NASA Studies Impact of Mars Flight

WASHINGTON—A former astronaut's plea that NASA make human exploration of Mars "a primary goal" of the nation's space program has raised concern that such a program would restrict other space science research. Michael Collins, chairman of the Council's Task Force on Space Program Goals, urged the NASA Advisory Council March 3 to undertake a multinational program of Mars exploration as a tonic for post-Challenger malaise. "We need to restore some health to the invalid,"

By | March 23, 1987

WASHINGTON—A former astronaut's plea that NASA make human exploration of Mars "a primary goal" of the nation's space program has raised concern that such a program would restrict other space science research.

Michael Collins, chairman of the Council's Task Force on Space Program Goals, urged the NASA Advisory Council March 3 to undertake a multinational program of Mars exploration as a tonic for post-Challenger malaise.

"We need to restore some health to the invalid," Collins said of the agency. The multinational Mars effort should include the Soviet Union, he said, but the United States also should be able to do the program alone if necessary. Collins, part of the Apollo 11 lunar landing crew, gave no deadline for the mission, but said that "now is the time to get on with it."

Listening to the presentation, Louis Lanzerotti, chairman of NASA's Space and Earth Science Advisory Committee, warned that "science has changed since the Apollo [Moon landing} program, and planetary exploration is only one of four or five of the space sciences." He said after the meeting that such a new venture "cannot overwhelm the scientific goals and strategies that the country has pursued in rather excellent fashion over the years."

Lanzerotti, a scientist at Bell Laboratories, disputed the claim that a manned Mars mission, probably preceded by robotic missions, would pull along all other space sciences in its wake. "Scientists don't believe a major mission like this would form an umbrella so that you can continue to do such things as a Hubble Space Telescope, the Advanced X-Ray Astrophysics Facility or an Earth science mission," he said.

Both the public and the politicians support a broad space science program, Lanzerotti said. If NASA were to narrow its focus to a long-range Mars mission without providing extra monies to fund it, "you better tell all the scientists they have been wasting their time." Lanzerotti also expressed doubt that the current political structure would "support a long-term initiative in a way that's cost-effective and sensible."

Collins said the final report of the Task Force, expected to be sent shortly to NASA Administrator James Fletcher, will address Lanzerotti's concerns.

David is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.

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