Category Why Mars

The Political Environment Grows Toxic

The macropolitical context of Mars exploration changed significantly at this time, making it even more difficult than before for Griffin and the scientific community to reach an accommodation. The Democrats recaptured control of Congress in the November elections. With Bush in the White House, relations in policymaking grew toxic. Fights between Congress and the president in No­vember and December made it almost impossible to get budget bills through. This was bad news for NASA, space science, and robotic Mars exploration. The lobbying campaign by the Planetary Society and others had paid off in getting congressional bills that added money to science at NASA. Moreover, friendly senators had gotten the Senate to pass a $1 billion supplement to NASA, above its regular program appropriation, for shuttle recovery and Katrina-related re­pairs. Such legislation—if it had become law—would have been a great help to the agency in restoring some of the cuts to science, including Mars exploration.

But legislation of this kind was not to be. The best Congress could do was to pass a continuing resolution to keep most agencies, including NASA, funded at their current year’s rate. This meant no raise at all, at least until after the Demo­crats had taken charge of the new Congress in January 2007. If the continuing resolution held the entire next fiscal year, NASA would have to cut deeper into its programs. Mars research could be further damaged.58

The year 2007 opened with NASA getting decidedly mixed signals from its political masters. In February, the new Congress, led by the Democrats, ex­tended the continuing resolution that funded NASA and various other federal agencies at the 2006 level through the end of the fiscal year, September 30. In doing so, Congress gave some agencies small increases at the expense of other agencies that received modest cuts in order to maintain the overall figure. NASA was one of the agencies cut. However, the president’s FY 2008 budget, also announced in February, gave NASA a raise, to $17.3 billion. That was a 3.1% increase over the president’s 2007 request, which Congress did not grant thanks to the continuing resolution. So NASA had to do the best it could, Mars science included. The president’s science advisor, John Marburger, suggested that space scientists curb their appetites and turn off missions before launching new ones.59

Griffin focused all the more acutely on his own priorities under the circum­stances. Everything narrowed down to his view of the core mission, and pro­grams were weighed in terms of their value to that mission. For Griffin this meant concentrating on the first phase of Constellation, Orion-Ares I, which promised a shuttle successor and technology development relevant to Orion – Ares V, the heavy-lift Moon rocket that would come later. Mars research gave way to lunar research. The Mars budget was far from what it had been projected to be when O’Keefe left the NASA Administrator’s post. But Mars was treated better than many other planets or science projects. Astrobiology was especially hard-hit, not just by budget reduction, but also by Griffin’s words. “If they [as – trobiologists] want to work for government money,” he declared, “they must look at what the government wants—not what they think it should want.”60

Implementation of the existing MEP continued. The next mission in line for launch in the Mars program—Phoenix (2007)—was experiencing an over­run. NASA considered killing Phoenix, the first Scout mission, but wanted to stay with its launch-at-every-26-months strategy. NASA decided to meet the additional costs. McCuistion indicated that the Mars program had very little flexibility and that “the overrun on Phoenix was going to have some effect on us,” which meant that NASA would have to take money from elsewhere in the Mars budget to pay for Phoenix.61

In 2007 MSL also revealed overrun issues. Solving the overrun problem for MSL was going to be much more difficult than for Phoenix given MSL’s size, the criticality of the mission, and the scale of the potential overrun. Dealing with MSL would not be Cleave’s problem, however, as she had retired in De­cember 2006. Colleen Hartman served in her place on an acting basis. Griffin in February announced that S. Alan Stern would succeed Hartman in April, as associate administrator for science. Stern was executive director of the South­west Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He was a well-known, respected planetary researcher and the principal investigator of the Pluto mission.62


What has energized NASA toward Mars has been a loose coalition of Mars ad­vocates. These proponents—governmental and nongovernmental—have pro­vided the continuing push behind NASA to maintain the quest. What the Mars Underground said of itself—that it was “closely knit but loosely woven”—might be said of Mars advocates generally. They have constituted an inside-outside political coalition, one congealed by shared attitudes rather than overarching structure. There have been scientists, engineers, and managers within NASA who have propelled the Mars program forward. There have also been indi­viduals and institutions outside NASA who have similarly galvanized action in relation to Mars. The Mars coalition is a “special interest” in Washington parlance. NASA has many interests (and constituencies) to satisfy. The robotic Mars program is but one of many agency enterprises, and not the largest. The central strategy of the Mars advocacy coalition has been to make its priority a

NASA priority, and to influence NASA to engage academic scientists, industry, the White House, Congress, the media, the American public, and international partners in backing a sustained MEP. Especially important has been enlisting (or neutralizing) OMB through broader political support.4

The course of Mars exploration has reflected the success and failure of its network of supporters in the yearly competition for priority and funding. Chai­kin has written that a cluster of people have had “a passion for Mars.”5 They are the core of the coalition, the activists. In addition, Mars has a long history of being fascinating to a wider audience, and that fact has helped those with a Mars passion to make Mars first among equals in planetary exploration.

The Mars advocacy coalition extends over generations. It has expanded and contracted. Its membership has changed over the decades, and the baton of leadership has been passed on. Some of the prominent early advocates, such as scientists Sagan and Mutch, have had sites on Mars named after them. Others, such as Viking project manager Martin, are virtual legends among many con­temporary Mars proponents, particularly engineers and project managers. As the early Mars exploration protagonists have left, others have taken their place. Often, they have been the graduate students of the pioneers, as Squyres was of Sagan and Garvin was of Mutch. Squyres is an example of an outside advocate, while Garvin exemplifies an advocate inside NASA.

Some of the graduate students in the Mars Underground, such as McKay and Stoker, joined NASA as researchers as they advanced professionally. Outside advocates became insiders. Many outside scientists serve on NASA advisory bodies, achieving access and sometimes shaping policy their way. Inside advo­cates leave NASA and continue their efforts on behalf of Mars from the outside, as seen in the cases of Hubbard and Huntress. Some have been highly visible, such as Zubrin. Others are virtually unknown to the public, as was the situation with Klein at Ames.

Beyond the ad hoc advocacy of individuals, there has been the “institutional­ization” of interest. Hubbard and Naderi began a sequence of officials serving, respectively, in Mars director posts at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Labora­tory. Certain universities—for example, Cornell, Arizona State, University of Arizona, University of Colorado, Brown, and others—have become continuing focal points for Mars research.6 JPL is the NASA center that has been the most continually active among NASA centers for big science projects in Mars explo­ration over the decades. Various companies are closely associated with Mars exploration. Some are huge like Lockheed; others are smaller and more special­

ized, such as the planetary camera firm of Malin. There are organized interest groups with a Mars emphasis, particularly the Planetary Society. After many years as the Society’s executive director, Friedman stepped down, succeeded by Bill Nye, “the science guy,” a well-known media commentator. People in posi­tions change, but roles in advocacy continue.

The Planetary Society, based in Pasadena, is associated closely with the robotic program and has JPL roots. The Mars Society is another interest group, particu­larly oriented toward human spaceflight, but supportive of precursory robotic flight. Core advocates gather allies and attempt to build an ever-widening gyre of support, including politicians, media, and the public. NASA is the target of all pressures. More than an object of pressures, NASA is a force itself. NASA has helped to mobilize Mars advocacy through formation of a Mars program that provides funds to universities, professors, and graduate students. More recently, NASA has sought to build a scientific constituency for astrobiology. Astrobi – ology (formerly exobiology) was once ridiculed as a science without a known subject. NASA’s Ames Research Center helped keep the field going in the late 1970s and 1980s when most scientists abandoned it. But with the revival of life as a credible rationale for Mars exploration in the 1990s, the field has regained respectability and has attracted an interdisciplinary band of able scientists.

Individuals in strategic positions associated with Mars at NASA Headquar­ters and various centers have provided authoritative leadership to Mars explo­ration over the years. Some of these individuals have had strong influence in the policy process, and others relatively little. Turning ideas into government programs is hard, especially when resources are extremely limited and compet­ing demands are numerous.

What makes this translation of visions into action so complex is that Mars exploration is big science of a particular kind. It is “distributed” big science. While there have been some billion-dollar missions—for example, Viking and MSL—the program more often has featured a parade of spacecraft of more moderate expense. It has been organized into missions spread across years. Ide­ally, there is a coherent and integrated sequence of activity, with one mission providing a base of knowledge pointing to what must be done in the one fol­lowing. For most advocates who provide a “push” toward Mars, there is a major goal that “pulls” them forward. This is the return of samples of rock and soil. At least since Viking, MSR has been the holy grail of the robotic program. Most advocates agree that it is the best way to determine the question of Martian life short of sending scientist-astronauts. However, many Mars activists also see

MSR as a way to develop critical knowledge, technologies, and skills that will enable human spaceflight to Mars. Hence, MSR has a potentially unifying role that makes it a NASA-agency goal, not just a science goal. It relates to the two sides of the life rationale—life on and life to Mars.

It also has symbolic significance. David Southwood, ESA science director who worked with Weiler to initiate a Mars Together program, has declared, “Doing it [MSR] together sends a message. It shows what we can do. It is a big deal. For the robotic program, it is analogous to Armstrong on the Moon.”7 The U. S. withdrawal from a full-partnership role in the program, however, points up the difficulty of accomplishing the goal, whether together or singly.

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.

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

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?

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

Budget Pressure on Viking

Paine brought von Braun to Washington to help him promote a large post – Apollo program to Nixon. The charismatic von Braun won some converts on the body Nixon had established to advise him, the Space Task Group (STG). On September 15, STG met with Nixon in the Oval Office and presented three post-Apollo options. The options entailed a shuttle, space station, lunar base, and a human Mars mission. They varied in the aggressiveness by which to pur­sue these goals, especially Mars. The most aggressive would set a date, 1983, for human Mars flight at a cost of $8 billion to $10 billion a year. The least aggres­sive would cost $4 billion to $6.7 billion a year and would put an astronaut on Mars by the end of the century. Nixon listened to the presentation of the three options, thanked the team for its work, but made no decision.31

While waiting for Nixon to say something definite about NASA’s future, the annual budgetary process continued, with Paine battling the BOB. Viking, like all NASA activities, awaited determinations about how much NASA would have to spend, overall, as well as on it in particular. By Christmas 1969, NASA’s prospective budget for the next fiscal year was down to $3.6 billion, a sharp drop from the previous year. The issue became not whether NASA could begin a post-Apollo buildup, but whether it could even implement existing programs, including Viking. Then, just days later, the budget director, Robert Mayo, re­quired NASA to find additional cuts owing to a last-minute decision to close a government-wide gap in funding.

The budget director went over various options with Paine, including two options involving Viking: cancellation, or delay of launch from 1973 to 1975. Mayo said BOB favored delay and so did Nixon. Paine had little choice. He called Naugle, who was at home, and asked him to come in. It was December 31, New Year’s Eve. To save Viking, Paine told Naugle, they would have to set the launch back to 1975. Naugle left the meeting feeling quite depressed, as though “two years of careful planning for Viking” had been wiped out almost in the blink of an eye.32

In January 1970, Paine announced that NASA would have $3.5 billion in the president’s budget. This was a figure Paine had earlier told Mayo was “unaccept­able.” It entailed not only delay in Viking but ending Saturn 5 production and reducing the number of Apollo Moon landings. Those landings were destined now to end in late 1972, and there still was no new major program to keep NASA going to prevent the agency’s continuing decline.33

George Low, Paine’s deputy, tried to soften the blow to Naugle and the Vi­king team, declaring in a memo to Naugle in early February, “Viking holds the highest priority of any project or program in NASA’s Planetary Program. Viking holds a high priority among all of NASA’s programs.”34

That was an important statement about Viking’s priority from Low, because it indicated that NASA leaders would protect Viking, even if they let other projects go. It was not only a science priority but a NASA priority. In March, Nixon issued his first policy pronouncement on space. His message was that NASA would have to live at a far different level than it had in the 1960s. He announced that “space activities will be a part of our lives for the rest of time,” and thus there was no need to plan them “as a series of separate leaps, each re­quiring a massive concentration of energy and will and accomplished on a crash timetable.” Indeed, he said, “space expenditures must take their place within a rigorous system of national priorities.”35

What this meant, beyond the rhetoric, was that he was not endorsing any of the STG options. There was no decision to build a shuttle, no space station, and certainly no human Mars mission. As a consequence, NASA drifted, its future clouded. Low’s memo notwithstanding, the survival of Viking was uncertain. What was absolutely clear was that Viking could not be justified as a precursor to human flight to Mars, since there would not be anything resembling such a project. Indeed, the whole human spaceflight effort was withering away.

In July, Paine announced he was resigning, effective September. In August, von Braun, who would leave NASA in 1972, complained that NASA was “wait­ing for a miracle, just waiting for another man on a white horse to come and offer us another planet, like President Kennedy.” It was not going to happen.36

Dan Goldin

Age 51 at the time, Goldin was vice president and general manager of TRW’s Space and Technology Group. Born in New York City, he had received a BS in mechanical engineering from City College of New York in 1962. Fascinated with space since boyhood, he immediately came to work for NASA at its Lewis Research Center in Cleveland. NASA was going to the Moon at the time, and Goldin wanted to pursue research helping the agency take the next step, to go to Mars. When it became clear later in the 1960s that NASA would not be going to Mars any time soon and started retrenching, he grew restless and frustrated, leaving NASA for the aerospace company TRW. Based in California, Goldin advanced in the corporation over the years, spending most of his time on classi­fied military and intelligence space programs. Coming out of this “black” world, Goldin was not well known in civil space circles, but in the classified field, he was considered a significant figure.2

The National Space Council, which presided over both national security and civil space endeavors, saw the Strategic Defense Initiative, known as “Star Wars,” introduce innovative efficiency approaches to robotic space, which NSC called “faster, better, cheaper.”3 NASA, in contrast, seemed to NSC to be mired in the past, a bloated bureaucracy with big, expensive technical systems. Goldin was an exemplar of this new approach. He made maximum use of the latest mi­croelectronic technology to bring down the size of space satellites. Goldin was known as a demanding, tough manager who could reshape an organization. He also was the opposite of Truly in one important respect: he was something of a visionary. Moreover, as Truly focused on the shuttle and space station, Goldin looked beyond to exploration and was passionate about Mars. It was his compel­ling ambition to lead NASA to the Red Planet. The opportunity to implement the Bush policy targeting Mars as a long-range goal was a significant reason that he left TRW and came to NASA, even though his tenure might be short, owing to the upcoming presidential election.

Goldin sailed easily through the confirmation process, becoming NASA Ad­ministrator on April і. In those hearings, he indicated he would maintain all existing programs but manage them with greater efficiency. Once in office, he told his managers that large raises for NASA were not possible in the near-term future and they would have to get NASA out of the “vicious cycle” so exempli­fied by Mars Observer. He described the cycle as follows: “Because NASA flies relatively few missions, program officers overload each one with instruments. This makes each spacecraft expensive. Because they’re expensive, they must be carefully tested before flight. This takes time and costs more money, raising the ante. In the end, so much is riding on each flight that NASA can’t afford to have them fail—leading to more caution, delay, and expense.”

“We’ve got to cut the Gordian Knot,” he declared, by making spacecraft smaller, lighter, and cheaper, so that NASA can take risks and not fear making mistakes.4 Soon aware that he could not pursue Bush’s Moon-Mars program, as he would have wished, because of congressional opposition, he set his sights on remaking NASA so that it would be more capable of maintaining the programs it had and be readier for Mars if and when circumstances changed. He looked at the space station and science programs with an eye to technological innovation and management reform. He focused on the robotic program as a step toward human spaceflight to Mars.

Goldin saw himself as seeking “revolutionary” change and characterized himself as a change agent. He knew he faced opposition and spoke of his adver­saries as erecting barricades to his FBC policies.5 Among his adversaries, in his opinion, Fisk, the head of NASA’s Science Directorate, stood out.

Fisk was accustomed to ample autonomy, and Goldin was not about to grant that discretion. Fisk was receptive to the notions of FBC as they applied to robotic programs, as exemplified by his support for the Discovery activity. How­ever, he was pursuing a number of large projects at the time which he defended. He and Goldin had crossed swords earlier when Goldin had been in industry. Fisk was laboring to protect the Earth Observation System from substantial

downsizing, and Goldin was seeking to sell NASA on a smaller-scale version of the system. Goldin was told by the Office of Space Science and Applications not to press his case publicly if he wanted TRW to get work with NASA, and Goldin had not forgotten what he regarded as a threat. As Administrator, he and Fisk had a tense relationship.6

Fisk’s deputy, Huntress, the planetary division director, told Goldin that Discovery was an FBC program and was already being considered positively by Congress, and thus he won favor with the NASA Administrator at an early meeting. Goldin was looking for allies to help him with his “revolution.” He saw Huntress in that category.7

Ironically, Huntress encountered resistance to FBC notions from the sci­entific community—not to Discovery in general or the MESUR effort, still in planning, but to the Pathfinder mission in particular. Huntress held that two values had to guide the planetary program: scientific worth and public interest. It was not enough to have one without the other. Pathfinder would meet his criteria and as a by-product help NASA politically as an institution.

Huntress had appointed a Science Definition Team for MESUR chaired by Cornell planetary scientist Steve Squyres, a Sagan protege. Various scientists on the team had concerns, and Squyres passed those on to Carl Pilcher, Hunt­ress’s Advanced Studies Branch chief. On April 20, Michael Carr, a distinguished planetary geologist at the U. S. Geological Survey, whose long work on Mars included experience on Viking, wrote Huntress also detailing scientists’ worries about starting a critical program (Discovery or MESUR) with so risky a project as Pathfinder. He pointed out that with Pathfinder NASA was now propos­ing to successfully land on the Mars surface, a feat achieved only by Viking at a much greater cost; deploy a rover, something never done before; launch in 1996 (about half the time usually taken for development); and keep costs below $150 million. He saw the likelihood of failure quite high. The chairman of the Solar System Exploration Committee, Huntress’s planetary advisory body, also cautioned Huntress on Pathfinder.8

Huntress told Pilcher to compose a reply, because NASA had to have notable scientists like Carr aboard. The basic argument Huntress and Pilcher made to Carr and other skeptics was that the rewards made the risks worth taking. They held that it was important to demonstrate that NASA could land scientific instruments on the surface and also rove. Pathfinder was more than an engi­neering demonstration, they stressed. It was an enabler of science, and a way of showing “that NASA can do a quick, inexpensive, exciting, challenging project

involving major departures from the way most previous planetary missions have been conducted. The positive repercussions of success could be beneficial to all NASA planetary missions including MESUR.”9 The institutional and public relations values thus were important along with the scientific and technological gains.

Huntress was very much in harmony with Goldin’s reformist approach. With Goldin’s active support, Congress approved Discovery, providing funding for it to begin officially in 1993. Huntress selected Tony Spear of the Jet Propul­sion Laboratory to lead the Pathfinder project. Huntress regarded Spear as the kind of “out-of-the-box” manager who could make Pathfinder work. Huntress scheduled Pathfinder to launch in 1996.

Huntress wanted Pathfinder to carry a rover to Mars. Donna Shirley, JPL’s rover manager, and Spear did not get along particularly well, but they were willing to cooperate to make the overall project succeed.10 Huntress, who came from JPL, saw the NASA center as having an “old guard” that would expect Pathfinder to fail. He wanted to show them they were wrong about FBC mis­sions, and Spear in particular was the manager to do it.11 There were individuals at JPL who questioned whether JPL should even perform such a mission, but a senior manager at the lab, Norm Haynes, told his peers that JPL had better take it on: “If we don’t do this, somebody else will.”12

O’Keefe Departs

One of O’Keefe’s last acts as NASA Administrator in early February was to an­nounce Bush’s proposed budget for NASA for FY 2006. It was $16.5 billon. This was a raise of $400 million from the congressional appropriation. Ominously, it was only half the amount Bush had promised when he made the Moon-Mars

decision. The president’s desire to trim the budget deficit and put more money into the war on terrorism (especially in Iraq) and defense generally trumped virtually all other federal programs. In addition, Clay Johnson, the deputy direc­tor of OMB, was personally close to Bush and a harsh critic of the Moon-Mars vision. He persuaded Bush not to put his political capital behind space in his second term.54 It was more O’Keefe’s influence than Bush’s support which al­lowed NASA to fare better than most domestic agencies in the budget process. Speaking of the raise NASA got, O’Keefe commented, “It’s rather remarkable under the circumstance.”55

O’Keefe had continued to prioritize sharply. He put the money he had be­hind the new mission, and this policy worked to the advantage of the robotic Mars program. Overall, the NASA science budget was slightly down from the previous presidential budget, from $5.5 billion to $5.4 billion. The lunar sci­ence program, which had been suffering benign neglect for a long time, tripled in size. Mars projects also gained, jumping from $681 million to $723 million. O’Keefe was creating a budget wedge intended to raise the robotic Mars pro­gram to the $1 billion level in 2010.56

But what was good for Moon-Mars science was bad for every other field. The outer planets and Earth observation satellites were suffering, and Hubble on the way out altogether. If NAS said that robots could not fix Hubble, then Hubble would not be fixed, at least under the O’Keefe policy.57

Prioritizing meant winners and losers. There was little question that non – Mars scientists envied the money going to Mars, and not just money—glory! The successes of Spirit and Opportunity on Mars were high profile, giving the scientists associated with the rovers, especially Steve Squyres, what a Science magazine editorial called “the astronomical equivalent of rock star status.”58

Landing on Mars and Looking Ahead

As 2оі2 got under way, the Mars program was in limbo. The ambitious joint program with ESA was dead, and the National Research Council scientists’ goal of Mars Sample Return apparently gone with it. The Mars Science Laboratory landing was scheduled for August, and that mission had stakes not only for the Mars programs but for NASA generally. To have a positive future, Mars advocates had to work hard for recovery on the policy front in Washington. They hoped that the MSL mission, through its Curiosity rover, would give the program a political stimulus it desperately needed, within both the space policy sector and the broader national policy arena. The budget deficit was the overriding priority in Washington. Policy decisions at NASA and between the White House and Congress had put other space programs, including human spaceflight and the James Webb Space Telescope, above Mars exploration in priority. What if MSL, with its never-before-tried sky crane landing system, crashed on Mars? Mars advocates in NASA, the scientific community, and inter­est groups had only questions and no answers as the year began—an election year that magnified all issues, especially failure in government programs. The NASA Administrator spoke of “Mars Next Decade.” What NASA needed were policy decisions assuring there would be a Mars program next decade.

By the end of the year, with MSL successfully landing the Curiosity rover on Mars and Obama’s reelection, there was hope among many Mars proponents

for moving the Mars program forward. New missions were placed on NASA’s agenda. Advocates regrouped and pushed once again for their long-sought MSR.