In an earlier post, I outlined the ambitious 2017 Congressional Funding Plan for NASA and expressed surprise that there was strong bipartisan support for it. One of the requirements Congress levied in the legislation was that NASA provide Congress with a technical development, test, fielding, and operations plan, using NASA’s new Space Launch System Orion and other systems, to successfully launch a Mars human space flight mission by 2033.
NASA has had its eye on a human mission to Mars since 2004, and in October of 2015, they published “Journey to Mars”, their official road map for getting there by the 2030s. Inadequate funding and flagging national resolve are likely to delay that objective, and beyond that, the engineering challenges to success are formidable.
As NASA astronaut and International Space Station Commander Scott Kelly has said, “Space is hard”. And of course, he’s correct for more reasons than just the technical setbacks he was referring to.
But NASA’s optimism for establishing a Mars colony at some future date does have its supporters, and I sense the national dream of getting humans out there continues unabated.
In May of 2016, my former employer Lockheed Martin announced its response to NASA’s “Journey” with their proposed “Mars Base Camp”, a detailed technical plan for placing humans into Mars orbit by 2028. And this past September they upped the ante by adding a space-borne platform to launch a landing craft from the Base Camp carrying human passengers down to the Martian surface and back again.
Having worked for a dozen years for Lockheed Martin developing large complex systems, and witnessing firsthand their technical prowess, I confess I was excited by this vision. So for at least this blog I’ll put aside my skepticism about whether the US will dedicate the resources to allow NASA to succeed, and focus instead on the “what if” wonder if we do it.
Lockheed has a terrific website with videos and artwork describing their vision for “Mars Base Camp”, and rather than try to summarize it here, I encourage you to see for yourself. Their cool spacecraft designs look like something out of “The Expanse”.
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Images: NASA and © 2017 Lockheed Martin Corporation. All Rights Reserved.