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Is NASA Afraid to Send a Manned Mission to Mars?

YOWUSA.COM, 15-July-02
Janice Manning

Is NASA Afraid to Send a Manned Mission to Mars?It seems that NASA is ducking any serious questions about sending a manned mission to Mars.  Rather than face direct, on-camera questioning by reporters at a press conference regarding their own leak and first major turnaround in 26 years, they scurried for cover!  What major Martian discovery would cause the big boys at NASA to turn tail and run? The answer is simple: water! Mars, that so-called cold, dead, dry, dusty dune of a place, has oceans of it in an ice-rich layer just a few feet under the surface of the planet in many areas!

Robert H. Williams, former professor at Clinton Community College in New York State, has gathered mountains of data on the red planet.  He expressed his deep dismay with NASA in a letter that he sent to YOWUSA on June 10, 2002.  He sees NASA's lack of the "scientific enthusiasm" that they used to express abundantly during the glory days of the Moon launches as a stumbling attempt to cover up a glaring blunder.  This blunder, if corrected, could actually point to life on Mars.

Water on MarsNow that NASA has found water, life's most basic requirement, on Mars, it would seem that looking for life would be the next logical step.  Furthermore, it would seem that this discovery would encourage NASA to step up its plans to send astronauts to Mars, but this does not seem to be happening.  Yet, Russia suddenly talking about a manned mission to Mars so what gives?  And why is NASA/JPL conducting this quest with all the plodding determination of someone who has lost his car keys?

While NASA's announcement of water on Mars permanently puts the arguments of proponents of the liquid CO^2 theory "on ice," NASA/JPL is failing to follow its own oft-repeated mantra, "Follow the Water!" 

Instead of earnestly seeking out life on Earth's nearest neighbor now or in the near future, they are repeatedly sending up unmanned missions that are landing in much the same areas as previous ones.  They do not plan to send astronauts to Mars at all for the first two decades of the new millennium.

It's Not Your Mother's NASA Any More

Perhaps their scientists are unwilling to admit to being surprised when they saw pictures of water that seemed to flow into new gullies on the planet surface as indicated below.

Space.com, June 22, 2000
Scientists Report Water In Gullies On Mars

WASHINGTON -- Researchers using NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft announced Thursday that they found puzzling signs of water seeping into what appear to be young, freshly-cut gullies and gaps in the Martian surface.

The startling discovery of recently-formed; weeping layers of rock and sediment has planetary experts scratching their heads.

The wet spots show up in more than 120 locations on Mars and in the coldest places on the planet, said Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, California, which built the spacecraft's camera…

"We were quite surprised and confused" to find present-day evidence of water, Malin said, "because it doesn't really fit our models of what Mars is like."

Michael Malin and Kenneth EdgettMalin colleague, scientist Kenneth  Edgett, who is poring over the 65,000 images the spacecraft has returned since it arrived at Mars in 1997, could come up with no better explanation.

"I was dragged kicking and screaming to this conclusion...Mars is like nothing we thought Mars was going to be like before this camera got there.  It's not your mother's Mars," Edgett said.

Evidently, it's not your mother's NASA either! It's definitely not the NASA of the Apollo moon launch era.  Although they had evidence from 65, 000 images, these principal investigators had to be "dragged kicking and screaming" to a conclusion vital to Martian life or to the use of Mars as a human outpost.

Yet, this vital conclusion has garnered the ecstatic enthusiasm of others, like Effrain Palermo and Jill England, who saw water seeping out all over the red planet as shown in the images on their website.

Additionally, Mr. Williams saw some of the evidence for himself and eagerly posted it to his own site.

Where's The Enthusiasm?

When one considers NASA's elation over the Apollo era and the recent Mars Pathfinder mission, it is difficult to understand why NASA is not jumping for joy over this life-promoting discovery!  Instead, they choose to adopt a "wait and see" attitude.  They continue to hold fast to their belief that the surface temperature of Mars never surpasses 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit although Pathfinder recorded surface temperatures as high as 70 degrees Fahrenheit on some days.

JPL, who kept a running log of the Mars Pathfinder mission status reports, filed a report on July 31, 1997, which documented the 70 F surface temperature.  It stated, "When ground temperatures are 16 to 21 degrees Celsius (60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit), they can drop to minus 23 to 27 degrees Celsius (minus 10 to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit) just five and a-half feet above the ground."

One would think that the scientists and principal investigators for the Mars Odyssey project would have been able to think outside the box for a brief moment and ponder the exciting possibilities in store for future Mars expeditions.  However, that does not seem to be the case.  They don't seem to be willing to try to connect the dots between the presence of water and the possibility of Martian life.

Consider the following statement by William Boynton, principal investigator for Odyssey's gamma ray spectrometer suite at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Space.com, May 30, 2002
Breaking the Surface: How Scientists Could Use Mars' Water-Ice

"There's enough water there that astronauts don't have to worry about bringing water along with them," Boynton said.

"All you have to do is heat it up and the water is going to run out. You just put it through a filter…nothing any more elaborate than the kind of filter you'd use on your coffee pot," Boynton said. "My guess is that it would be clean enough to drink right like that," he said.

Boynton added, however, that astronauts would have to be on their guard not to drink contaminated water. "If you melted the ice and you found too much bacteria…well, actually that would be great news. It means you've got life on Mars," he said.

tree-like life forms"They could always boil the water and not have to worry about bacteria. My guess is, based on everything we know at Mars is that water would be pretty pure, with no organic matter in it at all," Boynton said.

Perhaps Dr. Boynton, et al., should investigate the possibility that giant life forms could call Mars "home."  In fact, these images may show tree-like life forms that would easily dwarf such immense trees as the Sequoias found in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California.

We're not talking about little, green men — at least not yet.  We're not even implying sentience, as we know it.  For now, we are merely considering the ability to consume, produce and grow.  This image shows what appear to be Terran trees.  However, a craft orbiting Mars took this picture and many others.  At that distance, those "trees" would be roughly the size of New York City skyscrapers.

If the principal investigators cannot accept the possibility that such advanced life forms can exist on Mars, then they should at least reconsider the work of  Dr. Gil Levin.  Dr. Levin believes that some of the results of the Viking missions show evidence of life on Mars.  When Space.com interviewed Dr. Levin, he eagerly shared his point of view with them.

Space.com, May 28, 2002
Odyssey's Icy Discovery Warms Up Controversial Theories

"I am surprised that no mention was made of putting the Pathfinder data and the Odyssey data together," Levin told SPACE.com.  "Pathfinder found the surface temperature of Mars to exceed freezing, and Odyssey reports near-surface ice over wide regions…including the Pathfinder landing area, and the Viking landing areas," he said…

"Any physicist would tell you that, given water ice near the surface, a surface temperature above freezing, and a total atmospheric pressure above the triple point, liquid water must exist in the soil above the ice.  Maybe only as moisture for part of the day, but the liquid water is enough to sustain the microorganisms the Viking Labeled Release experiment found," Levin said…

"The King has clothes!  And as their blinders are gradually removed, even the most reticent scientists will suddenly discover that they knew all along that there is life on Mars," Levin told SPACE.com…

However, while Dr. Levin is looking at this evidence with both eyes open, other scientists currently involved with the Odyssey project are still not connecting the dots and seeing the possibility of life on Mars.  As Dr. Levin said, they are still wearing blinders.  Indeed, astrobiologist Bruce Jakosky described Odyssey's discovery as more of a climate "thing" than a biological "thing."

Water Phase DiagramFurthermore, he went on to state that most of the Ph.D's involved with Odyssey believe that the water ice on Mars is in equilibrium with its atmospheric vapor. This state would make obtaining liquid water at the planet surface impossible.  Any attempt to heat the ice to its liquid state would, according to their calculations, result in immediate evaporation.

Additionally, Jakosky stated, "[Odyssey's discovery] tells us about the atmospheric water cycle and, by implication, the polar water cycle and the history of climate over the last few hundred thousand or million years."

Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting
For a Future Mars Colony

Mars Robot ExplorerWhen will the NASA scientists finally remove those blinders that Dr. Levin saw long enough to acknowledge the possibility of life on Mars, or at least to consider sending astronauts to the red planet?  If NASA continues to operate as currently planned, that won't happen until at least 2020!

What will Mars missions look like in the foreseeable future?  NASA is conducting the next Mars mission in concert with the French and Italian space agencies.  It launches in June 2003. Then, before the Cape Canaveral launch pads cool down, no later than July 2003, NASA will send a spacecraft bearing a lander and two rovers to our nearest neighbor. 

unmanned mission to MarsThe range of each of the rovers will far exceed that of Sojourner, Pathfinder's rover.  NASA believes that their useable lifespan will also greatly exceed Sojourner's.

Beginning in 2005, NASA will launch more unmanned missions: a reconnaissance orbiter and a smart lander with long range rover. Additionally, they are considering small, unmanned scout missions.  Finally, NASA is scheduling a sample return mission for no earlier than 2014.  That means we won't even see one Mars rock until this mission returns to Earth.

NASA's Zeal (Or Lack of It)

NASA was not always so fearful of the unknown. There was a time when NASA was eager to begin exploring Mars with manned missions.  In a report published in 1969, NASA's then newly formed Space Task Force outlined a plan for NASA's post-Apollo years.  Mars exploration was a prominent issue in that plan.  In fact, the task force recommended a manned Mars landing to take place sometime between 1981 and 1984.

NASA, September 1969
Report of the Space Task Group, 1969

We have found questions about national priorities, about the expense of manned flight operations, about new goals in space, which could be interpreted as a "crash program."  Principal concern in this area relates to decisions about a manned mission to Mars.  We conclude that NASA has the demonstrated organizational competence and technology base, by virtue of the Apollo success and other achievements, to carry out a successful program to land man on Mars within 15 years.  There are a number of precursor activities necessary before such a mission can be attempted.  These activities can proceed without developments specific to a Manned Mars Mission-but for optimum benefit should be carried out with the Mars mission in mind. We conclude that a manned Mars mission should be accepted as a long-range goal for the space program.

This Space Task Group called their plan for Mars exploration a "crash program."  While we may see that as an unfortunate misnomer after the Challenger incident, it shows that at one time they were excited, eager to go "where no one has gone before."  The Challenger crewmembers died while pushing the envelope.  Since that time, no one has been willing to take up the mantle and courageously continue to push the envelope to Mars and beyond.  Yet, if the Challenger crew were alive today, they would, without a doubt, be among the first to submit an application. Although the Viking missions began to pave the way to Mars, it is now summer, 2002 and our Mars astronauts have not yet stepped forward.  Why the silence?

To quote the movie, Black Hawk Down, we have "lost the initiative."  Now, we must determine if we have lost it permanently along with our guts.  We may never be able to relive the elation of the Apollo era or the Pathfinder mission, but we must not let manned mission to Mars slip through our fingers out of fear of the unknown.  We must look inside ourselves to find the courage, the initiative, to reach for this brass ring.  Now, we need to "boldly go" to our next frontier and nearest neighbor, Mars!