Why Mars

W. Henry Lambright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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