A few unmanned cargo missions to Mars in 2016 to land the habitation modules, power systems, water-to-fuel plant, and to place 3 communications satellites into Martian orbit would allow for a very well-equipped human mission to Mars at the most optimum (shortest transit time) launch window in 2018. Such Shuttle-C launches would eliminate the need to modify the existing Shuttle launch pads, saving more time and money. Shuttle-C could launch 3 times the payload of the Shuttle+Orbiter system; 170,000 pounds. Constellation will lift 309,000 pounds--that's why we need it; but until it is ready we should not sit and do nothing. The Mars landing mission would be launched in 2018 using the then-completed Constellation.
Shuttle-C could also take us to the Moon, as it can launch the Moon lander and habitation modules. In either scenario, crew would be transported to the assembled Moon or Mars spaceships/transfer vehicles by regular Shuttle Orbiter flights. Note that the Shuttle Orbiters were designed to last for 100 launches, and none have exceeded 38 launches.
It is a criminal waste of America's resources to scrap the shuttles and to ignore the dirt-cheap Shuttle-C concept; thus needlessly delaying missions to Mars and the Moon.
Congress is urged to authorize the continuation of the shuttle program, to build Shuttle-C cargo pods and to use it to launch payloads for the initial Moon and Mars missions while Constellation is being built. We can land Americans on Mars in 2018!
on Orbit (NASA)