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“Heaven wheels above you, displaying to you her eternal glories, and still your eyes are on the ground.”

by Dante Alighieri

National Research Council 2002 Ten Year Plan for Mars "Exploration"

TaggedSpace, Advocacy, SpaceX

Still looking for detailed information on the results of the MARIE experiment, called recently in BIS Spaceflight the "first experiment sent to Mars specifically to prepare for human missions".

The other night I finished reading the 2002 "NRC Assessment of Mars Science and Mission Priorities" from the COMmittee on Planetary and Lunar EXploration (COMPLEX... a fitting acronym for types who have figured out how to keep interested regular people away from their interests).  105 pages with two introductions and 12 chapters detailing in our standard "turning gold into lead" style all of the things we have done and all of the things we will do in our "Mars Exploration Program". 

In all of that, there was one (1, O-N-E) sentence on Odyssey's MARIE.  And if you think that was a low number... guess the count in the entire text of the word "Human". 

I'll give you a hint: Zero.

Oh there is one paragraph that mentions Apollo (page 102).  This paragraph makes it very plain that the authors (and reviewers) saw no benefit in Apollo due to it being "a crash program" that they feel accomplished no valuable results.  It did bring back samples that are still being analyzed but it did nothing for these writers.  At all.  "Humans" or even a sniff of Humanity are not in any way put into this paragraph.  At all. 

By saying nothing about Humans anywhere in the entire report, it says so much about the "Mars Exploration Program", on all levels.  I'm not just bitchin here, I am not being Pooh's friend Eeyore and lamenting and accepting this loss of Humanity in Space. Knowing deeply the players who make a difference and their attitudes is not to be shied away from, it is a very important thing if you really do want Humans to be at some point brought back into the Space Program. 

 

Back to MARIE.

This highly detailed report may have left MARIE with a only single sentence simply because of the time it was written.  According to the introduction, the project began in 2000 and was finished in 2002.  MARIE was launched on the Odyssey spacecraft in 2001 and arrived in 2002.  During the cruise phase MARIE was indeed monitoring radiation levels but that doesn't mean that the report had much to talk about.

Page 90 has a section on Odyssey's primary payload items and, aside from MARIE, the experiments get at least a bit of detail.  MARIE just gets a parenthetic partial sentence.

And that is it, across the board, for MARIE from the NRC and COMPLEX.  No pointer to it being the "first experiment sent to Mars specifically to prepare for human missions."  No other mentions of it or its mission goals anywhere else in the report.

Come to think of it, there is no other mention of "Radiation" anywhere else either, not in relation to any program or project or "Scientific Interests."  238Pu is mentioned (page 103) but only because they had to point out that the United States no longer produces that element and we'll have to buy it from the Russians to use it as a radioisotope power system for future "automated" landers. (in the report, "automated" is always used in place of "robotic", by the way).

 

Some critics of manned space flight on Capital Hill are said to be using their influence to hold down the amount of research on this subject [of Human-affecting radiation in Space]; this could be an indirect way of slowing the pace of flights to the moon and Mars. -Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. John L. McLucas, in Space Commerce

 

Following that paragraph on Odyssey we go into the MER program (this reference does still call it a 90 day project) and then comes the Scout program details.  Just so you know, the Scout and Sample Return missions get complete chapters to themselves following this catch-all one. 

I have to admit that once the chapters on Sample Return start there is a change in the writing style... it's like someone turned on a switch or the writer finally got a coffee, or maybe just that the old writer died of boredom and a noob started in.  It is still plodding and sleep-inducing to fit the Government's Manual Of Style but I swear you can feel the writer fighting to keep it that way - they are soooo into getting things, ANYTHING AT ALL, back to their quiet, sealed, darkened labs for "decades of research." 

The complete lack of mentions of Humans in relation to Mars "Exploration" is perhaps understandable. You have to always consider the source and the National Academies of Sciences are not the National Geographic Society (partly the reason NATGEO was created - by rich people who wanted to see everything that was out there with Human Eyes).  Plus, you can understand the text being boring as hell, because, again, you have to consider the source and the source is not about making things interesting or accessible to regular people unless they do it with writing geared to a five year old.

However... it is sad.  These are the folks who influence what goes up with your tax dollars.  This is the kind of work that they do.  They take it personally and they don't want some excited person to come along and get interested... that person might make it interesting enough that the boring crowd has no place (which is 110% wrong).  They completely believe that seeing for ourselves is not worth considering, their desires are solidly grounded in having machines go out and get pictures that they can then sit in little labs analyzing for years.  Guessing based on the limited data, instead of knowing from seeing for ourselves the whole view in context.

 

Oh, another interesting thing about this entire report.  it completely predicates that all of the "Exploration" is all about "Finding Life on Mars", dead or alive.  That wonderful phrase "Follow the Water" is in the report more than the word "The."  Yet, for all of the other dead-horse-beating on other points, there is no mention of WHY the Search For Life is the goal or any mention of where that solemn scientific quest came from. 

How did that become so clearly the Big Goal for the United States?  In my research, which starts with resources fron the 1920s (Oberth, Goddard and Lasser being the biggies so far in my pre-war reading), every single reference makes it plain that Humans are of course going to be an integral part of any Space project.  The Human requirement is just a naturally assumed part of the original works.

But somewhere, between von Braun and what we have now, that all changed.  It changed completely. 

I'm still on the trail of the Radiation details, as directly related to Humans in Space.  But now there is a side issue:  When exactly and where exactly did Humans get replaced, plus the major core of it:  Who *exactly* managed that switheroo.

 

"NASA has taken the most exciting development in the history of the human race, and made it dull"
-Robert Heinlein

All is not lost, for us regular Humans... NASA and the NRC and the others in the old guard are still much in control BUT remember that the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft still has a Window.

Next up on the Space Radiation trail: the 2006 NRC report  "Space Radiation Hazards and the [doomed] VSE"



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