MarsNews.com
May 13th, 2019

White House wants $1.6 billion extra for NASA to accelerate astronaut return to the Moon

Lunar Gateway

NASA and the White House will ask Congress for an extra $1.6 billion for fiscal year 2020 in order to accelerate human missions to the Moon and return people to the lunar surface by 2024. The space agency is requesting these funds in addition to the $21 billion budget that the president already requested for NASA. That’s according to a new tweet from President Trump on Monday, who claimed that NASA will be going back to space in a “big way.”

The funding proposal is laid out in a new budget amendment that NASA officials have been crafting for the last two months, along with input from the White House. The additional funds are meant to help NASA meet Pence’s challenge of sending astronauts back to the Moon within the next five years. During a speech at a meeting of the National Space Council in March, Pence said that NASA’s original goal of sending humans to the Moon by 2028 was “just not good enough,” and that the space agency would pull off this new deadline by “any means necessary.”

May 2nd, 2019

Op/Ed: Buzz Aldrin: It’s time to focus on the great migration of humankind to Mars

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket lifts off from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on April 17. (NASA/Reuters)

Buzz Aldrin is a former astronaut and, as part of the Apollo 11 mission, was one of the first men to walk on the moon.

Last month, Vice President Pence announced that we are headed back to the moon. I am with him, in spirit and aspiration. Having been there, I can say it is high time we returned. When Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and I went to the moon 50 years ago this July, we did so with a mission. Apollo 11 aimed to prove America’s can-do commitment to space exploration, as well as its national security and technological superiority. We did all that. We also “Came in Peace for all Mankind.” More of that is needed now.

Today, many nations have eyes for the moon, from China and Russia to friends in Europe and Middle East. That is all good. The United States should cooperate — and offer itself as a willing team leader — in exploring every aspect of the moon, from its geology and topography to its hydrology and cosmic history. In doing so, we can take “low-Earth orbit” cooperation to the moon, openly, eagerly and collegially.

Meanwhile, another looming orb — the red one — should become a serious focus of U.S. attention. Mars is waiting to be discovered, not by clever robots and rovers — though I support NASA’s unmanned missions — but by living, breathing, walking, talking, caring and daring men and women.

To make that happen, members of Congress, the Trump administration and the American public must care enough to make human exploration missions to Mars a national priority. To be clear, I do not mean spending billions of taxpayer dollars on a few hijinks or joy rides, allowing those who return to write books, tweet photos and talk of the novelty. I mean something very different.

April 18th, 2019

Independent report concludes 2033 NASA human Mars mission is not feasible

One concept for a Deep Space Transport spacecraft that would take astronauts to and from Mars. An independent study concluded the technological challenges of such a spacecraft made plans to mount a human Mars mission in 2033 infeasible. Credit: Boeing

An independent report concluded that NASA has no chance of sending humans to Mars by 2033, with the earliest such a mission could be flown being the late 2030s.

The report, while completed prior to the March 26 speech where Vice President Mike Pence directed NASA to return humans to the moon by 2024, does offer insights into how much a lunar return might cost and how it fits into long-term plans to send humans to Mars.

NASA contracted with the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) to prepare the report, which Congress directed NASA to perform in the 2017 NASA authorization act. That bill called specifically for a technical and financial assessment of “a Mars human space flight mission to be launched in 2033.”

STPI, at NASA’s direction, used the strategy the agency had laid out in its “Exploration Campaign” report, which projects the continued use of the Space Launch System and Orion and development of the lunar Gateway in the 2020s. That would be followed by the Deep Space Transport (DST), a crewed spacecraft that would travel from cislunar space to Mars and back. NASA would also develop lunar landers are related system to support crewed missions to the lunar surface, while also working on systems for later missions to the surface of Mars.

That work, the STPI report concluded, will take too long to complete in time to support a 2033 mission. “We find that even without budget constraints, a Mars 2033 orbital mission cannot be realistically scheduled under NASA’s current and notional plans,” the report states. “Our analysis suggests that a Mars orbital mission could be carried out no earlier than the 2037 orbital window without accepting large technology development, schedule delay, cost overrun, and budget shortfall risks.”

April 3rd, 2019

After the Moon in 2024, NASA wants to reach Mars by 2033

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (L)—seen here at the US space agency’s headquarters in November 2018—says the acceleration of the calendar for a new Moon mission is “aggressive” but doable, and vital for any future Mars mission

NASA has made it clear they want astronauts back on the Moon in 2024, and now, they are zeroing in on the Red Planet—the US space agency confirmed that it wants humans to reach Mars by 2033.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, said Tuesday that in order to achieve that goal, other parts of the program—including a lunar landing—need to move forward more quickly.

“We want to achieve a Mars landing in 2033,” Bridenstine told lawmakers at a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill.

“We can move up the Mars landing by moving up the Moon landing. The Moon is the proving ground,” added the former Republican congressman, who was appointed by President Donald Trump.

NASA is racing to enact the plans of Trump, who dispatched Vice President Mike Pence to announce that the timetable for once again putting man on the Moon had been cut by four years to 2024.

The new date is politically significant: it would be the final year in Trump’s eventual second term at the White House.

March 20th, 2019

The road to Mars includes a detour through Lakewood, Colorado

The Mars Society has two practice Mars exploration sites, one of which is in a desert near Hanksville, Utah.

In Robert Zubrin’s Lakewood office hangs a photo he took in 2009 of a space shuttle taking off to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, a mission he strongly advocated for, despite pushback from former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe.

Zubrin, an aerospace engineer, sees two versions of the future for humanity. The first is where new worlds are being explored, and even if things can go wrong, there’s an optimistic future of infinite possibilities. The other future is bleak in which the world is crowded and lacks enough resources to go around.

“I want the first version, and Mars is the closest planet that has all the resources needed for life and civilization. If we can go there, that’s the first step in becoming a multi-planet species,” said Zubrin. “They say the Earth is only so big. It isn’t, because it comes with an infinite sky.”

Zubrin co-founded The Mars Society in 1998, a Lakewood based organization that is dedicated to human exploration and settlement on Mars. The organization, which has at least 7,000 members, works on public outreach and educational programs, political advocacy and research.

The Mars Society has two simulated sites that mirror conditions on Mars — one in the Canadian Arctic and the other in a Utah desert. The sites are used for practice Mars missions to further understand the technology and science needed for humans to operate on the planet. Crews of typically six people attempt to conduct a sustained program of field exploration while operating as if they are on Mars. In the Utah location, a crew found a dinosaur bone, something that Zubrin says a robotic rover might have missed.

March 14th, 2019

Amidst Cuts to NASA, Mars Sample Return May Finally Happen

A high-level overview of NASA’s latest proposed Mars sample return mission.

The President’s budget request for NASA (released on 11 March) defies easy characterization. It includes many welcome proposals: $109 million for a new Mars Sample Return mission, an accelerated launch timeline for Europa Clipper, and funding increases for future human deep-space efforts, to name a few. Yet it also includes a frustrating litany of cuts previously and resoundingly rejected by Congress, attempting again to kill the WFIRST space telescope, multiple Earth Science missions, and the entirety of NASA’s Education/STEM outreach division.

The budget request does contain significant increases for the Administration’s lunar initiative, primarily for the Lunar Gateway project, which would grow from $450 million to $820 million. The Administration proposes additional increases for technology development related to lunar exploration and deep space habitability, though success in these efforts will depend on maintaining growth and controlling program costs in subsequent years.

February 14th, 2019

The new $1.37 billion border-security deal might save SpaceX’s launch site in Texas, where Elon Musk hopes to launch Mars rockets

A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship rocket stands vertically at the company’s launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. Copyright Jaime Almaguer

Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, is working around-the-clock to build a rocket-launch site at the southern tip of Texas.

Most immediately, SpaceX plans to fly a stainless-steel “test hopper” vehicle: a squat prototype for a much larger launch system that Musk calls Starship. When finished, that system — a Starship spaceship and Super Heavy rocket booster stacked together — may stand about 39 stories high.

SpaceX’s launch site is between one and three miles from the Mexican border. Firing off rockets to the moon or Mars from that site might be impossible, though, if a border wall cuts through the launch facility. Yet lawmakers said that is precisely what proposed maps from the US Department of Homeland Security showed, according to Bloomberg.

However, a $1.37 billion, 1,159-page border-security agreement drafted by a bipartisan group of lawmakers would spare SpaceX’s nascent launch site from DHS bulldozers.

“None of the funds made available by this Act or prior Acts are available for the construction of pedestrian fencing … within or east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge,” the text states.

That wildlife refuge region encompasses SpaceX’s 50-acre site launch site.

December 18th, 2018

NASA Begins America’s New Moon to Mars Exploration Approach in 2018

The first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station, wave after being announced, Friday, Aug. 3, 2018 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The astronauts are, from left to right: Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Chris Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada and Suni Williams. The agency assigned the nine astronauts to crew the first flight tests and missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon.
Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA welcomed a new administrator, Jim Bridenstine, deputy administrator, Jim Morhard, and chief financial officer, Jeff DeWit, in 2018. Their focus is on firmly establishing the groundwork to send Americans back to the Moon sustainably, with plans to use the agency’s lunar experience to prepare to send astronauts to Mars.

“Our agency’s accomplishments in 2018 are breathtaking. We’ve inspired the world and created incredible new capabilities for our nation,” Bridenstine said. “This year, we landed on Mars for the seventh time, and America remains the only country to have landed on Mars successfully. We created new U.S. commercial partnerships to land back on the Moon. We made breakthroughs in our quest to send humans farther into space than ever before. And, we contributed to remarkable advancements in aviation. I want to thank the entire NASA team for a fantastic year of American leadership in space, and I am confident we will build on our 2018 successes in 2019.”

In 2018, NASA celebrated six decades of exploration, discoveries and cutting-edge technology development for the agency’s 60th anniversary on Oct. 1. Bridenstine said, “President Eisenhower launched our nation into the Space Age and President Kennedy gave us the charge to reach the Moon. Over six incredible decades, we have brought the world an amazing number of bold missions in science, aviation and human exploration. NASA and its workforce have never failed to raise the bar of human potential and blaze a trail to the future. We celebrate our legacy today with great promise and a strong direction from the President to return to the Moon and go on to Mars.”

The Office of the Chief Financial Officer received a successful clean audit in 2018 – the eighth consecutive clean financial audit opinion for the agency. In addition, DeWit led his Strategic Investments Division in working with the Government Accounting Office to pass an official Corrective Action Plan for only the second time in NASA’s history, which will increase accountability and transparency into the costs of large programs and proactively improve NASA’s program and project management activities.

On Dec. 11, NASA recently marked the one-year anniversary of Space Policy Directive-1 (SPD-1), which provided a directive for NASA to return humans to the surface of the moon for long-term exploration and utilization and pursue human exploration of Mars and the broader solar system. Two additional space policy directives were enacted this year by the White House, with SPD-2 in February helping ease the regulatory environment so entrepreneurs can thrive in space, and SPD-3 in June helping ensure the U.S. is a leader in providing a safe and secure environment as commercial and civil space traffic increases.

October 10th, 2018

NASA OIG Forecasts Further Delays, Large Cost Overruns for SLS

Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on Pad 39B. (Credit: NASA)

A new audit by the NASA Inspector General criticizes Boeing for its management of the stages of the Space Launch System (SLS) while forecasting further delays and large cost overruns for the beleaguered program that is designed to send astronauts to deep space.

“As of August 2018, NASA has spent $11.9 billion on the SLS, but will require significant additional funding to complete the first Core Stage—more than 3 years later than initially planned and at double the anticipated cost,” the audit concluded.

“In light of the Project’s development delays, we have concluded NASA will be unable to meet its EM-1 launch window currently scheduled between December 2019 and June 2020,” the report stated.

The EM-1 mission is the first launch of SLS and the second flight of the Orion spacecraft, which will not have a crew aboard. The delays also threaten the schedule for the crewed EM-2 mission, which is currently set to launch in mid-2022.

The audit, the first in a series examining SLS, examined how NASA and Boeing have managed the development of the system’s first (core), second and exploration upper (EUS) stages.

October 1st, 2018

NASA Unveils Sustainable Campaign to Return to Moon, on to Mars

NASA’s Exploration Campaign includes active leadership in low-Earth orbit, in orbit around the Moon and on its surface, and at destinations far beyond, including Mars.
Credits: NASA

In December of 2017, President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive-1, in which the president directed NASA “to lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.”

In answer to that bold call, and consistent with the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, NASA recently submitted to Congress a plan to revitalize and add direction to NASA’s enduring purpose. The National Space Exploration Campaign calls for human and robotic exploration missions to expand the frontiers of human experience and scientific discovery of the natural phenomena of Earth, other worlds and the cosmos.

The Exploration Campaign builds on 18 continuous years of Americans and our international partners living and working together on the International Space Station. It leverages advances in the commercial space sector, robotics and other technologies, and accelerates in the next few years with the launch of NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

The Exploration Campaign has five strategic goals:

Transition U.S. human spaceflight activities in low-Earth orbit to commercial operations that support NASA and the needs of an emerging private sector market.
Lead the emplacement of capabilities that support lunar surface operations and facilitate missions beyond cislunar space.
Foster scientific discovery and characterization of lunar resources through a series of robotic missions.
Return U.S. astronauts to the surface of the Moon for a sustained campaign of exploration and use.
Demonstrate the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations.