WASHINGTON-- NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said the U.S. space agency would begin aformal assessment in 2007 of potential approaches for sending humans to Mars,but that he did not foresee astronauts embarking on a journey to the red planetfor another 20 years or longer.
"I don'twant to leave my term of office without having done at least a preliminary Marsarchitecture," Griffin said, noting that the preliminary planning effort wouldbegin next year. Actually sending astronauts to Mars, under NASA's currentplans, would not happen until after the agency leads the way back to the Moon,an objective NASA hopes to accomplish by no later than 2020. Because of that,Griffin said, he would not expect the first human Mars expedition to begin untilat least "the late 2020s."
Speaking tothe ninth international convention of the Mars Society here, Griffin said heunderstood the timetable was too slow for many in attendance at the gathering,but encouraged the group to support NASA's stepwise approach that entailsfinishing the international space station and going to the Moon before settingout for Mars.
"I knowthat some of you are frustrated by how arduous the journey has been even tothis point and by the many challenges we still face before we embark onmankind's first voyage to Mars," Griffin said. "As someone who has devoted his career to the space business I sharethese frustrations."
Griffinwent on to explain that even though the White House and Congress have endorseda plan for NASA to lead the way out of low Earth orbit, the space agency isstill expected to push the envelope in such diverse areas as aeronautics,astronomy and environmental monitoring.
"There aremany disparate goals that are held by NASA's various stakeholders and we try,very hard, to move the agency forward in a manner that promotes unity amongrather than division between these stakeholders. It is not easy," Griffin said. "If the blunttruth be told, prior to the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia a few years ago,NASA suffered from a long period of benign neglect both by the public and ourgovernment stakeholders concerning the broader purposes of our nation's spaceenterprise, and especially human spaceflight."
Griffinalso sought to assure the group that NASA's return to the Moon does help setthe stage for missions to Mars.
"We aregoing to be using the Moon as much as possible to help us learn how to go toMars," he said.
Noting thatfuture Mars expeditions would have to do a fair amount of living off the land,Griffin said NASA still has a lot to learn about so-called in-situ resourceutilization.
"In-situresource utilization is going to be crucial to going to Mars. We need to startlearning how to do that on the Moon. Yes, they are not the same environment,"Griffin said, adding that he did not buy arguments that lessons learned on theMoon would not be applicable to Mars.
"Thatcannot be true," he said. "That would be like saying people who do oil rigs indeep ocean would have nothing of value to contribute to people who drill foroil on the North Slope or Siberia. There are huge differences. There are alsogreat commonalities."
Griffinalso said that NASA chose the exploration launch vehicles that it did to helpset the stage for eventual Mars missions.
"If I werejust designing a lunar architecture, the most elementary common sense wouldhave told me to make both of those vehicles the same size so I could benefitfrom economies of production, economies of building two of the same vehicle. Ididn't do that," Griffin said. Why did we not do that? We didn't do thatbecause if I want to go to Mars and believe we need something like a millionpounds to low Earth orbit to do that, then I want to do that in five or sixlaunches not 10 or 12."
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Brian Berger is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews, a bi-weekly space industry news magazine, and SpaceNews.com. He joined SpaceNews covering NASA in 1998 and was named Senior Staff Writer in 2004 before becoming Deputy Editor in 2008. Brian's reporting on NASA's 2003 Columbia space shuttle accident and received the Communications Award from the National Space Club Huntsville Chapter in 2019. Brian received a bachelor's degree in magazine production and editing from Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.