The Duncan Banner

Community News Network

June 4, 2014

Spaceflight report says NASA strategy can't get humans to Mars

WASHINGTON — A sweeping review of NASA's human spaceflight program has concluded that the agency has an unsustainable and unsafe strategy that will prevent the U.S. from achieving a human landing on Mars in the foreseeable future.

The 286-page National Research Council report, the culmination of an 18-month investigation mandated by Congress, says that to continue on the present course under budgets that don't even keep pace with inflation "is to invite failure, disillusionment, and the loss of the longstanding international perception that human spaceflight is something the United States does best."

The report makes a case for sending astronauts back to the moon. That's an idea that has been vocally opposed by President Barack Obama. Obama killed the Constellation program, which had been backed by President George W. Bush and would have included a return to the moon.

The key argument against the Constellation program was that it didn't pencil out - that there wasn't nearly enough money dedicated to the program to achieve the lunar landing it envisioned. But now the NRC committee has delivered essentially the same assessment of the Obama Administration's current NASA program of record. If the goal is Mars, the committee said, the current strategy isn't going to work.

"Absent a very fundamental change in the nation's way of doing business, it is not realistic to believe that we can achieve the consensus goal of reaching Mars," committee co-chair and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said Wednesday morning in an interview.

NASA spokesperson David Weaver said the agency welcomed the report, and characterized it as being "consistent with the bipartisan plan agreed to by Congress and the Administration in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and that we have been implementing ever since."

Weaver added, "NASA has made significant progress on many key elements that will be needed to reach Mars, and we continue on this path in collaboration with industry and other nations."

The NRC's Committee on Human Spaceflight also probed the philosophical question of why we send humans into space to begin with. That question incited the formation of the $3.2 million review effort, which was funded by NASA.

The committee concluded that the purely practical, economic benefits of human spaceflight do not justify the costs involved, but said that the aspirational nature of the endeavor may make it worth the effort.

The committee unsurprisingly identified Mars as the "horizon goal" of the agency. The report said the U.S. should pursue international collaborations that would include China - currently treated as a space rival and not as a potential partner. NASA officials are not permitted to speak to their Chinese counterparts, a policy the committee criticized.

The report sees three potential pathways to get to Mars, two of which involve a return to the moon. A lunar landing and habitat would help develop technologies that could later be used on a Mars mission, the report said.

"This committee found a number of compelling reasons to include the moon as a stepping stone on the way to Mars," co-chair Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell, said in an interview. "From the point of view of a destination - scientific, technical, and also in terms of our international partners - it is attractive."

The third pathway, which doesn't involve a return to the moon, is essentially the one that the Obama Administration has chosen, which includes, as a major step, the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The NRC report is not bullish on the idea.

NASA wants to grab a small rock passing close to the Earth in its natural orbit, and then redirect it to a new orbit around the moon. Astronauts would visit the rock and take samples, a mission that could double as an early shakedown cruise for the Orion capsule being developed by NASA in tandem with a heavy-lift rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS).

The asteroid mission has been politically controversial - Republicans in Congress tried but failed last year to forbid NASA to do it - and it has technical challenges, not least of which is the difficulty in identifying an asteroid that could be plausibly captured by a robotic spacecraft.

The NRC report says that mission involves the creation of a large number of "dead end" technologies that don't get the U.S. closer to a Mars landing.

There is also a safety issue in play. The current plan calls for long gaps between launches of the SLS - four years in some cases.

"The current program to develop launch vehicles and spacecraft for flight beyond LEO [low earth orbit] cannot be sustained with constant buying power over time, in that it cannot provide the flight frequency required to maintain competence and safety, does not possess the 'stepping-stone' architecture that allows the public to see the connection between the horizon goal and near-term accomplishments, and may discourage potential international partners," the report states.

John Logsdon, professor emeritus of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, said the report had a familiar ring to it.

"They go through all this negative analysis and still conclude we ought to go to Mars. No one ever says 'let's lower our ambitions'. It's always 'increase the budget,' not 'lower ambitions'," he said.

As for going to Mars: "It's a dream. It's been a dream forever. And will remain a dream unless something changes."

 

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    July 31, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.12.55 PM.png VIDEO: Five-year-old doesn't want her brother to grow up

    Sadie, an adorable 5-year-old from Phoenix, wants her brother to stay young forever, so much so that her emotional reaction to the thought of him getting older has drawn more than 10 million views on YouTube.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    July 30, 2014

  • Survey results in legislation to battle sexual assault on campus

    Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday to announce legislation that aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.

    July 30, 2014

  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Can black women have it all?

    In a powerful new essay for the National Journal, my friend Michel Martin makes a compelling case for why we need to continue the having-it-all conversation.

    July 29, 2014

  • Dangerous Darkies Logo.png Redskins not the only nickname to cause a stir

    Daniel Snyder has come under fire for refusing to change the mascot of his NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, however, are far from being the only controversial mascot in sports history.  Here is a sampling of athletic teams from all areas of the sports world that were outside the norm.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

Poll

Should the date for The World's Largest Garage Sale be changed from the third weekend in July to sometime in October to take advantage of cooler weather like we had this past weekend?

No. It's better in the summer cause kids are out of school.
Yes. More shoppers would come during nice fall weather.
Either time is fine.

     View Results
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.