by Russel Sax
Washington - June 27, 2000 - There is a possibility that NASA's Johnson Space Center may try to "buy" the Mars 2001 Lander that has been canceled by NASA despite expenditures of over $100 million to date.
SpaceDaily was told by an industry source that JSC's Advanced Programs group is not happy with the increasing delays in getting critical in situ experiments to Mars, that will form the foundation for any future manned mission to Mars.
NASA has in recent months sought to down play any significant funding at this stage for deep space manned missions given the enormous cost and engineering breakthroughs needed to actually get people to Mars and back.
Nonetheless, NASA's Administrator Dan Goldin has allowed the Agency to promote many aspects of its advanced technology programs. While there is a large degree of PR opportunitism in long range dreaming, NASA will eventually mount a mission to Mars, and the long term science and technology needed for this are being researched today - albeit very slowly.
But with new deep space technologies such as the Mini-Magnetospheric Plasma Propulsion showing promise, many of the biggest technical hurdles facing a human mission to Mars could be solved within 10-15 years.
Faster travel times and bigger payload capacities to Mars, enables a less complex environmental and life support system to be provided with a larger unclosed loop in the recycling systems. With more room to carry perishable supplies from Earth it would be that much easier to get people to Mars and back without inventing an almost 100% closed environmental system.
Not withstanding extra cargo space, a critical issue for any manned Mars mission - let alone any long term presence - will be in situ production of various base materials such as oxygen and hydrogen.
The Mars 2001 Lander was to have included several such experiments from the Advanced Programs office (formerly the Lunar/Mars office) at JSC. With a strong possibility that these experiments won't make the 2003 window as well, JSC is reportedly looking at how to make use of the now obsolete 2001 lander.
The problem is that with so much pressure on the entire Mars program at present, how does JSC get headquarters to change its position on using the 2001 lander despite the problems with last year's lander which the 2001 lander is essentially based on.
But given that the lander is still here on Earth, JSC's Advanced Systems group could in theory redesign critical areas of the spacecraft while making sure the mission team was properly resourced and given the full backing of management to make sure problems get worked rather than shelved.
In a recent article by Laura Sachi, who worked on the MPL mission at Lockheed Martin, the failure of the various teams to work together both within their own group and between groups was said to be the critical issue in the failure of the two missions.
Moreover, with NASA holding a conference on Concepts and Approaches for Mars Exploration in Houston mid July the issue could soon be firmly on the table, as mission planners work out how to get the instruments of increasingly frustrated scientists to Mars.
Finally, SpaceDaily was told by one source that the folks at Stanford heard a UHF signal from MPL twice that was unmistakably from the lander. There is even a plot of this signal on someone's office wall.
Although the software bug may have shut off the engine, it probably only had a 50 percent chance of causing that. It's more likely it landed and something happened at landing to toast the transmitter, said the source. Moreover, if MCO had been in orbit, they very likely could have talked to the lander if the UHF was transmitting as Stanford may have detected.
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