SENATORS INSIST MARS, NOT THE MOON, IS THE GOAL OF U.S. HUMAN EXPLORATION

By Marcia Smith | Posted: July 26, 2018 7:09 am ET | Last Updated: July 26, 2018 7:14 am ET

Republican and Democrats on the Senate space subcommittee insisted that the goal for NASA’s human spaceflight program is Mars, not the Moon, at a hearing yesterday.  President Trump formally restored the Moon to NASA’s plans in December and NASA’s FY2019 budget request reflects that change.  The Senators raised no objections as long as it does not distract from what they consider the primary goal —  landing humans on Mars in the 2030s.

Many congressional hearings have been held over the decades about why and when to land humans on Mars. “Destination Mars: Putting American Boots on the Surface of the Red Planet” broke no new ground on those topics.

Why?  Because humans are more efficient and versatile than robots in scientific exploration; because such a bold endeavor is certain to spawn technological advancements that benefit society at large; and because America should be first on Mars, leading an international effort.  When?  In the 2030s, which more or less was the goal during the Obama Administration although official Obama policy was to put humans in orbit around Mars in that time period, with landings on the surface at an indeterminate time thereafter.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) chairing hearing on Mars exploration, July 25, 2018. Screengrab.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness noted that for all the partisan battles in Washington these days, space is one issue where the two parties generally agree.  That certainly was the case at the hearing where he and three Democrats — subcommittee ranking member Ed Markey (D-MA), full committee ranking member Bill Nelson (D-FL) and subcommittee member Gary Peters (D-CO) — were united in their views that Mars is the goal. Nelson and Markey particularly insisted that NASA needs to provide the human exploration roadmap required by the 2017 NASA Authorization Act to delineate how that will be accomplished.  It was due seven months ago.

Of particular concern was that the new focus on the Moon may supplant the longer term goal of Mars.  In his opening statement, Cruz said: “While the Moon will provide a great testing ground in preparation for the journey to Mars, we must remain vigilant and ensure that we limit costly delays that could push a crewed Mars mission in the 2030s out of reach. Let me be clear. Mars is today the focal point of our national space program.  And if American boots are to be the first to set foot on its surface it will define a new generation.  Generation Mars.”

Cruz went on to point out how many robotic probes have been sent to Mars in the past and are there today, including the announcement yesterday of the discovery of liquid water under Mars’ south polar region based on radar data from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft.  The robotic probes are necessary precursors to human exploration, but as Chris Carberry, CEO of Explore Mars Inc., noted there are no new robotic Mars probes in NASA’s budget plan after the Mars 2020 mission.

He and the other witnesses focused on the need for priorities to be set and decisions to be made very soon about exactly how to get humans to the surface of Mars if it is going to happen in the 2030s.  He was joined at the witness table by Tory Bruno, President of the United Launch Alliance (ULA); Peggy Whitson, former astronaut; and Dava Newman, MIT professor and former NASA Deputy Administrator.  None of them objected to returning to the lunar surface first as long as it does not delay human missions to Mars.  They all also agreed on the value of commercial and/or international partnerships in human space exploration.

Newman argued that “we’ve been stuck in LEO for far too long,” referring to low Earth orbit where the International Space Station (ISS) is located.  She acknowledged the benefits of ISS, on which she has flown her own research experiments, but argued that the $4 billion per year spent on LEO operations needs to be reprioritized.  She proposed that NASA create a “synergistic” Mars Program Office combining the portfolios of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, the Science Mission Directorate, and the Space Technology Mission Directorate funded “with the necessary budget.”

Whitson spent three tours of duty on ISS.  She holds the record for cumulative time in space for any American astronaut (665 days), was the first woman to command ISS and is the only woman to command it twice.  She also holds the record for the number of spacewalks by a woman (10).  She argued in favor of a “steady cadence of increasingly complex missions” to Mars that leverage commercial and international partnerships and build on the lessons learned from ISS — a “microcosm” of what is needed to get to Mars.

Cislunar space (between the Earth and the Moon) was more the focus of Bruno’s remarks instead of Mars, though he noted that ULA has launched every successful U.S. mission to Mars since it was founded in 2006 and its heritage Atlas and Delta rockets have launched 18 Mars spacecraft over time. He advocated for a strong industrial base to support ULA rockets as well as NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).   “NASA must lead humanity to return to the Moon and travel to Mars, and SLS and Orion are going to get us there.”  ULA is jointly owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.  Boeing and Lockheed Martin are the prime contractors for SLS and Orion, respectively.

A centerpiece of his testimony, however, was ULA’s “CisLunar 1000” roadmap that “envisions a commercially established, self-sustaining community of around 1,000 people supported by some 200 companies” in cislunar space. He enthused about the abundance of resources in cislunar space, a “scant week’s journey” from Earth that will lead to a “post-scarcity human future, that’s a complete paradigm change for our civilization and what it means to be a human being.”  Cislunar space has “such resources in such abundance that it truly defies human imagination.  There are a thousand years of total global production of industrial metals just in the asteroids between here and the Moon. There’s more precious metals than have ever been mined in the history of humankind. When it is practical and affordable to access those resources, we’re looking at a human future that is completely different from what we have seen before.”

But he agreed that the Moon should not distract NASA from Mars.  Companies like ULA can complement NASA’s SLS in providing logistical support for lunar missions, he said.  NASA can “quickly transition those activities to commercial companies” and “not get bogged down in logistics in the vicinity of the Moon,” keeping its own focus on Mars.

Cruz agreed about the commercial potential of space, optimistically predicting that “the first trillionaire will be made in space.”

Mars shocker: Liquid water lake found on the Red Planet

By Chris Ciaccia | Fox News

A liquid water lake found on Mars

Scientists have uncovered a “a stable body of liquid water” on Mars, in what some are calling a “game changer” in the search for alien life.

What is believed to be liquid water is sitting below Mars’ southern polar ice cap and is described as a “well-defined, 20-kilometer-wide zone.” 20 kilometers is roughly 12.5 miles.

The findings, which are published in the journal Science, were made possibly by Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS), an instrument that resides on the Mars Express spacecraft. MARSIS surveyed Mars’ Planum Australe region between May 2012 and December 2015 and utilized radar pulses, sending them through the surface and the polar ice caps, ultimately measuring how the radio waves came back.

GEOMETRY HELPS SOLVE THE MYSTERY OF MARS’ WATER

The pulses that came back created the aforementioned “well-defined, 20-kilometer-wide zone” and found that the radar reflected the brightness of the liquid water. The study’s abstract notes that it is surrounded by “much less reflective areas,” a sign that it is indeed water.

The team that wrote the study, including lead author Professor Roberto Orosei, have ruled out any other causes for the brightness.

Speaking with the BBC, Orosei said it probably isn’t “a very large lake,” but added that this is a body of water and not runoff from a glacier or something else. 

“This really qualifies this as a body of water. A lake, not some kind of meltwater filling some space between rock and ice, as happens in certain glaciers on Earth,” Orosei told the British media giant.

Following news of the findings, social media was understandably enthused, with some wondering what it might mean for the search for extraterrestrial life.

What does this mean?

The presence of liquid water at the bottom of the Martian polar ice caps was first theorized more than 30 years ago, the researchers said, but it had been “inconclusively debated ever since.” With the stunning findings, that debate is likely to be put to bed.

The water is likely to be below the freezing point for water (32°F or 0°C) given its location beneath the ice cap, but the presence of minerals such as magnesium, calcium and sodium perchlorate in the soil of the northern plains of Mars, “support the presence of liquid water at the base of the polar deposits.”

The presence of these minerals could help form a brine with the water, which would allow it to remain liquid, a reaction that already exists on Earth in areas like Antarctica.

MARS ‘GHOST’ DUNES MAY HAVE EVIDENCE OF ALIEN LIFE

Despite the obvious excitement surrounding the findings, Mars’ surface is “inhospitable to life,” according to the Open University’s Dr. Manish Patel, and researchers are not any closer to finding life than they were prior to the announcement.

“This is just one small study area; it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered,” Orosei said in a statement on the European Space Agency’s website.

Nonetheless, Wednesday’s announcement is garnering significant attention, something Dmitri Titov, ESA’s Mars Express project scientist, called a “much-awaited result.”

NASA MAY HAVE DISCOVERED AND THEN DESTROED ORGANICS ON MARS IN 1976

“This thrilling discovery is a highlight for planetary science and will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of Mars, the history of water on our neighbor planet and its habitability,” Titov said.

“While all the previous announcements have been extremely significant, the recent verification of a body of subsurface liquid water is particularly important,” Chris Carberry, CEO of Explore Mars, a non-profit organization that aims to advance the goal of sending humans to Mars within the next two decades, told Fox News. “When you combine this discovery with recent confirmation of organics and other evidence – while it does not confirm the existence of microbial life on Mars – it greatly increases the chances that past or present life could exist on Mars.”

Q&A: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine

‘What we don’t know about the moon is critical’ and could change ‘the balance of power on Earth’

Posted Jul 13, 2018 5:00 AMShawn Zeller@shawnzellerPodcast: House Lawmakers Leave Town With Much to Do Before MidtermsSuper PAC Spends More to Defend Democrats Than Attack RepublicansPodcast: Why Congress Has a Russia Problem

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is interviewed for the “CQ on Congress” podcast on June 28. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate confirmed Jim Bridenstine to lead NASA in April after months of delay related to Democrats’ concerns about his commitment to the agency’s climate research and Republican infighting over its resources.

During two terms in the House, and the start of a third, Bridenstine was a space enthusiast. He served on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and drafted an ambitious bill to overhaul the way the government manages its space resources.

He’s motivated, in large part, by his desire to demonstrate to people like his former constituents in Tulsa, as well as rural Oklahoma, the importance of NASA and its research to their daily lives. And he’s an outspoken advocate for President Donald Trump’s plan to return an American to the moon for the first time in 46 years and to put the agency in position to oversee a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

He spoke to Shawn Zeller this month for the “CQ on Congress” podcast. Here’s an edited transcript:

Q. President Trump says we are going to Mars. What needs to happen for us to get there?

A. What you see from this president is he understands that the way to get to Mars is by using the surface of the moon as a proving ground for all the technologies and capabilities that we need to develop. The president’s Space Policy Directive 1 directed us to go to the moon in a way that is sustainable, in other words not like Apollo. If you look at the Apollo program, it was flags and footprints and when it was over we came home and we never went back.

Q. One of the crucial aspects of that is mining water on the moon that would provide the fuel to propel us on to Mars?

A. If you are going to go to Mars, it’s about a six-month journey. By the time you get there, you’re not going to come home for at least two years because you’re not going to be in the same plane around the sun. We have to figure out how to utilize the resources of Mars in order to live. What’s unique about the moon — and we learned this in 2009 — is that there are billions of tons of water ice at the poles. Water ice is hydrogen and oxygen and when you break ice into its component parts and then you put it into cryogenic form, liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, that’s the same propulsion that powered the Space Shuttle.

Q. Congress in its last NASA reauthorization adopted the goal of 2033. Is that realistic?

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A. That is a horizon goal. It’s a visionary goal. It’s not necessarily going to be easy and it will probably require more budget than we have right now but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

Q. So we would get to the moon much more quickly than that?

A. Absolutely, we want to be to the surface of the moon with humans inside of 10 years.

Q. Experts I’ve talked to say the technology does not now exist to get an astronaut to Mars alive because of things like cosmic rays, radiation, the psychological effects of living in a small ship for months. Can we develop the technology?

A. The answer is yes, but they are absolutely correct. We are not there right now. Here’s what we know about physiology. Every month an astronaut is in space, an astronaut is losing 1 to 3 percent of their bone mass. So you add that up over six months on the journey to Mars, that’s damaging. We also know that the heart deconditions itself when you are in a microgravity environment. We have to figure out ways to make sure the human physiology stays conditioned, and of course we have a lot of concerns about the galactic radiation that ultimately could be very damaging to humans. We can prove all of this out on the surface of the moon, maybe having habitats that are underneath the surface of the moon, and take all of these things that we learn and then feed it forward to Mars.

[The President’s Mission to Mars Is a Real Long Shot]

Q. You mentioned budget. Do we have a sense of what a Mars mission would cost?

A. It depends on timing — how fast do we want to get there? So here’s what I would say: The president has been very generous in the NASA budget. While other budgets are being challenged, NASA is actually being plussed up and then, even better, it goes to Congress and they plus it up even more.

Q. You spoke at the Human to Mars Summit at George Washington University in May. You said we need to use public funds to enable private equity. Is there money to be made for private companies in a Mars mission?

A. Here’s what we have right now because of what the private sector’s already done: For the first time in human history we have reusable rockets, which is driving down the cost and increasing access to space, which means we can put more mass into space for a lesser cost than ever before and then assemble parts of what would be a ship to get to Mars.

Why is commercial doing this? They are doing it because they are serving a $200-$300 billion commercial communication capability that’s in space — DirecTV, Dish Network, internet broadband from space, remote sensing imagery, weather. Now we know there is at least tens of billions of tons of water ice on the moon, potentially hundreds of billions of tons. We learned that in 2009.

What we don’t know about the moon is critical because there could be platinum group metals on the surface, which could change, depending on who gets it first, the balance of power on Earth.

[Trump Taps Senate’s Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms for NASA Post]

Q. A law Congress passed in 2015 would allow the companies that want to mine in space keep the proceeds.

A. Absolutely, we are trying to create that market incentive.

Q. NASA is relying on contractors to build a new deep space vehicle, the Space Launch System, two commercial crew vehicles to replace the space shuttle to take our astronauts to the International Space Station, and an ambitious new telescope, the James Webb. But these projects are behind schedule and over budget. It worries House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith. Is there a contract administration problem at NASA?

A. Lamar Smith is right: There is a challenge here that we have to wrap our arms around and figure out how to fix. What I would tell you, when you think about the Space Launch System, which is the largest rocket ever built, it’s going to give us transformational capabilities that are necessary to get to Mars. No. 2, the James Webb Space Telescope, we’re going to go over $8 billion on that program and that means I have to go back to Congress, in front of Chairman Smith, and I have to ask for a reauthorization. I think that’s the right thing to do. Congress needs to 100 percent buy in on this.

Here’s the important thing: The science we are going to get from James Webb is also transformational. We are going to see for the first time cosmic dawn. We are going to see light from the very formation of the universe. We are going to learn more about the universe in which we reside than we’ve ever known before.

It’s also important to mention commercial crew. That’s our effort to launch American astronauts from American soil on American rockets for the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttle, since 2011. Since then we’ve been dependent on the Russians, and of course they’ve been raising their prices, from $20 million in 2011 per seat, now it’s $80-some million per seat. And they can do that because we don’t have our own access to the International Space Station that we paid for. We have to get these things fixed.

The other thing that’s important to note is that NASA has done things that have never been done before, the most difficult things. The science and the technology that is required for this means by definition there is a lot of uncertainty when these projects get started. I’m not making excuses. But if NASA is doing what it ought to be doing, we are at the very leading edge of technology, which means there is more risk to what we do.

[From the Archives: Flake Flip on NASA Nominee Followed Senate Tumult]

Q. One of NASA’s big successes is the International Space Station. We’ve invested close to $100 billion in it and yet the Trump administration in its most recent budget says we should phase out federal funding by the end of 2024 and allow the private sector to take over, the idea being to use the money to go back to the moon and on to Mars. Members of Congress led by Sen. Ted Cruz are opposed. Is it right to phase out funding?

A. We’re looking at seven years to figure out what the replacement for the International Space Station is.

Two big things to consider: No. 1, commercialization. We have more companies right now developing space stations for human activity for low Earth orbit than have ever existed before. If we can transition to commercial, then NASA becomes one customer among many driving down the costs and increasing innovation through a competitive market. Second, NASA can then use the resources that it’s been spending on the ISS to go further. We want to build a gateway around the moon, not like the International Space Station, but think of an outpost that has habitation capability, power and propulsion, so we can see more of the moon than we’ve ever seen before and that’s an architecture that ultimately feeds forward to developing our access to the surface of Mars.

Q. Your nomination to lead NASA was controversial because Democrats are worried that you will end NASA’s research into the Earth’s climate. Where do you stand on that?

A. NASA has been studying the Earth for a very long time. In fact, it’s in the 1958 Space Act, which created NASA, and so if you look at the president’s budget requests, they had a budget for Earth science that was higher than three of the years that Obama was president and it was tied with the fourth year, so the president’s commitment to NASA understanding the climate of the Earth and how it’s changing, I think, is there.

Q. President Trump has proposed to create a Space Force, a new branch of the military. Is that a good idea?

A. Yes, I think it’s important for Americans to understand that all of us are very dependent on space, the way we navigate, the way we communicate, the way we produce food, the way we produce energy, the way we do disaster relief, provide national security.

If you think about how we predict weather: 80 percent of the data that feeds our numerical weather models comes from space. The way we understand how climate is changing is driven by space. And the way we do banking: Every banking transaction in this country requires a timing signal from GPS. So imagine if we don’t have banking in this country, within three days there’s no milk in the grocery store. This is an existential threat to the United States. The Chinese are developing and testing anti-satellite missiles as well as jamming, spoofing, dazzling, which is using laser energy, hacking. They are doing all of these things in an aggressive way.

Now, do they have an intent? I don’t know. But do they have capabilities? Yes. We also have to remember that the Air Force was once a part of the Army. It was resisted very strongly by bureaucracy for a long time to take the Army Air Corps out of the Army, and now we’re looking at a similar situation. Back then the new domain was air warfare. Now the new domain is space.

Q. When you were in the House you proposed an ambitious overhaul of the government’s space resources. As administrator can you implement it?

A. There is all of this civil activity in space and then you’ve got commercial activity, which is starting to dwarf the civil activity, and then you’ve got national security space. They are all up against the same challenges but they aren’t really coordinating on how to solve these challenges. They are all creating their own stove-piped ways to complete their architectures but they aren’t interoperable.

That was the purpose behind the American Space Renaissance Act — how do we think about space as a national enterprise and then do things that enable us to work across agencies to ultimately maximize the utility of space for every American citizen? That bill was very difficult to pass because it was so comprehensive, but with the National Space Council we’re seeing bits and pieces of that be put together in ways that are very positive for our country.

Putting Boots on Mars Requires a Long-Term Commitment, Experts Tell Senators

By Meghan Bartels, Space.com Senior Writer | July 26, 2018 02:14pm ET

Putting Boots on Mars Requires a Long-Term Commitment, Experts Tell Senators
An artist’s depiction of humans working on Mars.Credit: NASA

A group of senators heard expert opinions during a committee hearing on Wednesday (July 25) about what will be required — logistically and scientifically — to safely land humans on Mars.

The hearing was coordinated by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is chair of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. “Mars is today the focal point of our national space program,” Cruz said during opening remarks. “If American boots are to be the first to set foot on the surface, it will define a new generation — generation Mars.”

But right now, NASA’s focus seems to be split between the moon and Mars — a point raised by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, who asked whether the NASA budget is being “robbed” because efforts aimed at a journey to the moon are drawing resources away from the real priority of Mars. [Path to Mars Should Be Flexible, Experts Agree]

The panelists seemed to push back against that portrayal, arguing that low-Earth orbit and lunar missions offer valuable testing grounds for technologies humans will need to reach Mars at all. But the real goal of the hearing seemed to be one of building a case for a long-term, firm NASA vision. Three of the panelists talked about the importance of stable funding and priorities.

“We have to have a vision that lasts more than one administration,” veteran astronaut Peggy Whitson said. “We have to have a budget line that will support those goals and objectives that we are striving to reach.”

The industry representative on the panel underscored that point as well, citing the challenge of retaining expert staff when mission budgets are unpredictable. “Funding stability is absolutely vital in industry,” said Tory Bruno, head of United Launch Alliance. “If you don’t have work for the people on your team to do, they scatter.”

The four panelists also seemed intent on balancing the abstract value of a Mars mission with the tangible spin-off technologies such a journey would create.

“You can’t put a price tag, you can’t put importance on how Apollo fundamentally changed all of us,” said Dava Newman, an engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “That’s how I look at the Mars mission now — we get humans there with all our great science, it will just lift us up.” But she was also careful to mention more concrete potential benefits, like anti-cancer advances that could spring from tackling the threat posed by radiation in space.

Another clear takeaway from the testimony was the sheer number of tasks NASA needs to accomplish before such a mission can become a reality: everything from figuring out how to land larger spacecraft on Mars to developing systems that can function completely independently of Earth to making sure astronauts can withstand the mental challenges of being so far from home.

All those tasks mean NASA can’t do it alone and needs to find a way to bring other countries as well as private companies into the mix. “People make it sound like the government is actually building all the hardware,” said Chris Carberry, head of Explore Mars, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting exploration of Mars. “They’re not.”

Email Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.