Prioritizing Mars

The year 1992 began reasonably well for NASA from a White House budgetary standpoint. The president called for a 4.5% raise for the agency. Space science in particular was augmented, with a 9% increase.1 Congress, however, was less interested in giving NASA more funds and ordered the Science Directorate to cut back on its most expensive programs. Congress made it abundantly clear it would not grant the president’s request to fund his Moon-Mars initiative.

Who would lead NASA? The White House had come increasingly to believe that Richard Truly was not the Administrator it wanted at NASA’s helm. On February 10, days after Bush’s budget was announced, the president called Truly to the White House and forced him to resign. Mark Albrecht, National Space Council executive director, searched for a replacement, someone who would bring an enthusiasm to Bush’s Moon-Mars vision which Truly had not.

The man he found was Dan Goldin, an aerospace executive from California. Goldin turned out to be a NASA Administrator for whom Mars was “the” prior­ity. He might have to emphasize other programs for institutional reasons. The shuttle and especially the space station were utterly critical to NASA. But, in his heart and soul, Mars came first among his personal interests. He also had a personality—vision, self-assurance, drive, intensity—such that he could make a distinctive mark on the agency. Goldin was not an easy man for whom to work. But the science directors he appointed found they could realize their own goals

through him. Finally, it turned out that Goldin would set a record for longevity in the Administrator role. All those factors would make a positive difference for the robotic Mars exploration program. What had been a slow, painful climb up NASA’s agenda for Mars advocates after the Viking disappointment now turned into something quite different. Goldin was a dynamic advocate. Also, he wanted to use Mars exploration to showcase a managerial-technical strat­egy called “faster, better, cheaper” that fit the White House and congressional mood. Goldin intended to lead the agency and nation forward—to Mars. The result was the Mars Surveyor Program, the first program of sequential, inte­grated missions to the Red Planet since Mariner.

The advocacy coalition, for better or worse—and Goldin engendered many critics—had a powerful champion at NASA. He would strive mightily to remake the space-policy subsystem and enlist national policymakers in his quest for Mars.

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