The second danger; 'decades-to-payoff,' is perhaps an even greater factor. Who will put up with billions in funding for something they may not live to see? The best plan in the world will fail if there's no payoff anywhere in sight to get excited about.
This is why undefined plans to get to Mars perhaps by 2035 are unlikely to attract the support needed to actually happen. The public won't get excited, and funding will be easy pickings for members of Congress who want to use that money for pork projects instead; and with the payoff decades in the future, who would notice?
Further, other nations will take advantage of American surrender of technological leadership, and will go where we won't--taking tech investments and the resulting highly-paid jobs from the US. Indeed, China has announced plans to land on the Moon around 2017-2020, they begin building their space station this year, and will have ready heavy lift rockets by 2014. Why should we effectively abandon human space exploration and let other countries reap all the rewards, investments, jobs and innovations?
Therefore, we encourage the public to support a bold and exciting space program which will excite the public and which will offer continued payoffs to build public--and thus Congressional--support. Here is an example of a bold plan, using as its core Buzz Aldrin's Mars colony plans:
Sample Timeline to Mars, Asteroids and the Moon:
2011 Begin development of ion or nuclear propulsion which would allow far shorter (and safer) voyages to Mars and beyond. This would be used for the first voyages if ready, otherwise use conventional rockets.
2011 Begin design and construction of a heavy lift rocket and lander to be ready no later than 2016. America built the Apollo system in just six years from scratch--with today's technology, existing development work on Constellation and 50 years of experience, it is ridiculous to claim we can't do it in the same or less time as in the 1960's.
2011 Begin development of automated Lunar/Mars water ice processing systems to make fuel, breathing air and drinking water.
2012 Begin using the space station to simulate long term Mars missions.
2014 or 2016 Launch a Mars soil and water return mission - make sure nothing is hazardous to humans, answer questions regarding past or present life, and to learn how better deal with Martian dust.
2016 Get a heavy lift rocket system in operation by this time and/or use "Shuttle-C" or other concepts until heavy lift is ready. As they are completed, spacecraft, landers and habitation modules would be parked at the space station for extensive testing.
2016 Return to the Moon: short trips to scout locations for a permanent base and investigate Lunar water ice for fuel and life support.
2016 Mars launch window for many possible launches.
2018 Use this ideal launch window to send unmanned cargo ships with supplies, habitats, etc. to Mars for testing and for later use by later crewed launches. Robots would set up and operate equipment for long durations.
2018-2021 Possible missions to near-Earth asteroids and/or comets. This would further build experience for long duration spaceflights, while expanding our knowledge of the solar system.
|The Next Step...|
Throughout this timeline would be robotic precursor missions to Mars and other destinations, including a Mars soil return mission and establishing several telecommunications satellites around Mars. Starting about 2017 there would be manned missions to the Moon and to a near-Earth asteroid, getting the public excited. Beyond Mars could come human missions to more asteroids and comets, a Venus orbital expedition, as well as voyages to such fascinating outer-planet moons as Titan, Europa and Enceladus.
This plan packs a lot of exciting action into just a few years. Will the public get excited? You bet! Will this help rebuild our economy and attract tech investments? You bet! Will this interest kids in studying science? You bet! Will Congress fund this? Yes, but only if the public demands it. That's you and and everyone together. Please support these goals: demand Congress support this bold plan, and ask your friends to join too. Please also help get your organization to join the Coalition to push this bold vision. Together we can succeed, sign up today and invite your friends.
Bold works! Go bold or bust!