Tech Progress, Outreach Hurdles Seen on Road to Mars

7 August 2014, 8:30 p.m. EDT
by Ben Iannotta, Aerospace America editor-in-chief

Outreach-Hurdles-Seen-on-Road-to-Mars

Lockheed Martin’s Larry Price, the company’s deputy program manager for Orion, said the December test will show that NASA and its contractors are “moving forward in a metered, affordable way,” during Thursday afternoon's session on, "Building Blocks to Mars."

It’s going to take a mix of effective public outreach, space-community buy-in and clear technical progress for international partners to assemble the funds and technology they'll need to get human explorers to Mars in the next two decades, NASA and industry officials said today.

On the technology side, an unmanned test version of the planned Orion crew module is almost finished. That will clear the way for preparations to launch it on Dec. 4 aboard a Delta 4 Heavy rocket.

“We should be completed with the build by the end of this month, and we’ll be transferring it over to the ground operations crew. They’ll be responsible for integrating the Orion systems onto the Delta 4 Heavy rocket,” said NASA’s Charlie Lundquist, the crew and service module manager for Orion.

Lundquist spoke on the “Building Blocks to Mars” panel Thursday at AIAA’s Space 2014 Forum.

He showed a photo of a Navy ship and said the crew recently demonstrated the ability to recover the astronauts and their Orion module in both calm and rough seas 200 miles west of San Diego. Some of the components in each Orion will be reused after each mission to reduce costs, he noted.

In the international realm, NASA’s Steve Creech briefed the panel and audience about work to create a Global Exploration Roadmap that will reflect input from space agencies that might eventually partner with NASA on a Mars mission. He said a major new participant has been lined up: China. “They’re not reflected in the roadmap now,” but “in the next go round they will be participating also,” said Creech, a deputy manger for the Space Launch System rocket program.

One panelist suggested that planners should be more inclusive in order to build support for a Mars mission within the space community. NASA’s Harley Thronson called for “broad and deep community involvement” by experts. “It’s not merely presentations at Space 2013, '14, '15 and so on, but actual involvement of a broad community of developing and vetting the scenarios, and goals and architectures,” he said.

Thronson co-chaired an “Affording Mars” workshop in December at George Washington University in which participants aired ideas for effectively managing and sustaining political support for such an undertaking.

During the next workshop, experts will conduct a “side-by-side, face-to-face comparison" of Mars exploration proposals and then “recommend to NASA those architecture elements which look to be most affordable, most doable on a time frame of say the next 20 years,” Thronson said.

As for winning public support, Creech said advocates need to stay focused on Mars even as they plan missions that will stop short of the planet. “Sometimes the trap that we fall into is we say, ‘Mars is too hard. We’re going to do something along the way,’ but then that becomes an end unto itself,’” he cautioned. “We have to have credibility that we really are going to Mars. Yes, we’re taking this step-wise approach, but the things that we’re doing are getting us to Mars.”

Lockheed Martin’s Larry Price, the company’s deputy program manager for Orion, said the December test will show that NASA and its contractors are “moving forward in a metered, affordable way.”

To view the entire session, visit AIAA's livestream channel.
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