out called for the two agencies to design missions for 2016, 2018, and 2020. Missions would include “landers and orbiters, conducting astrobiological, geological, geophysical, and other high-priority investigations, and leading to the return of samples from Mars in the 2020s.” A NASA spokesman said that NASA and ESA would begin to develop the initiative. Southwood said he would not comment, pending conversations with ESA member states.17

Southwood did indeed have a problem. The key nations in ESA whose as­sent he had to have were the primary funders: Germany, France, and Italy. Italy was not happy. The head of the Italian Space Agency, Enrico Saggese, declared that while he supported NASA-ESA collaboration in principle, he saw negative implications for ExoMars, the next ESA Mars mission, scheduled for 2016. The ExoMars project he had heard being discussed by Weiler and Southwood did not look like the ExoMars project “we subscribed to, and frankly, I’m not sure my national industry has much to gain from it.”18

What bothered Italy was the report that Weiler and Southwood were dis­cussing a shift in a significant part of the mission to NASA. NASA would assume responsibility for launching ExoMars on an Atlas rocket and supply an orbiter to relay data to Earth. ESA would continue to provide the descent, reentry, and landing module; rover; and drilling system. Some planned items for ExoMars would be removed. This arrangement would let ESA keep the mission under the $1.7 billion limit member states had set in November 2008.19

Clearly, Southwood needed assent from Italy as well as other nations. Weiler did not have a body of 17 nations to please, but he did have his own agency, JPL, the White House, Congress, and the scientific community to bring aboard. Toward getting scientists’ support, Weiler met with the NRC decadal panel, which convened July 6 and 7. Weiler bluntly told the committee that because of the cuts Mars had absorbed in recent years, “we no longer have a viable Mars program.” He stated he was trying to rebuild the program financially by allying with the Europeans. He also warned the panel that it should be careful about what it recommended. Money was going to be extremely tight. If the scientists wanted to add new ventures, they should suggest existing items to delete.20

Weiler’s stark warning was reinforced by OMB’s Amy Kaminski, who also advised the group, “Don’t anticipate a lot of growth in the budget for science, particularly planetary science.” Where policymakers wanted help from those looking ahead in the Decadal Survey was on scientific priorities.21

Seven Minutes of Terror

At 1:25 a. m. (EDT), August 6, 2012, after a journey of eight months and 352 million miles, MSL arrived at Mars. MSL had the most difficult part of its trip ahead. This was the seven-minute period of entry, descent, and landing which the spacecraft would have to endure. On automatic pilot, MSL would need to decrease from 13,000 miles per hour as it met the Mars atmosphere to almost zero to land safely on the surface.

When MSL hit the Mars atmosphere, it began to slow. At seven miles above the surface, it was still going at 900 miles per hour. At this point, MSL unfurled a giant, 51-foot parachute. Then, still falling, it released its heat shield, followed by the firing of retro-rockets. It was now nearing the landing site, but the most uncertain part of the journey remained, even as the spacecraft slowed almost to a stop.25

At JPL’s mission control, scientists, engineers, administrators, media, and others steeled themselves for the final leg. At one ton of weight, the nuclear – powered, $2.5 billion, car-sized MSL was too heavy for airbags or retro-rockets to land its delicate rover, Curiosity. The rover was five times the weight of Spirit or Opportunity. NASA had invented a sky crane, a wholly novel device for the landing phase. It had been thoroughly tested on Earth, but Earth was no equiv­alent to what it would face on Mars. The Martian test was what really mattered, and there was much trepidation at NASA about the sky crane’s ability to work.

Allen Chen, flight dynamics engineer at JPL, intensely watched the signals from Mars, transmitted by two orbiters, coming to Earth, 14 minutes after the fact. Suddenly, he announced, “Stand by for sky crane.” Everyone in mission control (and thousands beyond) sat or stood in complete silence. Less than a minute passed. On Mars, wire cables had emerged from the sky crane, which embraced the MSL rover. Retro-rockets held the combined apparatus two sto­ries above the ground. Then, the sky crane gently lowered the rover the remain­ing distance to the surface. With its precious cargo positioned and decoupled, the sky crane rocketed safely away. Launched as part of a multifaceted spacecraft from Earth, the Curiosity rover arrived. The landing on Mars took place at 1:32 a. m. (EDT). On Earth, 14 minutes later, an excited Chen said the words for which everyone had waited and hoped: “Touchdown confirmed. We’re safe on Mars!”26

Success! JPL mission control erupted with yells, hoots, cheers, claps, hugs, and tears. All occurred simultaneously. NASA had gambled and won—so far. With 10 instruments, Curiosity was easily the most technically sophisticated rover ever sent to Mars. Given the costs and already perilous state of NASA funding, failure might have doomed the Mars program for years. Mars advo­cates understood the stakes. There was universal relief.

Television recorded the jubilant scene. Bobak Ferdowski, a flight engineer who sported a Mohawk hair style with maroon highlights and stars on the side, became an instant Internet celebrity. All the NASA personnel wore similar blue jerseys, but Ferdowski’s hair set him apart and transmitted the message that technical people could be “cool,” as President Obama later observed.27

President Obama made a congratulatory phone call to the team behind the MSL and its Curiosity rover. Calling from Air Force One to JPL, soon after the successful landing, Obama declared, “Due to your dedicated efforts, Curios­ity stuck her landing and captured the attention and imagination of millions of people, not just across the country, but people all around the world.” JPL director Elachi took the call in the team’s mission control area. With him were descent team leader Adam Steltzner; mission managers Peter Theisinger and Richard Cook; project scientist John Grotzinger; and John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science.

“You guys should be remarkably proud,” Obama said. “Really, what makes us best as a species is this curiosity that we have, and this yearning to discover and know more, and push the boundaries of knowledge. You are perfect examples of that, and we couldn’t be more grateful to you.” This achievement embodied the American spirit, he declared.

When he had interviewed Bolden for the job of NASA Administrator, Obama had asked him to deliver inspiration to young people. Now, Obama said, “This is the kind of thing that inspires kids across the country. They’re telling their moms and dads they want to be part of a Mars mission, maybe even the first per­son to walk on Mars. And that kind of inspiration is the byproduct of the work of the sort that you guys have done.” Obama gave his “personal commitment to protect these critical investments in science and technology.”28

Throughout the country, NASA won plaudits for the landing from media, politicians, and others. But beyond the immediate bounce in public support, the question remained how sustained it would be. Curiosity had a two-year mission ahead. The future of the Mars program in Washington was still highly uncertain.

Pushing for Mars

In 1959, Pickering received orders from headquarters to give priority to a lunar impact mission, Project Ranger. Pickering, however, wanted to give priority to planetary research. His long-term goal was to have his laboratory lead a mission involving an “interplanetary vehicle, which could give an answer to the question of life on Mars.”12 This was, in his view, the big question. He wanted JPL to “leapfrog” the Moon. He also thought that Glennan’s measured, step-by-step approach would not produce “leadership” in space technology against the Soviet Union.

Pickering was 48 in 1958 when NASA got started. Born in New Zealand, Pickering had a physics PhD from Caltech and long-term association with JPL. He was named director in 1954. After Sputnik, Pickering led JPL in working with von Braun’s army team and the University of Iowa’s James van Allen to help launch America’s first successful satellite, Vanguard, on January 31, 1958. While he wanted JPL to be a part of NASA and was pleased when the redeployment from DOD to the space agency took place, he prized his institution’s autonomy. He was very conscious that JPL was connected to Caltech and thus “different,” more independent than NASA’s other field centers, they all being civil service laboratories. No one said it on record, but JPL also perceived itself as “better” because of its university connection. From NASA’s perspective, JPL was a feder­ally funded research and development center that worked for NASA. Moreover, NASA paid Caltech a handsome overhead fee for JPL’s services. It expected JPL to be a loyal member of the NASA family.

Glennan was annoyed with the lack of responsiveness on the part of JPL (and Caltech) generally to NASA policies. The relatively mild-mannered Newell was more than annoyed since he had to deal closely with JPL and was caught between Silverstein and Pickering, two men with strong personalities. For Silverstein, JPL might not be a civil service lab, but it was a contractor and as such should bend to headquarters’ direction. Pickering stoutly defended JPL’s independence. Pickering, Newell wrote, was “as stubborn as Silverstein was domineering.”13 Add to this tension the fact that the president of Caltech, Lee Dubridge, believed that his university was in charge ofJPL, and not NASA. Throughout 1959, meetings between headquarters and JPL took place, with Silverstein pushing the Moon as a priority and Pickering emphasizing the plan­ets. In December, the associate administrator, Richard Horner, wrote Pickering firmly insisting that while JPL had planetary missions as well as lunar work, it was the Moon that the agency wanted stressed. Silverstein followed up this guidance with additional direction as to what he expected of JPL.

When Newell and others from headquarters went to JPL the following week, they were confronted by Pickering, who again made it clear that he disagreed with the priorities of headquarters. Eventually, the two sides agreed to com­municate more closely and find compromises. JPL went along with the lunar emphasis of Washington but got resources from headquarters for exploratory work on planetary programs—Venus first, because it was closest to Earth, then Mars. Pickering was not interested in “competitiveness.” His word was “leader­ship.” He was convinced that America’s best chance of getting the lead in space was an all-out effort “to proceed at once to the planets.”14

NASA supplied funds for “expanding JPL’s facilities and equipment and for increasing the staffing,” as Pickering requested. However, the issue of in-house versus external work divided NASA and JPL. NASA policy (Glennan) empha­sized contracting, and JPL (Pickering) wanted to maximize intramural work and technical control by his laboratory. The issues of headquarters’ authority and JPL’s responsiveness continued to cause tensions throughout the Glennan era. They only got worse under the next administrator.15

Nevertheless, NASA knew it needed JPL for expertise, as JPL knew it needed NASA, its prime sponsor, for resources. Partners in conflict, they found uneasy accommodation. NASA decided priorities, and it favored the Moon. JPL man­aged and performed technical work, and it favored the planets. Pickering was the prime advocate for robotic Mars missions and was not shy about pushing his views on NASA decision makers, such as Newell and Glennan.

Where to Land?

In addition to technology development questions, there was the nettlesome issue of where to land. Soffen, the chief scientist, organized a special team of researchers, including exobiologists, to determine the best places from their point of view. They had Mariner 9 information, but not much else. Throughout 1972, the siting team argued over options. NASA wanted a siting decision by the end of 1972, but the scientists could not agree.

In November 1972, Lederberg came to Fletcher’s office and pounded on his desk. He complained that the polar region was not being given adequate consideration because “the engineers”—Lederberg’s shorthand for Martin and his project management officials—had not done their homework on the po­tential of the polar region for finding life.17 The difficulty “the engineers” had was to balance safety in landing with Lederberg’s preferred site. Indeed, the scientists on the siting team were sharply divided on the polar issue. Sagan, for example, favored equatorial sites as possibly wetter and thus more amenable to life. In a letter to Martin, he pointed out that most water at the poles was frozen, and the biology package could not “detect organisms which extract their water from ice.”18

NASA decided to delay the decision on siting to 1973. In February of that year, Fletcher asked Naugle two questions, reminding him that it was impor­tant to emphasize the “possibility of finding life” in choosing a place to land. Fletcher’s first question was whether Lederberg and the scientists believed that the best chances of finding life were at the 73° polar latitude, and the second was whether liquid water had to exist “now [Fletcher’s emphasis] or could it have existed once, for life ‘signatures’ to be detected?”19

Naugle told Fletcher the answer to his first question was “no!” The optimal place to find life was where there was liquid water. As for Fletcher’s second question, “signatures” of life could be found not only where there was now but where there had been liquid water in “the distant past.” The problem, however, was that Viking might “not be able to distinguish between biological and non­biological types” of signatures.20

In early April, Lederberg conceded that 73°N, his preference, was not viable, or at least not acceptable to those emphasizing safety. That did not end the debate, which one NASA official trying to facilitate agreement called “trau­matic.”21 Finally, in late April 1973, Fletcher got a consensus view, which was announced May 7. There would be two prime sites and two backups. All four were chosen with particular emphasis on the possibility of finding water and life. However, safety in landing took equal or even greater consideration. The debate had lasted one year.

The first region, called Chryse, was at the northeast end of a vast 3000-mile rift canyon near Mars’s equator. The second, called Cydonia, was farther to the north and east, but not as far north as Lederberg had originally wanted. It was near a polar cap (44.3°N) where the scientists hoped water might be left from a previous melting. Backup sites featured similar considerations.22