Congressmen Call for Clear NASA Strategy for Putting Humans on Mars

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) have filed bills calling for NASA to develop a clear strategy for placing astronauts on Mars.

The Mapping a New and Innovative Focus on our Exploration Strategy (MANIFEST) for Human Spaceflight Act of 2017 calls for the space agency to accomplish this goal “through a series of successive, sustainable, free-standing, but complementary missions making robust utilization of cis-lunar space and employing the Space Launch System, Orion crew capsule, and other capabilities.”

The cis-lunar elements include the expansion of human presence into lunar orbit, lunar surface, asteroids, the moons of Mars, and the martian surface. The plan must include opportunities for collaboration with international partners, private companies and other federal agencies.

The strategy would identify how the International Space Station could support the program, and include “a range of exploration mission architectures and approaches for the missions…including capabilities for the Orion crew capsule and the Space Launch System.”

  • Insane in the membrane. The nature of their brain damage is they can’t recognize their disabilities.

  • windbourne

    How crazy can they be?
    SLS for going to Mars?
    Nope, will never ever happen.

    Instead, need to help private space get to the moon so as to lower the costs Mars access.

  • therealdmt

    NASA: “We respectfully resubmit the following diagram, which, as you may have noted, was inspired by a Martian dust devil. Enjoy!”

  • Charles Lurio

    They’re perfectly sane. In their native tongue, “Journey to Mars” means “Eternal Pork Opportunity.”

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    The trip to Mars is 20-30 years away. Consequently the International Space Station (ISS) will have been decommissioned and splash dived many years before the first manned trip to Mars is made.

    The ISS will be used as a laboratory in space to test equipment used on the voyage. Equipment tested is likely to include space suits, multi year life support (ECLSS = environmental control and life support system) and habitats for space stations, transfer vehicles & planetary bases. The ISS’s advantages over Earth based testing is having a micro gravity environment, exposed to vacuum and medium levels of radiation.

    The Space Launch System (SLS) launch vehicle can send the Orion capsule to lunar orbit but is too small to send the capsule to Mars. Consequently a multiple launch architecture is required for Mars trips. The Mars Transfer Vehicle (MTV) will need fuelling in Earth/lunar orbit. Depending on the mass of the MTV plus lander the machines may have to be assembled in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The SLS can be used to launch the spaceship yard to LEO and heavy parts of the Mars craft.

    Astronauts can be sent to and return from the spaceship yard using the ISS’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) spacecraft for considerably lower cost than the SLS.

    The Apollo lunar missions sent everything to the Moon on a single rocket. This works for a small number of trips where everything is small but the frequent trips required to support Moon and Mars bases can use space ports in a similar way sea ships use sea ports. The SLS will launch a Deep Space Habitat (DSH) to lunar orbit allowing astronauts in the Orion to transfer to reusable lunar landers.

    A Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) tug can send lunar surface habitats, manned rovers, large landers and consumables like food to the DSH in lunar orbit.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    One question, well two actually. Who’s going to fund this and why?

  • Aerospike

    a) The same people who fund the current activities (SLS/Orion/ISS/CCDev).
    b) for the same reason(s) as ever: it creates jobs and is a high profile “advertising” program to demonstrate to the rest of the world how awesome and advanced the US are.

    And in case the current political “environment” makes it impossible to reshape the space program into something that is actually achievable, then we still have the Chinese. They will continue to slowly move along a similar path, mostly for reason b) just to show the US that they achieved what the US was unable to do.

  • Hug Doug

    Just to correct a misconception, SLS can send over 30 metric tons of payload to Mars. Orion is well below that. The multiple launch architecture for Mars trips is to send a transit habitat along with the Orion capsule.

  • Vladislaw

    We could use the SLS block II that should be ready by 20′ whatever and then we launch 1 or 2 per year for 6-12 years and .. you know … fly to mars..

  • windbourne


    Thanx for that.

  • Windbourne, can you put some estimates on your statement. How much would it cost to develop the lunar propellant production system (assuming that’s what you are talking about) and spread that cost over, say, a 10-year recoup time. How much would that increase or decrease the cost of going to Mars. Thanks. I have done my own calculations and I don’t see how going to the Moon reduces the cost of going to Mars on the near-term.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    The extra mass includes the return propellant and the consumables needed to keep the crew alive during a 2-3 year trip.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    The other funding problem is devising a plan that does not spend more than double what NASA currently gets each year.

  • Hug Doug

    Of course, no mission would be complete without those.

  • windbourne

    First off, the lunar propellant production us a joke. Anybody that thinks that going to the moon, setting up a base, mining, refining, manufacturing for trips to mars will be cheap, is a fool and simply selling you BS.

    The bulk of the expense is the launcher. With going to Mars using SLS, it will only be launched maybe 1-4 times every 2 years.
    So when else will SLS launch? Nowhere except maybe the moon. It is too big to do monthly Leo runs.

    And to be fair, SLS is too expensive.

    OTOH, if NASA helps private space get to the moon by say 2022, then other nations, businesses, and a few citizens, will use this. It should be possible to have SHLV go monthly to the moon. That will lower the costs of SHLV .
    That enables Mars launches every couple of years.

  • redneck

    The problem is focusing on the near-term. Long term it is possible that lunar resources will enable trips to many destinations. Setting up Lunar production facilities to support a single F&FP mission to Mars, or anywhere else for that matter, does not make financial sense.

    For the near-term, launching everything from Earth makes sense. Long term thinking for decades out could have Lunar production as critical to development of the solar system. Among other things, a vastly increased launch rate from Earth will have detrimental environmental effects at some point. Lunar production of propellants, shielding, and other high mass/low tech materials could well be the difference by then.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “…return propellant…”
    What vehicle do you envisage would use this return propellant? – not the hab or Orion, so what?. I only ask, because wouldn’t any mission that includes Orion be a free return pass by?.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Orion weighs in at 10.4 tonnes. With its service module that goes up to 25.8 tonnes. That leaves 4.2 tonnes for a hab and consumables for a ~2 year fly by mission.

    “… multiple launch architecture…”
    Do you have any details or ideas on this?.

  • Jeff2Space

    With a projected launch rate of at most once per year, SLS can’t support a “multiple launch architecture for Mars trips”. To increase the launch rate would require massive investments in manufacturing, processing infrastructure, and launch infrastructure. This is exactly the sort of information Congress is “fishing” for.

  • Jeff2Space

    How would “lunar resources” ever be cheaper than launching from earth?

    Note that LOX is one of the cheapest fluids to manufacture on earth because it is literally made from air.

  • Jeff2Space

    Why the personal insults?

  • Hug Doug

    Hab / consumables would be launched separately from Orion.


  • Hug Doug

    Current manufacturing infrastructure can produce two SLS rockets per year. I suspect they could produce more if money and personnel were poured in, and of course, it does boil down to funding the production. The pad itself could handle 6 launches per year, probably more, as I don’t think SLS VAB / pad flow is more than two months.

    Barnes: “We have built our factory so as to optimize the tooling and the workforce to support 1-to-2 launches per year at rate.”

  • redneck

    For the near term you are right as well as any uses in LEO or even GEO. In the farther down the road view Lunar residents might choose to extract LOX as well as water for local use. Further on, there might be enough to sell to ships on the way out. Leaving Lunar orbit on a TEI an Oberth burn at perigee gives both chemical and energy of position boost to a vehicle bound for Venus, Mars, NEOs, or more distant destinations.

  • If after 12 years of Constellation you still can’t figure that out, then you are just as brain damaged as the people who thought up this monstrosity of a fraudulent space program. Fortunately, you aren’t in a position to damage the United States nearly as substantially as they have.

  • Jeff2Space

    Extracting oxygen from lunar rocks will always be more expensive than making it from air on earth.

  • Jeff2Space

    You really can’t argue your position without personal insults, can you? That’s quite disheartening.

  • savuporo

    Just to correct a misconception. SLS does not exist.

    Also, many necessary elements of any Mars architecture simply do not exist, and are at least a decade of technology development away.

    Lets start with ascent and return propulsion. Current state of the art of workhorse deep space engines is hypergolic, pressure fed engine, with as few moving parts as possible and dual string redundancy.

    There have been no attempts to move beyond that, and it would take a very expensive development program to do it with any kind of confidence. So, here you go, your ISP for anything beyond earth departure burns is capped at 315, unless you spend a few billion and at minimum about 5-6 years, more likely 10. How do you close an architecture for getting to Mars and back ?

  • Good, not only is my intention ot insult you, it is to dishearten you.

    So whatever you perceive my comments to be to you, it’s working!

  • Hug Doug

    No misconception here. Parts of the SLS do exist. Some flight hardware has already been completed:

    Missions to Mars would most likely be starting no sooner than 2026, so there is about a decade to do development for everything necessary. Current idea for the return flight is for SEP for the return trip from Mars, pre-staged in Mars orbit prior to sending people to Mars. There are a variety of possible mission architectures being floated around at the current time.

    “How do you close an architecture for getting to Mars and back ?”

    Well, first Congress needs to direct NASA to go to Mars and then give them the funding they need to develop the stuff they need to do that, and then NASA can start locking down on what they want to do. We’ll see how that goes.

  • redneck

    Existing technology changes. Ten years
    No, twenty maybe, a century it will be certainly done in situ.

  • windbourne

    If we can hit the moon in 2022, then in 20-30 years out, the lunar material will be cheaper for a number of things.
    Until then, not a chance, esp. in 10 years.

    OTOH, I support sending private space to the moon because it WILL lower the launch costs to get to mars. In addition, by private space going to the moon, it would be supported by multiple nations, businesses and even a few citizens. In addition, it allows NASA to focus on things that private space will not do, such as ARM (or at least the part of moving an asteroid), as well as getting to mars.

  • windbourne

    yup. Small quantities in 10 years for living with.
    Large quantities in 20-30.

  • windbourne

    I hate to say, I blocked him after his last tirade about others.
    He has gotten old. very old.
    there really is no reason for ppl to be that nasty.

  • Jeff2Space

    “Existing technology changes. Ten years
    No, twenty maybe, a century it will be certainly done in situ.”

    Perhaps, but reusable launch vehicle technology won’t stand still in those ten to twenty years either. That and any tech that makes lunar mining cheaper would make mining of fossil fuels on earth cheaper too. Again, we’re talking about fueling interplanetary spacecraft leaving the earth/moon system. Just because you say “in situ” doesn’t mean “free”.

  • windbourne

    it will be interesting to see if this comes to fruition vs. SpaceX.

  • redneck

    Of course not free, just eventually cheaper than the alternative. Fossil fuel may well get cheaper yet on earth, but it will still have 12+km/sec to Lunar orbit which isn’t free either.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    The report is “Clear NASA Strategy for Putting Humans on Mars” so the vehicle will have to go into orbit around Mars, the same way Apollo 8 went into orbit around the Moon. The initial trips will be return trips so the transfer vehicle will need propellant and consumables for the return trip.

    A SEP tug could take the propellant and consumables to Mars.

    30 tonnes to Mars is sufficient for a small spacestation. The Mars landers can be stored there between missions.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    What ever our hopes Orion is not going to Mars. It may rendezvous with a returning Mars Transfer Vehicle (MTV) at say a Lagrange Point. Orion then uses it heat shield for Earth reentry.

  • Jeff2Space

    I will agree to disagree. On a fully reusable launch vehicle, that 12+ km/sec is simply more of that already agreed to cheaper fuel and oxidizer. Based on the experiences of the manned lunar missions with abrasive lunar dust, mining on the moon will require a lot of regular maintenance to combat wear and tear.

  • Jeff2Space

    It’s going to be very hard to launch manned Mars missions with a flight rate of, at most, two per year. Adding more flights will require a lot more money. That is, unfortunately, how expendable launch vehicles work. You have to increase your manufacturing capacity to match your launch rate.

    Reusable launch vehicles should be better if they can be reused a reasonable number of times (10+) and the time and cost to refurbish one for re-flight is reasonable. The question is not whether this is possible, but how long it will take for reusable launch vehicles to clearly become cheaper to operate.

  • publiusr

    I want both SLS and BFR myself.