We Asked A Major Rocket Scientist How Trump Should Send NASA To Mars

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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President-elect Donald Trump could be exactly what NASA needs to finally put humans on Mars, a scientist involved in plans to visit the Red Planet told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Dr. Robert Zubrin, author of “The Case For Mars,” hopes that Trump’s new space policy of eliminating bureaucratic waste and cutting back on environmental science research will free up the agency to pursue more ambitious goals.

“If Trump wants to make America great again, great nations do great things,” said Zubrin, who helped design plans for NASA’s manned mission to Mars.

“Visiting Mars would be an enormous intellectual achievement. Two hundreds years from now there could be new branches of human civilization on Mars,” he said. “Trump could make sure they’ll be speaking English. Sending humans to Mars would be a complete rejection of the thesis of American decline.”

Zubrin was one of the original authors of the “Mars Direct” plan to put humans on Mars with current technology. Two previously rejected proposals to send astronauts to Mars were projected to cost $400 billion and $230 billion over 20 to 30 years

Analysts said a modified version of Zubrin’s plan would cost $55 billion dollars over 10 years. That could be accomplished with NASA’s existing budget, Zubrin noted.

“The problem with NASA is that Obama let it drift,” Zubrin said. “NASA shouldn’t be developing things, it should be executing plans.”

“From the plan comes the thing. We didn’t get to the Moon because some guys in 1963 met in the NASA cafeteria. First came the imperative, from which came the plan, from which came the design of vehicles to implement the plan,” he told TheDCNF. “That’s a mission driven NASA. That’s what NASA needs to be as opposed to various groups each lobbying for their pet project.”

President Barack Obama twice hampered a program designed to take humans to the moon and Mars by leaking information to the press and threatening a veto. NASA astronauts now rely on the Russians to reach space, and the agency has been forced by the Obama administration to delay the Mars mission until 2030.

“The issue is not the funding,” Zubrin said. “NASA’s funding peaked at 4% of GDP, but the federal budget was a quarter of what it is now when we went to the Moon.”

Trump could slash the more than $2 billion NASA spends on its Earth Science Mission Directorate, which covers global warming science. NASA’s other functions, such as astrophysics and space technology, are currently only getting $781.5 million and $826.7 million, respectively.

“If Trump wants to do anything in space, he has to say we’re going to do this by the end of my second term. It’s not real unless it gets done by his second term,” Zubrin said.

Space analysts suspect Trump will modestly increase NASA’s overall budget while slashing many programs supported by Obama. Additional money for Mars exploration could potentially be diverted from NASA’s troubled Asteroid Redirect Mission, which was also heavily supported by Obama.

Vice president-elect Indiana Gov. Mike Pence tweeted in late October to reinstate the National Space Council to coordinate U.S. space policy with civil and military space agencies. The Council is traditionally headed by the sitting vice president.

Obama promised to re-establish the organization before taking office but never actually did.

Zubrin suspects that private companies may get to Mars first if nothing at NASA changes. Elon Musk, billionaire CEO and founder of SpaceX, plans to send a manned spacecraft to the Red Planet and then colonize it within a decade.

“Somebody’s going to beat NASA to Mars if NASA keeps standing still, that’s a sure bet,” Zubrin noted. “I’m very supportive of Musk, Bezos and the rest. I think it’s great that Musk has competition, but he’s greatly facilitating things and has demonstrated the ability to develop hardware in one third the time and at one tenth the costs of the traditional aerospace industry.”

“Musk has a higher failure rate than his competitors, but you can’t knock him for that because he’s trying things that have never been tried before,” he added.

At a conference in late September, Musk told the audience that he plans to reduce the cost of going to Mars to that of buying a new house. He didn’t specify how he’d do it, only noting that fully reusable rockets, orbital refueling and production of rocket fuel on Mars would be involved. Musk plans to send the first missions to Mars in 2018 or 2020. Zubrin thinks that Musk’s plan could work and that the billionaire could beat NASA to Mars.

“NASA has been working on Orion since 2004 and it’s yet to fly except for at test flight,” Zubrin continued. “I think we’ll see Musk flying a Falcon Heavy launch vehicle by 2017. With that rocket, the road is open to return to the Moon, go to the asteroids, or head to Mars.”

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