Augustine Committee Correspondance

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Below is some of the correspondance I received from the committee on the future of human space flight. I submitted a question regarding answers to questions on the panel's website as well as information regarding Robert Zubrin's "Mars Direct" achitecture. Below is both the response I received, my reply, and some notes I have made. Take it or leave it, I simply wanted to share.

--- On Thu, 8/27/09, HQ-Human-Space-Flight <> wrote:
From: HQ-Human-Space-Flight <>
To: "" <>
Date: Thursday, August 27, 2009, 8:46 AM

Answers to questions submitted via the website are still being prepared. The committee has recently been focused on finishing its deliberations and writing the final report. However, work on website questions is continuing and a new posting of answers should be forthcoming soon. Regarding the "Mars Direct" option, it was presented as an early option during the August 5 meeting. However, during the August 12 meeting, the committee dropped it from the list of options for further consideration. Please refer to the transcripts and/or video of the August 12 meeting for details.

On 8/27/09 Shawn responded:

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my inquiry. As far as the "Mars Direct" option, however, I only ever heard the committee "consider" their own brand of Mars architecture dubbed "Mars First", which did not resemble either the architecture of Zubrin's Mars Direct or NASA's original DRM.

I watched the video for Zubrin's presentation on August 5th but the panel actually requested he speed up due to time contraints (which, I understand is not the fault of the committee--though I know they went several hours over on the 12th). Due to the same contraints, the panel moved onto something else immediately following Zubrin's presentation and explicitly noted that they did not have time for questions regarding the Mars Direct presentation by Zubrin due to those same time constraints.

I attended the panel meeting in D.C. on August 12th, but never heard any mention of Mars Direct (as outlined by Zubrin or the NASA DRM), but did, however, hear of the panel's "Mars First" approach, which I am aware, of course, was later dropped. In other words, the "Mars option" that was dropped during the 12th was not the Mars Direct approach presented by Zubrin. What I want to know is whether or not deliberations/ considerations of Zubrin's specific mission architecture was given, especially given the fact that the chairman's former company embraced Mars Direct as its own creation when initially introduced.

I want to know if the committee actually deliberated and alotted time for questioning the specific assertions, assumptions, and mission critical components of Zubrin's Mars Direct. If this was actually done on August 5th and I simply failed to watch enough of the videos, then I apologize. However, if such questioning and comments did not occur on the 5th, is there anywhere I can find the content of these discussions, which surely must have been had given the ostensibly unbiased approach of the panel? Having been in DC on the 12th, I'm quite certain such deliberation was not done at that time and, as already noted, the Mars option wich was dismissed was not Zubrin's Mars Direct.

I appreciate your initial response in a time when I am sure the panel is busy finalizing their reports and evaluations. I do, however, look forward to an additional response for purposes of corrective and/or clarification.

Thank you,

C. Shawn Stahlman

A few notes (in addition to the reply quoted above) to the committee's direction to "Please refer to the transcripts and/or video of the August 12 meeting for details."

1. I could not find the transcripts posted on the website of the Aug. 12th meeting (though they do have the transcripts available for the 5th). So I rewatched the many of the videos.
2. I came across the following and what is, as far as I can tell, the only explicit mention of "Mars Direct":

"Norm, just one point of clarification: I think the issue I have with option 10 is that we don't think that the approach of Mars Direct is the right way to be successful in getting to Mars (Norm says, "That's true."). I think that, I thought that, what we were saying is that the deep space options do lay the first steps to how would you smartly plan to go to Mars." Dr. Wanda M. Austin (President and CEO of Aerospace Corp)

A couple things to note:
1. No mention is made of that this is the Mars Direct as envisioned and designed and as presented by Robert Zubrin on August 5th. It is important to note that both journalists and the committee started off by referring to is Mars First option as "Mars Direct", which was not based upon Zubrin's or NASA's design architectures. The committee later stopped referring to this option as "Mars Direct" and instead referred to it as "Mars First" in both verbal references and in visual presentations--ostensibly to distinguish it from other mission designs.

2. If this is, in fact, a reference to Zubrin's "Mars Direct," then the deepest the deliberation and discussion of that plan goes is: "We don't think the right way to be successful in getting to Mars", to which Norman Augustine responds, "That's true." Of course, I can't help but ask..."Why?" Why is this the case? What specific design flaws do the panel members see as disqualifying this particular architecture? Perhaps it is the proven technology or perhaps it is the lure of staying aloft 200 miles for another 20-30 years? I'm not sure. And I'm not sure because the panel doesn't debate the aspects of Zubrin's Direct plan or NASA's DRM. On the one hand, the committee rules the options out based on estimated costs overruns, budget contraints which would preclude any such human explorations to the red planet. On the other hand, they exclaim, "It is absolutely not within our capability as a committee in the time available to attempt to produce a cost and a budget a
budget and a schedule for that [Mars missions and/or infrastructure buildup to go there]." So which is it? No time to figure a budget or cost analysis....because it seems that part of the dismissal is based upon an assumed cost overrun.

This panel is inconsistent, lacking in both perspective and passion, and simply a farce, symptomatic of the bureaucracy which commissioned it and which will be the recipient of its conclusions.


New Questioned submitted to Committee on August 28th.

On August 12th, Jeff Greason made the following statement: "I want to go to Mars the right way, which is: Let's invest in the buildup of infrastructure, let's invest in the build-up of transportation, let's invest in the buildup of technology, so that we have some idea of how we actually want to do it."

Jeff then goes on to say, "We could take on, you know, writing a well-informed piece of science-fiction,
you know, saying, 'this is what the future might look like and this is why we're investing in technology and this is how you develope from these kinds of capabilities to a real Mars mission."

The panel, in dropping the Mars destination as an "option", basically proceeded by following a philosophy based on the former statement by Jeff. That is, follow this option (deep space option) in order to build up the technology, etc. to lay the steps necessary to get us to Mars "the right way." How does the panel reconcile this with Jeff's latter statement. In dismissing Mars as option, is not the panel now simply engaging in the production of "well-informed piece of science fiction", as Jeff put it?


It is pretty frustrating to see them dismiss Mars Direct so readily. I have read The Case for Mars and Entering Space, and I agree emphatically with Zubrin's philosophy in regard to why we should go directly to Mars.

The only thing I disagree with him about is the use of nuclear power, the SAFE-400 reactor is supposedly safe to be launched, and we know the SNAP-10A has been safely launched, but those two are both only 100 kW electric output devices, so my question would be, can solar not provide the same power level without the issues associated with nuclear? I realize that the solar "isolation" is quite less on Mars than on Earth.

But I digress. Regardless of my concerns about the reactor, I think his basic idea is sound, and I think it is what NASA should be doing.

When will Pioneer Astronautics (Zubrin's company) be able to do Mars Direct on their own without NASA?? ;) I would still want them to use American made rockets on US soil, and Made in the USA equipment, etc.

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