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By Andrew Follett
NASA recently announced plans to build a space station orbiting the moon to help send astronauts to Mars, but one of the scientists who designed the space agency’s plans to send humans to the Red Planet thinks it’s an awful idea.
“No one needs a lunar orbit space station for any purpose,” Dr. Robert Zubrin, who helped design plans for NASA’s manned mission to Mars and wrote the “The Case For Mars,” told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We don’t need it to go to the Moon. We don’t need it to go to Mars. We don’t need it to go to asteroids. It is strictly a liability, not an asset.”
NASA plans to use the proposed lunar space station send a mission to Mars in 2033. NASA wants to launch four manned flights between 2018 and 2026 to the space around the moon in order to build a “gateway” station. The station will consist of a science research module, a power source and an airlock for visiting vehicles and is intended to test systems used to send astronauts to Mars.
However, the station would be virtually useless and exceedingly expensive, according to Zubrin.
“We don’t need it to go anywhere, and making the construction of such a station NASA’s next major objective will waste tens of billions of dollars and postpone for at least a decade any major accomplishments by NASA’s human space flight program,” Zubrin said.
After the station is built, NASA will send the “Deep Space Transport vehicle” to the station. The U.S. manned missions to Mars in 2033 will use that vehicle, allegedly so it can be refueled. There are no resources in lunar orbit to exploit, very little science to do, and no terrain to explore.
NASA constructing a base on the lunar surface would have at least some scientific utility and could be used as a refueling depot Zubrin noted in the National Review. However, building a space station in orbit around the moon wouldn’t be useful for refueling a Mars bound craft.
“A craft going from Earth to Mars should be launched on a trans-Mars trajectory directly from low Earth orbit (LEO),” Zubrin told TheDCNF. “It takes as much propellant to go from from LEO to lunar orbit as it does to go from LEO to Mars. So going from LEO to lunar orbit on your way to Mars makes as much sense as flying from New York to Saskatoon on your way to Paris.”
When asked by TheDCNF why a spacecraft sent to Mars couldn’t just be refueled in Earth’s orbit Zubrin replied, “It can.”
“That is where any refueling should be done if the spacecraft is launched from Earth,” Zubrin said. “There is an argument to be made for making propellant on the Moon. If that is to be done, we need a base on the Moon, not in lunar orbit. There are materials that could be potentially by used to make propellant on the Moon. There is nothing in lunar orbit.”
Zubrin suspects that the entire purpose of the lunar space station is to justify a rocket and capsule program NASA wants to spend money building.
“During the Apollo program, the NASA’s mission-driven human spaceflight program spent money in order to do great things,” Zubrin wrote in The National Review. “Now, lacking a mission, it just does things in order to spend a great deal of money.”
The U.S. is better prepared to visit Mars than it was to visit the moon in the 1960s, according to a study by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Current plans to send astronauts to Mars are projected to cost about $35 billion by 2025 to arrive at the Red Planet in 2030.
Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, outlined his plan to send humans to orbit Mars by 2020 at the same conference NASA’s new plan was announced at. Aldrin thinks that with adequate political support, he could send astronauts to orbit Mars, but doing so would require NASA to use a rocket built by a private company instead of developing its own.