NASA's Substantial Underachievement Regarding Mars

Why aren't we there yet?

[Convenient] "Design troubles" on NASA’s twin Mars Exploration Rovers have drove up the projected cost of the 2003 mission by $100 million, prompting the U.S. space agency to borrow against future space science budgets to cover the added expense. The latest cost projections represented a 16 percent increase over the mission’s original price tag of $690 million."

  For some news articles pertaining to NASA's underachievement regarding Mars, please click  here.   Meanwhile, for some additional scandalous statistics regarding NASA & Mars, please continue reading this page.

Does anybody think that President Bush is impressed with NASA's Mars performance thus far?  
For videotaped coverage of President' Bush's apparent opinion regarding NASA's numerous fiscal and technical follies regarding Mars, please click here.

     As we document below, NASA has a rather unimpressive record regarding Mars.   However, even though the Europeans and British conduct Mars missions significantly more cheaply, neither NASA's bureaucrats nor their pet government contractors (which offer them political support, corresponding job security and even revolving doors to employment in the private sector) are eager for you to know about alternative procurement approaches such as entrepreneur-friendly Mars prizes.    Many Washington D.C. and industry insiders believe that we could accomplish a lot more in space if only certain pro-commercial legal reforms were enacted that would empower newcomers to compete against entrenched tax-supported entities such as NASA and its pet Mars contractor Lockheed Martin (which is "coincidentally" a prominent media sponsor...).  If we examine NASA's record regarding Mars thus far, it will be apparent that reform is long overdue.  
      Is NASA giving taxpayers enough of a return on their investment?   NASA gets around $15 billion annually, and for what?   The (overpriced) $300 million Mars Odyssey mission is starting to be a qualified success.   Nevertheless, how is it that the Mars Odyssey mission can only check for water ice merely within the initial meter of Mars soil despite the availability of more deeply probing technologies?   Meanwhile, did you know that for an extended period of time NASA even had to completely shut down Odyssey's radiation measuring instrument, despite its being one of the 2 main justifications for the mission?   Consequently, important radiation data collection opportunities en route to Mars were forfeited.   For more details about that setback:

       Are Mars failures by NASA starting to sound familiar?   Remember the failed Mars missions of 1999?  

1) Mars Climate Orbiter (1999):  One set of engineers crunched the navigation numbers in English units while the other assumed the figures were in metric units.   The result: a doomed orbiter that burned up upon approaching Mars in September of 1999.  English units were used for critical reorientation rocket firings instead of metric units, as required.  How is it that Dan Goldin consciously made an agency-wide obsession out of worm logo erradication at NASA, instead of elimination of inconsistencies regarding metric and English units?  (Our thanks to NASAWatch.COM  for the entertaining worm logo erradication page.).

      Mars enthusiasts could have had the opportunity to make Mars the topic of conversations throughout the world at the turn of the millennium.   Instead, however, humanity was trying to forget the Mars Climate Orbiter failure, and that of the 2) Mars Polar Lander.   That lander crashed onto Mars in December of 1999, most likely because of a premature engine shutdown.   Testing upon a planned follow-up lander here on Earth showed that when the lander's leg deployment took place, the movement 's sudden jolt fooled the computer into erroneously detecting that the landing had already occurred, thereby justifying turning off the engines.   Oops!   This problem could have been detected AND fixed while the 1999 Polar Lander was still on its way to Mars, although we don't hear much about that for some reason.    Says one expert source:  "[i]t's generally believed that an uploaded software patch to clear the contact sensor bit after leg deployment would have prevented the premature shutdown of the engines."



       Was money really the problem for the NASA monopoly?   Well, the British and mainland Europeans conducted Mars missions in 2003 at a small fraction of the cost of NASA's 1999 missions.   Indeed, the Europeans and British actually planned to LAND on Mars in 2003 for multiples less than the cost of NASA's predictably praised $300 million dollar 2001 Odyssey ORBITER mission.   Needless to say, they were also spending far less than NASA is on its predictably much costlier 2003 LANDING missions, even though the British and Europeans were nevertheless reportedly aspiring to accomplish more scientifically.   For further details about the mixed results with which they came up:

ESA's 2003 Mars Express mission page.


      NASA's 1999 flops not only cost us turn-of-the-millennium awareness-enhancing opportunities regarding humanity's potential future there, but also punished Hollywood for having invested in making Mars exploration and colonization more of a household concept.   When will we ever get another chance like what Hollywood recently offered us?

Mars movies released during 2000 or 2001

(after Mars was consequently perceived as being anything but "energizingly close" to mainstream America):

Mission to Mars

Cost to produce:  $80 million?
Domestic gross: $59 million.  

Red Planet

Cost to produce:  $85 million?
Domestic gross: $16 million.

Ghosts of Mars (from John Carpenter, who brought us Halloween, The Thing, and Escape from New York) Cost to produce:  $30 million.
Domestic gross: slightly over $8 million.   
*Theatres keep somewhere around half of a movie's domestic (and foreign) gross. *A movie's total foreign gross is seldom greater than its domestic one, as one can confirm at
Often the second movie to address a topic makes more money than its recent predecessor.  Timely examples include: A Bug's Life ($162.8 domestic gross) which was released 6 weeks after Antz ($90.7 million).  Deep Impact ($140.5 million) came out 2 months before Armageddon ($201.6 million). 

     Are the 1999 and 2001 Mars failures isolated incidents?   Hardly.  Since 1976, we saw little if any NASA action regarding Mars until 1993, when NASA's $1 billion Mars Observer space probe disappeared just before entering Martian orbit.   Faulty fuel tubes are often blamed for that wasteful disappointment.   Subsequently the competing Department of Defense conducted a comparatively extremely economical and highly successful Clementine Lunar Mission for just $80 million dollars, and awakened the aerospace community to alternatives to NASA.   NASA, terrified of the post-Cold War prospect of being defunded, subsequently lobbied against the emergence of a similarly competing Clementine II mission AND got its act together long enough to conduct a several hundred million dollar mission to the Red Planet which culminated in 1997.   Until NASA's limited success of late 2001, the 1997 mission marked NASA's ONLY nonfailure regarding Mars in over a quarter of a century!   What is NASA doing with its approximately $15 billion tax dollars that it receives annually?

        Are there more Mars-friendly ways to spend all the money presently given to NASA each year?
  Wouldn't offering Mars prizes create far more jobs, and competing approaches resulting in more successful exploration and eventual colonization of our neighboring planet?   Why don't the NASA bureaucrats and their government contracting friends welcome the potential competition, though?    To answer that question it helps to note that NASA's $300 million dollar Mars Odyssey mission is considered to be overpriced.  It's not as easy to demonstrate that, however, when a monopoly is setting the prices.   Is self-perpetuation not why NASA and its pet government contractor Lockheed Martin shy away from the prizes approach to procuring Mars data?   After all, if much more efficient entrepreneurial entities are finally as incentivized as the companies possessing huge political lobbying machines and a corresponding tradition of "winning" big government contracts, prices would come down and public expectations would increase.  

Does anybody think that President Bush was impressed with NASA's Mars performances over the years?  
For videotaped coverage of President' Bush's apparent opinion regarding NASA's numerous fiscal and technical follies regarding Mars, please click here.

For the scandalous info that you still won't find in most media outlets regarding NASA, please click here...

Has NA$A been stifling commercial space ventures that could otherwise outperform it?

Is it wi$e to maintain NASA´s official government agency monopoly?

Which proposed legal reforms could best help our stagnating aerospace industry?


Mars-related portals:
(Private entrepreneurs picking up the baton, despite the current lack of tax incentives, etcetera) (a news journal dedicated to Mars)

Dr. Zubrin's articles online regarding affordably colonizing Mars

Jet Propulsion Laboratory's tax-subsidized Mars exploration page