The ongoing argument about how to fix NASA’s dysfunctional Journey to Mars program took an interesting twist Monday when Louis Friedman, the co-founder of The Planetary Society and now its Executive Director Emeritus, weighed in Monday on the controversy in The Space Review. Friedman, unique of virtually everyone outside of NASA, advocated staying the course, suggesting that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the space agency’s approach to deep space exploration. The article brought a sharp rebuke from NASA Watch’s Keith Cowing.
Friedman thinks that three choices exist for the future of space exploration.
“Next year, a new administration will take control of NASA. It has three broad choices: quit human spaceflight and leave it to the tourists and developing countries; undo the current program to recreate a back-to-the-Moon interim step (some would say detour) on the way to Mars; or stay stable, and have NASA continue to progress on the Journey to Mars.”
Friedman rejects the first two choices.
“The first option creates an American decline. So too does the second, repeating an accomplishment we made 40 years ago, at much higher cost. That the Constellation program by 2008 had already delayed the human landing on the Moon until at least 2028 vividly demonstrates that bearing the cost of lunar landings and infrastructure while building a launch vehicle and human capability to reach Mars is unsustainable.”
Friedman seems to be ignorant of studies such as the ones done by Next-Gen Space and MIT that suggest that not only would going back to the moon make the Journey to Mars smoother and cheaper but that it could be done relatively soon. Next-Gen Space suggested that the first moon boots could be on the lunar soil by 2021, the second four years of the next presidential administration. Access to lunar water to make rocket fuel would open up the solar system to human exploration.
Friedman has a curious idea about how long-term space programs work.
“NASA does not yet have a plan for its now generally agreed-upon space exploration goal, human missions to Mars. It would be a mistake if they did. A plan now, without a specified and approved program and with many options for mission design and technology development, would be premature and wasteful. It would force both a timetable and cost estimates that, by their very definition, would be unrealistic and unsustainable. A premature plan might foreclose some of the options cited above for reaching into the solar system, years before the requisite experience is gained to make the best choices.”
The statement that we don’t need a plan or a budget to get to Mars roused the wrath of Keith Cowing.
“It would be a ‘mistake’ for NASA to have a plan for human missions to Mars? Really? How do you develop a budget unless you have a plan against which to derive costs and schedule? Indeed, how do you develop a plan if you do not have an overarching strategy with goals and objectives to guide the development of that plan? How do you know what you need to learn and develop if you have no idea where you are going? Lou Friedman is living in some alternate universe where he thinks that we should run that process in reverse.”
Cowing is entirely correct in his assessment. Any great undertaking has to have a plan for how to carry out the goal and some kind of estimate of how much it will cost to accomplish it. It is fortunate that Friedman was not in charge of the Apollo program. Otherwise, Americans would have never gotten to the moon.