Mobilize Now to Save NASA Human Space Flight

by Susan Holden Martin, MBA — last modified 2010-04-05 07:58

Information received by the Mars Society indicates that there is a real chance that on April 15, President Barack Obama will announce a bold new space policy that breaks substantially from the disastrous “flexible path to nowhere” policy floated by administration spokesmen before Congress on February 2. It is imperative that every person who wants to see a spacefaring future for humanity – and who wants to see the United States to continue to be a spacefaring nation – mobilize now to secure that result.

The situation is this: On February 2, NASA and OSTP representatives appeared before Congress presenting a new NASA budget and plan that would have cancelled the Bush administration’s Constellation program – designed to develop hardware that would enable a reach to the Moon by 2020 – without putting anything comparable in its place.  Instead, the administration offered to increase NASA’s budget, but to spend the money on a random set of fanciful technology programs which would not fit together and which would not enable us to fly anywhere. Coming at a time when the Shuttle program is terminating, the plan offered by the administration would not merely guarantee zero accomplishment for NASA’s human spaceflight program for the next decade, it would effectively put it out of business. The reaction to the proposal from Congress has accordingly been extremely negative, and not merely from Republicans, but also, in fact especially, from Democrats, who face electoral destruction in Florida should the plan remain in place. The pressure to break from it has therefore become extreme.

That said, the people who pushed for the original Feb 2 policy are still around, and are fighting to keep their policy in place. The decision point that will determine who will prevail will be Obama’s April 15 speech at Kennedy Space Center.

The nominal objective claimed by both camps is Mars.  The question at issue is it “Mars someday” or “Mars in our time.” This is THE central issue, not just because many of us would prefer to get to Mars sooner rather than later, but because “Mars someday” means that no real flyable hardware will be built, and not only will we accomplish nothing for human spaceflight in the next ten years, but, with the STS program ending, even our existing human spaceflight capabilities will collapse. In contrast, “Mars in our time” means we really develop an HLV and other flight hardware, and not only keep flying, but make real progress.

The obvious technical fix to the impending loss of human orbital launch capability is not to cancel the Orion and Ares I programs, but to simply scale down the Orion to an “Orion lite.” With a diameter reduced to 4.5 m this could still seat 4 comfortably, or 6 in a pinch. Such a reduced mass Orion-lite could be easily launched to orbit by a basic 4 segment Ares I, which has already been mostly developed by the Constellation program, as well as by the existing Atlas V, and, if needed, possibly by a Delta IV or Arianne as well, giving us a very robust capability for reaching orbit.

Such an Orion-lite would be MORE useful than the existing oversized Orion, because it would be lighter, and therefore much more desirable for use in lunar, Near Earth Asteroid (NEA), or Mars missions. Together with a Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV, such as the proposed Ares V), and a hab-module, it would provide all the hardware needed to do an NEA mission. Such a mission could certainly be done by 2016, i.e. before the end of an Obama second term, and since it would demonstrate a large subset of the Mars mission flight hardware, it would not just be an asteroid mission, but a flight exercise building visibly towards a human mission to Mars. And clearly, if this option is embraced, it means that an HLV (plus a capsule, and a hab module) will REALLY be developed.

Again, the combination of an Orion-lite, an HLV, and a hab module represents all the hardware needed for the US to undertake piloted NEA exploration missions, and about half the hardware set needed to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars as well.

There is REAL SUPPORT for an NEA plan such as that indicated above, but the outcome is by no means certain. We need to do everything we can NOW to tip the balance. The choice between “Mars in our time” or “Mars someday” is the choice between a space program that goes somewhere and a space program that goes nowhere. An NEA mission by 2016 is entirely doable, and committing to it would develop half the hardware set needed to get humans to Mars, while finally breaking psychological bonds limiting us to short duration flights in geocentric space.

The choice thus is this: by 2016, we could be halfway to nowhere, or halfway to Mars.

If on April 15, Obama commits to a piloted NEA mission by 2016, we will be well on our way to the Red Planet. If instead he attempts to defend the February 2 policy, the American human spaceflight program could be doomed.

Friends, we need to move fast. This decision point could be the best chance we have to get a humans to Mars program launched in our lifetimes. It could also be our last chance.

Please act now, and write letters, faxes, or emails, (letters or faxes are best) to President Obama, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), and to your own Senators and Congressmen. Tell them you want a REAL humans to Mars program – Mars in Our Time, not “someday”, but in our time – with the commitment made REAL by setting a goal of sending astronauts to a Near Earth Asteroid by 2016.

Addresses for writing President Obama and Senator Bill Nelson are given below. Nelson is key because he is the leader in Florida pushing to save NASA. Your letter will provide him with the overwhelming evidence of national support for an NEA mission that will create the hardware to get us to Mars by 2016 and enable him to succeed in his efforts to restore vital funding for this program. Be sure you send him a copy.

To reach the White House:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414
FAX: 202-456-2461
Comments: 202-456-6213

The White House may also be reached by email by using the form at

To reach Senator Nelson:

Senator Bill Nelson
United States Senate
716 Senate Hart Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Phone: 202-224-5274
Fax: 202-228-2183

To find your Representative and Senators go to:  (look in the upper left-hand corner) (look in the upper right-hand corner)

All members of Congress can be reached through the Capitol switchboard. The number is 202-224-3121. If you call, ask to speak to a legislative aide concerned with the Space Program.

For further information about the Mars Society, visit our website at 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

For further information about the Mars Society, visit our website at Your donations are welcome.
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