by Freya Jackson — last modified 2010-07-19 13:16
On Friday, July 16, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee unanimously approved the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, with funding included on the initiative of Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) for the space agency to begin the development of a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLV). The Mars Society cheers this decision.
In a statement released today, Mars Society president Dr. Robert Zubrin hailed the Senate Committee’s decision to fund HLV development as a vitally necessary step towards restoring a productive human spaceflight program.
“The Senate Committee was absolutely right in insisting on immediate funding of HLV development,” Dr. Zubrin said. “Heavy lift is the essential prerequisite for sending human explorers beyond low Earth orbit. We flew our first HLV, the Saturn V, in 1967, and two years later we were on the Moon. Lacking HLV capability since the 1970s, we have not gone anywhere in 37 years.
“That said, HLV capability, while necessary, is by itself insufficient for a productive human space exploration program. We also need a coherent set of flight hardware elements for the HLV to lift. President Obama has called for NASA to make a mission to a near Earth asteroid by 2025 its proximate goal, as a milestone towards a human mission to Mars by mid century. These goals are good, but the schedule is unnecessarily slow and costly.
“A mission to a near Earth asteroid requires four primary flight elements: a crew reentry capsule, a space habitation module, an upper stage capable of throwing the capsule/hab combination on an Earth-escape trajectory, and an HLV to lift the lot to low Earth orbit. Under the Senate Committee’s provisions, work on the capsule and the HLV are now funded. The upper stage should also be included within the HLV program, just as the S-IVB was in the Saturn V development. The hab module development, incorporating life support, power, and deep space maneuver systems should be funded as soon as possible.
“If this is done, there is no reason why NASA cannot perform a human mission to a near Earth asteroid by 2016, instead of 2025. Furthermore, with the development of two additional primary flight systems, specifically a Mars entry descent and landing system module, and a Mars ascent vehicle, NASA will possess the complete set of primary flight hardware systems needed to send human missions to Mars. Approached in this manner, we could have our first human explorers on Mars by 2020, instead of 2040 or 2050.
“Since the NASA human spaceflight program costs on the order of $10 billion per year, whether it goes anywhere or not, such an acceleration of the agency’s schedule promises to save the taxpayers $200 to $300 billion. It would thus be extremely wasteful, and in fact fiscally irresponsible, to stretch out the program timeline through sequential rather than parallel development of its necessary flight elements.
“The American people want and deserve a human spaceflight program that is actually going somewhere. Through their action in funding HLV development, the members and staff of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee have taken a critical first step towards making that possible. The Mars Society congratulates Senator Nelson, his staff, and all others who contributed towards this vital action. Now it is necessary to follow through and develop the rest of the flight hardware set so that the HLV is not left waiting forever on the pad with nothing to launch. Instead of yet another decade of stagnation, let us make the coming years ones of bold accomplishment. On to the asteroids. On to Mars.”
For further information about the Mars Society, visit our website at www.marssociety.org. An in-depth discussion and strategy session for dealing with the crisis facing the US space program will be held at the 13th International Mars Society convention, August 5-8, 2010, Marriott Hotel, Dayton, Ohio. Registration is now open at www.marssociety.org.