NASA ESMD Internal White Paper: Concept Proposal: Generation Mars

A campaign for Mars exploration with coordinated components of supporting technology development, human research, demonstrations on ISS, Mars robotic missions, human preparatory missions with enabling commercial and international collaboration…


Editor’s note: According to NASA PAO “Some of us became aware of the document today. As you might guess, a lot of people inside and outside the agency are suggesting ideas in anticipation of the Augustine Committee’s final report. We consider this little more than a brainstorming exercise by its authors. NASA will do nothing to get in front of the Committee’s work. Until the final report is delivered and we have had time to thoughtfully consider the options presented, it would be premature for anyone to present a path forward.”
A campaign for Mars exploration with coordinated components of supporting technology development, human research, demonstrations on ISS, Mars robotic missions, human preparatory missions with enabling commercial and international collaboration for the benefit of the “Mars Generation”
Background and Introduction:
NASA embraces the following key Augustine findings/recommendations:
* The current plan with both the earliest International Space Station (ISS) Initial Operational Capability (IOC) and lunar return by 2020 are not achievable within the FY10 budget.
* Recognize Mars as the ultimate destination yet have systems and capabilities flexible enough to reach any compelling destination
* Build a robust technology program
* Increase the role of commercial participation
* Involve international partners to the maximum degree
* Extend ISS to 2020 and fully utilize it
* Fly out the remaining shuttle manifest
* Fixed base and operational costs should be reduced to improve NASA’s ability to carry out its mission
And… we propose to enhance these findings with a broader, compelling Goal for the nation. This Goal will serve as an engine of innovation and inspiration with the potential to contribute to the renaissance of the American economy and provide an inspirational, sustainable mission for the agency.
The outline below describes a new direction for space exploration policy that builds on the recommendations of the Augustine Committee. This proposed direction introduces a long term campaign for exploration with coordinated components of:
* Supporting, enabling technology development,
* Active educational inspiration and virtual participation,
* Human and medical research to increase the human capability to explore,
* Contributing research and demonstrations on ISS,
* Mars robotic missions to demonstrate critical technologies, obtain precursor knowledge, and return science discoveries,
* Human preparatory missions to increase exploration capabilities at multiple destinations,
* Commercial and international collaboration.
Overall national exploration goal – The legacy of developing “Generation Mars”
NASA must remain the world leader in human spaceflight and lead humankind to prepare for missions to Mars. We are going to Mars because it is civilization’s next major challenge. The Apollo generation had Gemini and Mercury–stepping stones that made the impossible possible. The generation born today is going to Mars; its stepping stones will be the ISS and other shorter-term destinations along the way. Some will be able to experience the journey first hand and many more will be able to experience it virtually. It is exciting, inspiring and what NASA should be doing. Mars is the destination whose path will be enabled by the constant feed of technological innovation, educational excellence and scientific discovery…the very things that infuse and sustain a multi generational program and contribute to a vibrant economy with careers that are motivating and rewarding.
The challenge of going to Mars is an unending source for innovation–of thought, technology, human networks, management, administration and acquisition–innovation to remake NASA from the Apollo generation to the Mars Generation.
An exploration roadmap is envisioned over the next 3 decades consisting of contributing endeavors, each with a continuum of activity that is validated and infused with new thinking on a cyclical basis with a broad group of stakeholders on the model of the Science Mission Directorate’s (SMD)’s decadal survey to ensure that the human spaceflight program makes measurable progress towards exploration missions beyond low earth orbit, remains relevant and delivers value to the American taxpayer.
1. Development of the multigenerational transportation architecture that is best suited to take us on this path towards Mars. Included in this architecture would be a commercial path to LEO so that government can focus on the higher-risk development of heavy lift capability needed for the path to Mars.
2. Technology and human research supporting technology maturation and risk reduction. This could include development of technologies such as life support systems, propulsion, etc., and risk reduction through a robust human and biomedical research program. It is envisioned that the ISS, which is our national/international lab, and other flexible path destinations that will be determined through the decadal survey process will serve as technological and scientific test beds.
3. Robotic Precursors–close coordination with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate on complementary robotic precursor missions to help us better understand the Mars environment and test technologies needed for future Mars missions, both robotic and human.
4. Human missions- An array of human missions to stepping stone locations increasing exploration skills and discovering as we go.
5. This roadmap will increase collaboration and synergize activities and infrastructure across the agency to support this overarching goal. Our Directorates could operate more collaboratively, making NASA more effective and better uniting us with a common future.
Components of the Path Forward

Science as a partner.
There is an important subset of planetary exploration that can benefit from human space flight. These are missions to the surfaces of solid bodies whose surface conditions are not too hostile for humans…humans can only realistically explore the surfaces of the Moon, Mars, and some asteroids. The first-order knowledge that we gain from robotic exploration allows us to make expensive and hazardous human operations much more scientifically productive than they would have been otherwise. Humans have an extraordinary ability to function in complex environments, to improvise, and to respond quickly to new discoveries. Because the capabilities of humans most surpass those of robots in complex environments, the scientific value that humans add is in proportion to the complexity of the environment to be explored. The complexity of Mars means that human explorers can, in principle, contribute more to the scientific exploration of Mars than they can to any other body in the solar system for the foreseeable future.
Robotic precursor missions can do much to enable human exploration, as first shown by the Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter missions that preceded Apollo. Orbital and landed missions can be used to select landing sites for their safety and scientific potential. Precursor landed missions can characterize the environmental conditions on a planet’s surface and the threats they may pose to human health. This could be particularly important on Mars, where fine airborne dust is pervasive. Precursor missions can also characterize the environment from an engineering perspective, allowing better design of vehicles, habitats, and suits for humans. And precursor missions can be used to search for potential resources, including ice and other water reservoirs on Mars, and other materials that can enhance missions. Precursor missions can test and demonstrate technologies and show near term mission accomplishments in the areas of propulsion technologies, entry descent and landing, precision landing and hazard avoidance, mid L/D aero shapes for aerocapture, automated rendezvous and docking, in situ resource extraction, soil and dust characterization (toxicity, corrosive qualities).
Robust Technology Development Focus. NASA must increase its emphasis on the technologies and research that will enable sustainable human exploration beyond LEO. NASA must facilitate the use of its advanced technologies to terrestrial application. The technology development portfolio must be guided by the mission and cover the entire range of technology maturation from highly innovative fundamental research that will lead to “game-changing” capabilities to advanced development and flight demonstrations. Technology investments should coordinate and leverage investments by external organizations (international, academia, DOD, industry), finding opportunities to align common interests, even when end goals are different. In doing this through our applications, we can take technologies to the next levels creating new capabilities. This is a unique NASA role in technology and advanced development. A near term focus can be put on identifying the technologies to be demonstrated on ISS, such as advanced robust life support systems, inflatable habitats, human health research, and demonstration of advanced low thrust/high efficiency propulsion that can serve to offset drag and eliminate reboost needs(such as VASIMIR using ISS waste H2).

Commercialization
. Pending a thorough test program that validates the integrity of the architecture design and human rating requirements, NASA should commit to commercial crew transportation to ISS with the intent of buying domestic commercial services for delivering U.S. and partner crews to the ISS. NASA must pursue acquisition reform to lower the cost of space exploration and take steps to enable commercialization of LEO transportation services. We must understand the potential role or absence of Ares I and associated implications in this decision.
Develop Heavy lift for Mars Missions and destinations along the way. It is important that we develop the means to explore beyond Low Earth Orbit in a meaningful way, and develop a vehicle that is Mars capable. Considerations need to account for safety, cost, infrastructure, work force, industrial base, politics, and other implications. There can be negative impacts depending on the exact decision. Those impacts may be acceptable or not in light of the overall goal and priorities, but decisions should be made in full light of what they are to our best understanding of them.
Consolidation and streamlining. Our NASA and related industrial base has evolved and grown with the changing priorities over 50 years. We continue to support all of it, rarely throwing anything away once its use has been outgrown. We clearly see that supporting it increasingly diminishes our ability to perform the inspiring missions that we envision and are known for. It is time to clean out the closets, to consolidate and look for efficiencies in infrastructure, processes, acquisition, levels of oversight, etc., and encourage/incentivize our industry partners to do the same.
A notional timeline. During the next few years the focus is on revitalization of NASA’s infrastructure to be best-suited for Mars exploration; robust utilization of the ISS to buy down risks, development of a heavy lift capability; creation of the network of educators and students; design, development and near to mid-term missions of Mars robotic precursors; and advancement of the technology necessary to reach Mars; all of which will contribute to improving life on Earth. Next, we focus on working on our proving grounds, Earth analogs, ISS, the Moon and others, with input from the decadal survey process. Then our attention is focused on bringing the fruits of the previous two decades to bear as carry out the mission to Mars.
Funding. This approach should be evolved to inspire administration and congressional investment in this exciting future. The ISS augmentation can help fund the ideas put forth here. The technology initiative can fund the research as well as augment funding for technology demonstrations and research on Mars missions. Augmentation for Exploration transportation can advance timelines for development. This approach can also serve to inspire participation and augmentation by an expanded set of International Partners who are currently best able to participate on the robotic mission scale. Infrastructure consolidation and improved operational efficiencies can also help to reduce overhead and free funds for visible achievements.
Staying relevant and sustainability. Our relevance needs to be stated independently of destination and vehicles. To sustain the long term campaign, we would create cycles where products (hardware, technology, research) are designed, built and tested. Following the model of SMD’s Decadal Survey, we would solicit input and participation bringing technology experts, scientists, educators, students, and international partners into the planning process for the next s cycle. Students, technologists and researchers (both domestic and international) would infuse their ideas into these cycles, seeing short-term results and demonstrations while feeding into the longer term development objectives. Space Station technology demonstrations could include near term accomplishments in areas of closed loop life support, inflatable habitats (commercial), student run laboratories, proof of systems reliability and human research for the long term. In the later 20-teens, technologies can be developed for testing on the Moon, with exciting applications on Earth.

Generation Mars is about participatory exploration
. We can raise the Mars Generation to be emotionally engaged with our progress because they are contributors to the goal and are part of the maturation process in achieving it. The human landing on Mars will be something the next generation will own, and sets them in motion for getting into engineering and math, technical fields. They will be the first humans to step on another planet’s surface.
Plan for Agency Coordination
Get SMD input and science community input
Get SOMD input–ISS use for Mars
Technology plan–Mike R. and Leshin input
Education people
Figure out commercial, international involvement
Work details on changes to oversight and [Document Ends]

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceRef Canada Interactive Inc, CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef U.S., advisor and co-founder of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, and director and co-founder of MaxQ Accelerator Inc. Previously he was the founder of Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine which he sold.

Check Also

SpaceQ Podcast

SpaceQ Podcast Episode 6 – Catching Up On Current Events in the Canadian Space Community and the U.S. National Space Council

The latest SpaceQ podcast is out and this week we’re doing something a little different. My …