John Glenn on Bush Mars plan: "Crap"

John Glenn commented recently on Bush II's resurrection of Bush Sr's Space Exploration Initiative, and finds it leaves much to be desired.

The Bush II plan apparently resurrects the SEI boondoggle plan of a 'Battlestar Galactica' flight to Mars, which involves the development of huge orbital construction yards, a lunar base, and then finally an even BIGGER construction yard orbiting the moon to build a collossal space cruiser (1000 tons or more) to fly for 6 months to Mars, orbit for a month, then immediately fly back to Earth by way of Venus(!), taking roughly 640 days total, 610 of them spent exposed to solar and cosmic radiation (a so-called "opposition" flight, which is launched when Mars is closest). All because a "conjunction" style flight has a limited launch window and would require staying on Mars for 550 days before the next window comes up- so the "by way of Venus" flight trip cuts the mission time by 270 days (from 910 to 640).

This despite the fact that around 1992 or so, NASA adopted the bloated compromise (yet still eminently better) "Mars Semi-Direct" as the official plan for getting to Mars. One step forward, two steps back.

This means, essentially, that Bush II's plan is a slightly modified version of Werner von Braun's 1948 plan, which was updated slightly in 1969.

Glenn, rightfully, thinks this is a load of crap.

Glenn said he would support returning to the moon for research purposes, but urged the panel to seriously consider whether building habitable moon bases as a stepping stone to Mars was cost effective.

"In effect you're making a Cape Canaveral out on the moon. It would be a smaller one, I'm sure, but it would be enormously complex," Glenn said. "It just seems to me the direct-to-Mars [route] is the way to go."

He warned NASA might "use up all our money on the moon and never get to Mars."

Indeed! What is the point of the Venus "fry-by" and just buzzing Mars in your gigantic mothership? If you're gonna lug 1000+ tons of spacecraft to another planet, there's no need to be hasty. Pack extra lunches, hell pack years of supplies and bring 100 people while you're at it. The Von Braun Bush plan is insane and makes no sense at all, unless you're trying to buy votes from the Aerospace industry with Moon pork.

Especially when, as Glenn notes, there's already a plan ready to go, requiring little new technology and which costs a fraction of the Battlestar Galactica model. The point of sending people to Mars should be that they can explore the place, not just touch down for a little bit then resume floating in zero-G.

Forget about the moon, W!

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Brian, While Glenn is


While Glenn is undoubtedly correct that the Bush plans are a load of crap, his preferences are even worse.

There is simply no justification for a "one of" human exploration of Mars unless there is reason to believe that aliens have left the blueprints for FTL and anti-gravity drives out in the open waiting to be picked up.

At least in the case of the Bush plan, there is the possibility of ending up with something useful left over, i.e. a moonbase. But, of course, this is not real. The Bush plan is simply a publicly-financed campaign commercial that will have served its intended purpose long before a single development contract is written.

This is just another Apollo program, an aborted step to nowhere intended to serve political ends.

The major long term accomplishment of the Apollo program was to set back human access to space by a minimum of two generations, and maybe forever.
I consider the Apollo program to be, marvelous achievement that it was, in overall lasting effect, the greatest 'crime against humanity' in my lifetime.

Government programs rarely produce capital formation, and often preclude its possibility.

Regards, Don

Hey Brian, I posted this to

Hey Brian,

I posted this to the other thread, but since this new topic is directly related, and since I'm not sure if you are still following the other thread I hope you won't mind me cross-posting it here.

1) As I understand it, when a solar system forms the gravity of the sun tends to pull the heavier elements to the interior planets of the system. Thus you get a lot more heavy metals (i.e. industrial metals) concentrated in the interior planets, and far less concentrated on the exterior planets. So for example in our solar system you have Mercury with the highest concentrations of iron, uranium, gold, platinum, etc. while the outer planets, like Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, etc. are made with much higher concentrations of lighter elements like helium and hydrogen.
Aren?t the concentrations and densities of heavy/industrial metals (like the uranium you mentioned) far, far lower than they are here on Earth, and isn?t that going to make mining on Mars significantly more difficult and expensive?

2) I showed your post to a few people I know, and none of them were familiar with the process you refer to for producing plastics. I was under the impression that most plastics on Earth used fossil fuels as a raw material? How many plastics manufacturers are currently producing plastics on an industrial scale using the method you mentioned?

3) You mention using nuclear reactors as the primary source of power on Mars, and hint that nuclear power could also be used to refine metals such as iron or aluminum. Could you tell me how many nuclear powered iron mills or aluminum refineries currently exist on Earth, and if this method is deemed uneconomical on the Earth, what makes you believe it would be profitable on Mars?

4) You mention a colony size of 100 people. Given our experience with the cost involved in landing 12 Men on the Moon for an extremely short duration what do you suspect/estimate would be the cost of landing 100 men on Mars with enough supplies to last them 1 year?

5) Assuming that all 100 of the colonists are dedicated solely to uranium mining how much uranium do you suspect they could mine compared to what 100 men could mine here on Earth? Will 100 men be able to mine enough uranium to keep the colony self sufficient?

6) You mention breaking down the Martian atmosphere to use as fuel. What raw materials are required for this process? Can they be renewed on Mars, or must the raw materials be imported from Earth? Can you produce enough fuel to sustain a colony of the size you mention (an industrial colony)? If this process is so efficient, and it works so well, then why isn?t it used by industry currently here on Earth?

7) What would be the basis for a Martian economy (what product or raw material)? Will the Martians trade with Earth? Can that possibly be profitable?

8) I asked you the other day about the long term effects of low gravity on the colonist? As I understand it, long term exposure causes to this kind of environment causes long term bone loss. What are the potential long term health effects to the colonists, and how will this effect productivity of the colony? Do you believe individuals will still be as eager to live on Mars if there life expectancy is significantly reduced as a result?

9) Do you currently run a business, and if so, would you relocate that business to Mars, and if so, what would be your economic incentive for doing so?

10) How many such nuclear powered ships do you estimate you would need to send to Mars? Given the amount of protest that previous launches of nuclear material into space have generated, and given the current failure rate for launching a vehicle into orbit (about 2%) what are the chances that the public would support such a plan, and what are the chances of a catastrophic failure during the launch of a nuclear reactor into space? What is the potential loss of life resulting from such a catastrophic failure?