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Moon or Mars: is that the question?

June 17th, 2010

A new space policy was recently formulated by President Obama. The presidential proposal is now before the Congress, in a hot debate. As in many similar situations, passions and interests are at stake. The emergence of opposing positions is a complex phenomenon.
Sometimes a proposal is supported or opposed depending on the political party that originated it.
The jobs loss or creation in a specific region affects the actions of politicians expressed from that territory.
Business sectors seek to influence political decisions, on the base of their economic interests.
While on the one hand it was stressed that the Constellation program, underfunded and therefore not feasible, would jeopardize  future technological developments, on the other hand NASA is accused of having already taken steps that undermine the future of Constellation, even in the absence of a  pronouncement of the Congress.
Some commentators in the U.S. argue that the Country is losing its Space primacy due to failure in facing new threats coming from growing space programs of China and India, while Russia is regaining its role in the Space scenario. But in fact U.S. policy in the field of space exploration always heavily affects, or better determines, the choices of all other countries.
The solar system exploration program proposed by Obama, and landing on an asteroid by 2025, has created interest and enthusiasm sometimes  aroused, but the details of the program do not seem to have been clearly communicated .
The picture is clear, however,  if you pay attention to a vision statement from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden (February 1, 2010 NASA Budget Press Conference): “Imagine that trips to Mars take weeks instead of almost a year…
Most likely he referred to VASIMR, that might bring a crew to Mars in just 39 days, as reported on the website of the manufacturer. The scenario and the characteristics of space exploration would be completely different. The Bolden statement concerning the schedule of a mission to Mars (no earlier than ten years) could be compatible with the current state of VASIMR.
My opinion is that the problem is not Moon or Mars, as is often portrayed.
The vision proposed by Obama may not include resources to develop a new conventional rocket: the chances of developing innovative propulsion systems would be irremediably damaged.
The very problem is: The VASIMR bet is a winning one?

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Tags: bolden, Constellation, exploration program, Mars, nasa, Obama, space policy, USA, VASIMR
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