STRATEGIC THINKING FOR LONG-RANGE MARS PLANS
John K. Strickland, Jr.
Planning for a successful Mars Exploration and Development program will be complex and the plans must extend over many decades. Even though we do not want to repeat its plant-the-flag-and-leave goals, the great success of the Apollo program was in large part to its planned organizational structure. Unfortunately, the last 30 years of the post-Apollo manned space program have been seemingly productive, but in the opinion of many, goal-less and directionless years. In spite of the thousands of dedicated and competent professionals working in the field, the government space program has been the victim of a repeated series of bad decisions, some political, some bureaucratic, others financial, which may have caused as much as a quarter century of delay in human space exploration and development. Repeatedly, good designs were abandoned for bad or expensive ones, fundamental research in critical areas such as advanced propulsion was delayed or stopped, and moves to develop radically cheaper launch vehicles postponed. The bad decisions themselves were in many cases made for short-term reasons, and without considering many of their longer-range consequences. The result has now caused many in the space community to question the feasibility and practicality of any manned space exploration program led, managed, funded or sponsored by the federal government. There is no guarantee that any future program will avoid such pitfalls, but it behooves us to attempt to avoid them if we can. Effective, long range and formal planning conducted publicly by both advocate groups and NASA can help reduce the probability of future bad decisions, and make it harder for problems caused by conflict-of interest situations to damage the program.
Because the problems blocking the creation of a Mars program, and most threatening to its success are political and organizational, rather than technical, it is critical for us to deal with the issue of planning, planners, design and control of programs now. One of the most important abilities of humans is our ability to do advance planning. In preparing for Mars Operations, we would be negligent if we did not use that ability to the maximum extent possible before operations start. I also think it is important to get people interested in looking at Mars planning from a variety of viewpoints before a lot of "final or master plans" are created, since more good ideas will then be contributed, and all plans will be better for being subjected to open analysis and debate.
I here present ideas and methods for a long-range planning process for creating a permanent human presence on Mars, partly based on the Delphi Method, and which takes into account both technical and organizational problems. This involves examining often controversial and concrete issues where people of good will may differ. My idea consists of a formal plan for planning, which uses inclusive methods to arrive at a consensual Mars Development Scenario. Abbreviated versions of this plan are intended to be used first by the Mars Society and other Space Advocacy groups in an attempt to create a consensus on Mars Programs. Later, it is intended that a more mature version could actually be used by the Sponsors of a real Mars Program to avoid some of the past pitfalls.