Inspiration Mars: The Thrill is Gone

When the Inspiration Mars proposal was originally introduced, at least from a NewSpace perspective,  the inspirational part was the fact that Dennis Tito and company seemed intent on using commercial hardware to achieve the first human circumnavigation of Mars, thereby showing that significant accomplishments could be made without the use of hyper-expensive launch systems and grossly overweight capsules to achieve it.

In short, even though it would not have resulted in a landing,  a successful mission have removed much of the risks associated with the in-space element of a Mars journey, while also paving the way for a more efficient use of resources for the landings to come at a later point.  The timing was also inspirational. Originally scheduled for a 2018 time-frame which would have put two astronauts in vicinity of Mars not in the 2020’s, or the 2030’s, but borrowing a phrase from history “before this decade out.”

Having now slipped to an alternate 2021 launch window, and being promoted by Tito as a NASA mission, the thrill is gone for some.  Specifically, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden finds it neither inspirational nor useful.

According to

“Speaking to a joint meeting of the Space Studies Board (SSB) and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) in Washington. Bolden discussed a wide variety of topics in a discussion lasting more than an hour, including plans for human space exploration. He likened the free-return trajectory that helped save the crew of Apollo 13 to Inspiration Mars, whose 2021 mission architecture includes flybys of Venus and Mars by a crewed spacecraft.

“That doesn’t demonstrate anything,” Bolden said, “and I don’t think that’s an inspirational mission, if you to ask me, because it doesn’t help us to get humans to Mars.” he went on to say “It is a one-time feat, and where are we in terms of putting humans on Mars? No closer.”

We should he maintains, proceed with the Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) as the next step on the path to Mars.  It could be a very, very long one, based on further reporting by Jeff Foust that NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier told the same meeting that achieving a landing by 2035, would be “very tough.” ( 21 years…and who says we’ve lost our edge?)

The complete refutation of the proposal as adding nothing useful to actually landing humans on Mars is highly questionable however, overlooking the enormous consequence of retiring the in-space risk elements.  

Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, an ardent SLS supporter, sees it very differently, and apparently through a lens which transforms any use of SLS into a good thing, regardless of cost or alternatives.

“In comments before the National Academies, Administrator Bolden today misrepresented a Mars Flyby 2021 mission. The Administrator indicated that a Mars Flyby is not a worthy stepping stone to an eventual Mars landing because it doesn’t demonstrate technologies. That is factually incorrect. Experts have testified that a Mars Flyby mission would utilize the Space Launch System, architecture that will be central to a Mars landing. He further contended that the Obama administration’s proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) is a better stepping stone to Mars. However, the administration has not provided any details of how it fits into a larger exploration roadmap. The ARM mission lacks support from the stakeholder community and NASA’s own advisory bodies. It is a mission without a realistic budget, without a destination and without a certain launch date. I urge the Administrator to get his facts straight when comparing the value of potential NASA missions.”

And so the beat go on.

On the bright side, literally, Mars will be very prominent in the night sky throughout the month of April. Some people however, may need to reposition their heads in oder to see it.

Posted in: Mars, NASA

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