11 January 2004
Cost of Bush Space Initiative Unclear
By Paul Recer
AP Science Writer


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The cost of a new space initiative to return American astronauts to the moon and then on to Mars would depend on when the nation decided to go and how ambitious the missions turned out to be.

President Bush is expected next week to announce a program to establish a permanent human colony on the moon and then, a decade or so later, to send humans to Mars.

A key to relearning how to live and work beyond low Earth orbit is establishing an L1 Gateway, a point of gravitational balance between Earth and the Moon. From L1, space science advancements are possible, as well as moving humankind back to the Moon and onward.

A blend of robots and humans transforms the Moon into a 21st Century hub for science and a jumping off point for deep space missions.

Artificial gravity generated by a Mars rotator transfer vehicle helps thwart the impact of microgravity on the human body during lengthy voyages.

The bare outline of the president's plan revealed by White House officials follows the footprints of an effort proposed by his father, the first President Bush. The cost of that program was estimated in 1989 at $400 billion to $500 billion. Congress was not in the mood to spring from that kind of an investment in space and the program never left the launch pad.

The new moon-Mars program may face similar skepticism from Congress at a time of budget deficits, the Iraq occupation and the war on terrorism.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Science Committee, said last fall that the space agency should not expect "an unlimited budget" for any new visionary program.

"The federal government has too few resources and too many obligations to give NASA a blank check," said Boehlert in an Oct. 16 statement. "Any vision that assumes massive spending increases for NASA is doomed to fail."

During the era of the Cold War, when competition with the Soviet Union was a national priority, NASA enjoyed a generous flow of funds from Congress to finance the moon race.

NASA won that race, putting 12 men on the moon and returning them safely, at a cost of $25 billion in 1969 dollars. That same effort today would cost at least $127 billion, allowing for inflation. And the technical challenges and expense of Apollo are pale by comparison with the moon-Mars effort expected to be proposed by the Bush administration.

Depending on how elaborate the plans are and how quickly the nation decided to accomplish them, the ultimate costs could be over $750 billion spread over many years.

Setting a permanent colony on the moon would require designing and building new heavy lift rockets, spacecraft to take people to lunar orbit and still other spacecraft to ferry them to and from the surface.

It would also require developing new techniques of housing and supplying people for long periods of time in a vacuum environment where the temperatures can range from 250 degrees to minus 250 degrees.

An expedition to Mars is even more daunting. Just getting there could take months, unless new propulsion systems, using electric rockets, are developed to accelerate the journey. Then, there have to be dependable ways to get people to and from the Martian surface from an orbiting mother ship. And once there, there would be a need for power, probably coming from a compact nuclear generator that has yet to be designed and built.

Still another craft may be needed -- a robot cargo ship that could deliver supplies to the Mars to await the arrival of humans or to resupply those already there.

In the past, some projects, such as the space shuttle, were trimmed back under budgetary pressures from Congress, and some say the first victim of such cost-cutting can be safety.

In testimony before Congress last fall, Michael D. Griffin, a former associate administrator for exploration at NASA, said the agency could accomplish major lunar and Martian exploration by increasing the agency's $15 billion budget by $5 billion a year. For this to work, though, there would have to be a change of lifestyle within NASA, he said.

"Space activities so far have been largely episodic, when, in fact, the need to become ... a way of life," said Griffin.

Much of NASA's manned spaceflight budget is now being drained by the demands of returning the space shuttle to orbit in the wake of the Columbia accident last year. More money may be required. The budget is also hit hard by the need to maintain and continue to build the International Space Station.


Humans in Space: Resource Guide
Scientists, policy experts and space artists have been working in recent years to envision the future of human spaceflight. Here's some of what they imagine:

Future Mars Bases

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