- Parabolic Arc
- June 1, 2023
House NASA Authorization Bill Focuses on Sending Astronauts to Mars; Moon Seen as Interim Step
by Douglas Messier
A draft of a House authorization bill rejects the Trump Administration’s Artemis program to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 and to establish a permanent presence there in favor of focusing on a crewed mission to Mars in the early 2030’s.
Under the measure, NASA would land astronauts on the moon in 2028 and launch crewed mission to orbit the Red Planet by 2033. The two missions would be interim steps toward landing astronauts on the martian surface in “a sustainable manner as soon as practicable,” the bill stated.
The authorization act would make the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft central to what it calls NASA’s Moon to Mars program while de-emphasizing the role of commercial systems and redirecting the Lunar Gateway to support missions to the Red Planet.
The bi-partisan authorization act was released by House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee with the support of Subcommittee Chairwoman Kendra Horn (D-OK) and Ranking Member Brian Babin (R-TX). Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) also backed the measure.
Under the bill, the moon would be a stepping stone, not a base, from which to expand human presence in the solar system.
“Any establishment of a continuously crewed lunar outpost or research station shall not be considered an element of the Moon to Mars Program and shall be budgeted separately from the Moon to Mars program,” the measure added.
“Crewed activities on or around the surface of the Moon that do not contribute to the goal of landing humans on Mars in as sustainable manner as practical shall not be included in the Moon to Mars Program and shall be budgeted separately from the Moon to Mars Program,” the bill said.
There was a similar provision for the mining of lunar resources for use as oxygen, water and fuel.
“Lunar in-situ resource utilization shall not be considered as risk reduction for the initial crewed missions to orbit and land on Mars,” the bill added. “Any lunar in-situ resource utilization activities and shall not be included in the Moon to Mars Program and shall be budgeted separately from the Moon to Mars Program.”
The Lunar Gateway, which is intended to orbit the moon as a base for missions to the surface, would be transformed into a Mars Gateway in cis-lunar space or at a Lagrangian point between the Earth and the moon. The gateway would serve as a testbed for technologies needed for Mars.
“The Gateway to Mars shall be developed to operate autonomously and to be crew-tended, as needed, on an intermittent basis,” the measure stated. “The Gateway to Mars shall be open and available for international participation and use.”
Authorizers also direct that logistics support for the gateway and the lunar surface be provided by commercial companies “to the meximum extent possible…provided that the availability of those services does not becoming the limiting critical path factor in NASA’s ability to complete its Gateway to Mars and Lunar Precursor initiatives as scheduled.
“The Administrator shall develop contingency plans for the delivery of the minimum set of needed logistics in the event commercial services are not available when needed,” the bill added.
The act would direct NASA to upgrade SLS from its current Block 1 configuration, build two SLS core stages per year, and complete development of an Exploration Upper Stage for the giant rocket.
“The Administrator shall ensure that elements of a ground system infrastructure are in place to enable the preparation and use of the Space Launch System, specifically its Block 1 (70 mt) and Block 1B (105 mt) and Block 2 (130 mt) variants of the Space Launch System,” the measure stated.
The authorization act also directs that NASA will retain:
- full ownership of the human lunar landing system;
- unlimited and unfettered insight into the design, development, and testing of the integrated human landing system;
- final determination on whether the system meets existing human-rating requirements; and,
- leadership over any anomaly or accident investigation, should it be necessary to carry out such an investigation.
The provisions essentially reject the commercial path NASA has followed the cargo and crew programs that support the International Space Station (ISS). The providers own the vehicles in those programs, and the space agency has not had “unlimited and unfettered insight” into their design, development and testing. NASA has not always led investigations into anomalies and accidents in the cargo program.
Another provision stipulates that NASA conduct one uncrewed and one crewed in-space test and demonstration of the lunar lander before attempting to land a crew on the surface.
The provision rejects NASA’s current plan to land astronauts on the south pole of the moon on the Artemis III mission without a previous in-space test of the lunar lander.
The bill calls for NASA to initiate the following programs:
- “a Lunar Precursor Initiative for the purpose of gaining and demonstrating the operational experience and systems needed to enable crewed transport to and from the surface of Mars, as well as for limited operations and habitation on Mars;
- “a Mars Enabling Technology Initiative (METI) for the purpose of developing and testing the technologies and capabilities needed for a human missions to Mars; and,
- “a Mars Transport Vehicle for the purposes of crewed transport to and around Mars.”
The authorization act faces an uncertain future with the rest of Congress. The Republican dominated Senate has been more supportive of the Trump Administration’s acceleration of the moon landing from 2028 to 2024 and its plans for lunar activities.
26 responses to “House NASA Authorization Bill Focuses on Sending Astronauts to Mars; Moon Seen as Interim Step”
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This is terrible. There’s no point going back to the Moon for a “flags and footprints” mission, which is essentially what this would entail with the restriction on both lunar ISRU and a long-term lunar base. Not that there’s any extra funding for a Mars lander, but then again the whole point of the bill isn’t really to get people to Mars either – it’s to redirect NASA human spaceflight funding to Boeing and SLS by funding the Exploration Upper Stage and barring commercial spaceflight providers from contributing to any lunar lander.
If you’re not going to research lunar ISRU, then there’s really no point to putting the gateway in lunar orbit either except to avoid embarrassment for SLS and Orion (Orion is under-powered for Moon landing missions, but heavily over-powered for missions in LEO). You might as well just expand ISS and use that as your testbed for an interplanetary mission.
Lunar ISRU’s are just another propaganda point. it will easily be a decade or two before any really serious ISRU resource use will occur…to try it on the first mission is comical (at the Moon or Mars)
Depends heavily on the ISRU architecture and motivations. It could be propaganda points if either is bad or poorly thought out. Could be quite useful if approached properly.
well how would you approach it to make it useful? we have no idea of anything about the ISRU in terms of water. where it is, what concentrations it is, …then we have never built machines to try and get it…the early machines are likely to fail…the investment to get to something that works is going to be high maybe as much as 200 billion dollars…
would you like to go to the Moon on a first flight that depends on getting ISRU to either survive or return?
everyone waives their hands about ISRU…musk wants to send monster spacevehicles to Mars and refuel them by machines that he has not even invented yet
For useful, start with zero government funding. If a company can justify spending their own money in the expectation of results, then more power to them. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for open ended pork, which I believe is your main objection. If Bezos, Musk, and company try and fail on their own dime, so be it.
Second would be for sending whatever cheap precursor experimental units necessary to learn and fail early. People that propose $200B experimental missions should get a blindfold and a cigarette. (Unless it is their own legitimately acquired funds)
Third is simplify.. Pushing regolith over a module for thermal and radiation protection is ISRU with a small machine from well understood principles. Creating fuels from Martian gasses is not quite as simple, but should yield results after a few tries. There are a number of simple possibilities for extracting Lunar water that could be examined by people with their own skin in the game.
6:40 am edit The magic in private money isn’t in guarantees of success. It is in the guarantees that the project stops when it fails or the entrepreneur goes broke. And without harm to third parties (taxpayers).
And, in the case of failures, a decent probability that new parties will come along, buy up the usable left-behind assets from said failures and eventually push through to success. That’s happened countless times in the terrestrial mining business.
with zero government funding there will be zero results
There are two points to answer here.
First is that results happen when motivated people with resources think they see an attractive ROI. That’ happens when transportation costs make the attractive ROI possible.
Second is that even if you were right, I will still take zero for zero in preference to hundreds of billions for zero. SLS, James Webb, F-35, most welfare programs…….
transportation cost are not the issue that is stopping lunar ISRO
Can’t drive to the dance if you don’t have a car. Transportation is key to development anywhere. It’s also the key to bypassing non-economical sites, like say, northern Greenland.
but you dont build the transportation system to go to the dance.
and so far there is no reason to build the transportation system to mine unknownlunar resources
if people were serious about tapping lunar resources the first thing someone would be trying is to use cheaper automated probes to find out if they exist, then where they are and finally how to get to them
Of course one should start with automated probes now that the tech is getting there. But one only starts that when a reasonable ROI shows up. The reasonable ROI can’t happen unless there is a reasonable expectation that transportation will make it economically feasible. Humans in space is all about transportation.
the old chicken or the egg thing
the cost of transportation is not the issue. the issue is that no one has a clue 1) where the resources are 2) what densities they are in and or 3) how to retrieve them from those various densities
you and Matula need to study the “gold” rush in California.
hint which came first? the discovery or the railroad
The gold rush was accessed by ships, horses, and wagons. The transportation was matched to that demand.
the gold rush was one of the key reasons for the railroad…and why it went to CA first…
but CA was quite habitable and desirable even without gold. the port of SFO alone was essential
The gold rush was basically over well before the railroad got there. Yerba Buena wasn’t essential until there was need for it. Relatively few people were willing to risk it for land alone. The railroad created the value in much of the west. Getting goods to market only works if you can get the goods to market.
I, for one,have already long since sketched out a general architecture for water recovery from permanently shadowed craters. It involves erecting a number towers around the periphery of a candidate crater, then rigging cables from said towers to a “mining head” of microwave magnetrons that runs on power generated outside the crater walls and which can be positioned and raised/lowered via the cables to gasify, then re-freeze volatiles to capture them.
Quite a bit – maybe all – the total mass for a prototype such system, including the initial power generation bits, could likely be carried by a single Starship. Your $200 billion estimate is your usual sort of nonsense number pulled directly out of ye olde anale archive.
Your rhetorical question is a straw man. No one is planning any missions to either the Moon or Mars that depend upon ISRU to enable return.
To be fair, we have no idea what SpaceX has or hasn’t invented as yet anent martian ISRU as it has yet to say anything about the particulars of such. Musk has long since stated that the first ISRU goals are methane and oxygen from martian CO2 and water via the Sabatier process. The Sabatier process is not exactly cutting-edge chemical engineering.
Laughter is certainly a response. What it is not is a refutation. You asked, I answered, you have no comeback.
anything that takes starship as a reality is worthy of a laugh
No one is planning any missions to either the Moon or Mars that depend upon ISRU to enable return.
Well… to be fair, IIRC there is a 2017 SpaceX doc which lays out sending a manned BFR to Mars Surface first, and then setting up ISRU for any return to Earth! Perhaps that’s been adjusted by SpaceX since 2017? (as so much else SpaceX has course corrected on since 2017) But damned if it wasn’t there.
It could well be much sooner than two decades. Point is, applying the philosophy of perpetually kicking the can of actual usefulness down the road, as this committee report would mandate, pretty much insures it would never happen.
Nothing survives the sausage factory. Self-interest will condemn us to another 50 years of stasis. As long as they are able to grandstand on social projects, they are golden. I never had an optimistic view of the political support to begin with. They will likely cannibalize any space program as soon as there is a cost overrun or delay, anyhow. This is just what they do. Better to encourage private industry alone. That at least will give them something to salivate about- new industries to regulate.
This has Boeing lobbyist fingerprints all over it.
Palm prints. Probably from all the grease applied.
Lard, for sure. Oink!