Rep. Smith Criticizes Bolden's Defense of ARM Versus Mars 2021

Rep. Smith Criticizes Bolden's Defense of ARM Versus Mars 2021

House Science, Space and Technology  (SS&T) Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) issued a press release today criticizing remarks by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden earlier in the day to the effect that the Mars 2021 mission is not a steppingstone to sending humans to the surface of Mars.

Bolden spoke to a joint meeting of the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and Space Studies Board (SSB) on a wide range of issues, including yesterday’s announcement that some contacts with Russia will be suspended because of the Ukraine situation.   One issue was the future of human spaceflight.  He defended the Obama Administration’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) as a steppingstone to Mars because it provides an opportunity in cis-lunar space (between the Earth and the Moon) to test technologies needed for longer forays into deep space including the ultimate goal to land people on Mars.  NASA calls cis-lunar space a “proving ground.”

He compared ARM to the Inspiration Mars proposal put forward by Dennis Tito to send astronauts on a free-return trajectory to Mars where the two-person crew would fly around Mars, not land there, and return to Earth.  The original proposal was to do this in 2018, but a newer version dubbed Mars 2021 would send the crew first to get a gravity assist from Venus by flying around that planet and then go on to Mars.

Bolden said Tito’s idea is a “one time feat” that does not help with the goal of landing people on Mars and “not inspirational.”

Smith, an ardent advocate of Mars 2021, strongly disagreed in a press release issued late this afternoon.

Chairman Smith: “In comments before the National Academies, Administrator Bolden today misrepresented a Mars Flyby 2021 mission.  The Administrator indicated that a Mars Flyby is not a worthy stepping stone to an eventual Mars landing because it doesn’t demonstrate technologies. That is factually incorrect. Experts have testified that a Mars Flyby mission would utilize the Space Launch System, architecture that will be central to a Mars landing. He further contended that the Obama administration’s proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) is a better stepping stone to Mars. However, the administration has not provided any details of how it fits into a larger exploration roadmap. The ARM mission lacks support from the stakeholder community and NASA’s own advisory bodies. It is a mission without a realistic budget, without a destination and without a certain launch date. I urge the Administrator to get his facts straight when comparing the value of potential NASA missions.”

The Obama Administration and Congress have been battling over the future of the human spaceflight program since Obama terminated the Bush-era Constellation program to send humans back to the Moon and on to Mars.  Instead he wants to send astronauts to an asteroid first and then go to Mars.   Bolden and the House SS&T committee debated this issue most recently at a hearing on NASA’s FY2015 budget request. 

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