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SpaceViews -- 1999 October 8

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Date: Sat, 09 Oct 1999 10:20:26 -0400
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Subject: SpaceViews -- 1999 October 8

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Date: Fri, 8 Oct 1999 10:34:07 -0700 (MST)
Subject: SpaceViews -- 1999 October 8
From: jeff@spaceviews.com
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                             S P A C E V I E W S
                              Issue 1999.10.08
                               1999 October 8

*** News ***
	ISS Service Module Launch Delayed
	Conference Committee Restores NASA Budget
	Shuttle Launches Delayed Again
	New Observations Eliminate Asteroid Impact Threat
	House Passes Launch Indemnification Bill
	X-34 Completes Test Flights for Year
	Delta 2 Launches GPS Satellite
	Taxpayers Group Calls for NASA Privatization
	Mars Images Show No Evidence of Ancient Ocean
	SpaceViews Event Horizon
	Other News

*** Articles ***
	Thinking About Mars

*** Cyberspace ***
	The Astronomy Net
	Astrobiology at NASA
	Hubble Heritage Project

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Ad astra,
Jeff Foust
Editor, SpaceViews

			       *** News ***

		     ISS Service Module Launch Delayed

	International Space Station partner nations have agreed to
delay the launch of the Zvezda service module until no sooner than the
end of December, more than a month later that previously planned, NASA
announced Friday, October 1.

	NASA and Russian Space Agency officials concluded during a
Joint Program Review that "it is no longer prudent to proceed with the
current service module schedule," according to a NASA statement.
Instead, the launch has been pushed back from November 12 to between
December 26 and January 16.

	The reason why Zvezda will not be ready for a November launch
was not clarified in the NASA release.  However, there had been
unofficial reports of issues with American software that would be used
on the module, as well as concerns that Russian officials would not
have completed all the testing of the module.

	An exact date for the launch of the module is expected to be
announced later in the month, after a General Design Review goes over
the status of the module and can more accurately assess its readiness
for launch.

	The delay is the latest in a string of setbacks for the
module, which was originally set for launch more than a year and a
half ago.  Delays with the assembly of the module, variously
attributed to a lack of funding as well as to technical challenges,
pushed back the launch of the first modules for more than a year, from
late 1997 to late 1998.

	This latest delay should have little impact on the rest of the
station assembly schedule, though, NASA officials said.  The shuttle
launch schedule was already in flux because of delays caused by wiring
inspections and Hurricane Floyd, and the next shuttle mission to ISS
was not scheduled for launch before January 22.  Any adjustments in
the assembly schedule caused by shuttle delays were already in the
works before the decision to delay the Zvezda launch was made.

	The announcement of the launch delay comes just one day after
the American restaurant chain Pizza Hut announced a deal to have its
logo painted on the side of the Proton rocket that will launch the
module from Baikonur.  There was no word whether this launch delay
would have any effect on that deal.

		Conference Committee Restores NASA Budget

	A House-Senate conference committee decided Thursday, October
7, to restore NASA's fiscal year 2000 budget to the levels requested
by the President, averting potentially disastrous budget cuts faced by
the space agency.

	The conference committee, working to resolve differences
between the House and Senate versions of an appropriations bill that
includes NASA, decided on a final figure for NASA's 2000 budget that
was actually slightly higher than requested.

	The committee settled on a final figure of $13.65 billion for
NASA in fiscal year 2000, which started October 1.  That figure is
about $100 million higher than what President Clinton requested for
the space agency in his original budget proposal and what was approved
by the Senate last month.  It is about $1 billion higher than what the
House passed in late July, though.

	The committee did keep the transfer of $120 million out of the
space science budget to fund future space transportation studies, as
well as earmarks within the space science account, but mitigated those
losses by adding $75 million in extra funding fpr space science.  The
committee also added $25 million to fund shuttle safety upgrades.

	The Associated Press, though, reported that the compromise
bill included a provision against Triana, the controversial
Earth-observing mission proposed by Vice President Al Gore.  While
funding for Triana was retained in the budget, NASA is prohibited from
launching the mission before January 2001, easing Republican concerns
that Gore might use Triana for personal political benefit during his
2000 presidential campaign.

	Despite this provision, this version of the budget will likely
be signed into law by the President.  Clinton had earlier threatened a
veto after the House version of the bill, which also includes funding
for the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban
Development as well as other independent agencies, slashed funding for
a number of programs, including NASA.

	"The president is likely to sign it," White House budget
spokesperson Linda Ricci told Reuters. "A significant number of the
administration's concerns were raised and were resolved in a positive

	The conference committee report must first be approved by the
House and Senate, normally a formality.

		      Shuttle Launches Delayed Again

	Continued wiring inspections and other work on space shuttle
orbiters have once again pushed back the launch dates of the next
three missions, shuttle managers announced Thursday, October 7.

	Managers decided to push back the launch of the shuttle
Discovery on mission STS-103, a Hubble Space Telescope servicing
mission, to the early morning hours of December 2.  The mission had
previously been scheduled for launch no earlier than November 19.

	The following mission, the STS-99 radar mapping mission of the
shuttle Endeavour, has been pushed back to January 13, 2000.  No firm
launch date had been officially planned for STS-99, although it had
appeared unlikely the shuttle could launch before the end of December.

	The following mission, the launch of Atlantis on mission
STS-101 to the International Space Station, was pushed back from late
January to no earlier than February 10.  The continuing series of
delays caused by wiring inspections has pushed the launch back from
its original early December date.

	The primary reason for the delays has been ongoing wiring
inspections of Discovery and Endeavour when damage was discovered to
wiring on the shuttle Columbia after the STS-93 mission in July.
Those inspections should be complete on Discovery by the end of the
week and are 90 percent complete on Endeavour, shuttle managers said.
Inspections of Atlantis are just getting underway.

	Engineers are also replacing a valve in Discovery's right-hand
orbiter maneuvering engine pod.  The valve was the source of an
oxidizer leak discovered in the pod last month.

	"Our number one priority for the space shuttle is to fly
safely, and that is why we delayed our launch preparations and have
performed comprehensive wiring inspections and repairs," space shuttle
program manager Ron Dittemore said. "As a result of our inspections,
we've made significant changes in how we protect electrical wiring. We
believe those changes, along with changes to the work platforms and
procedures we use in the shuttle's payload bay, will prevent similar
wire damage from recurring."

	Delays in the shuttle schedule contributed to the decision
October 1 by Russian and American officials to delay the launch of the
next major segment of the International Space Station.  With no
shuttle mission to the station planned now before February, officials
saw no need to rush and launch the Zvezda service module as planned
November 12.

	     New Observations Eliminate Asteroid Impact Threat

	New observations of a near-Earth asteroid have eliminated the
extremely small risk reported earlier this week that the object could
collide with the Earth next century.

	Astronomers had reported earlier this week that asteroid 1999
RM45 had a less than 1-in-100 million chance of striking the Earth in
either 2042 or 2050.  That prediction was based on about a week's
worth of observations after its mid-September discovery by the LINEAR
telescope in New Mexico.

	However, Rob McNaught, an astronomer with the Australian
National University, was able to recover the asteroid after the
announcement of its potential impact risk.  The positions from those
observations have refined the orbit of the asteroid and eliminated any
probability of an impact in either 2042 or 2050.

	Such observations were the hope of astronomers who first
reported the impact hazard of 1999 RM 45.  "Such a very low
probability of impact means that the risk posed by RM45 is not of
serious concern to the public at large," said Steve Chesley of the
University of Pisa in a posting to a minor planets mailing list.

	"However," he added, "I think it is very important for the NEO
[Near-Earth Object] community to take all reasonable and practical
steps to ensure that this PHA [Potentially-Hazardous Asteroid] is not
lost, or at least to improve the orbit as much as possible before it
does become lost."

	The asteroid never went beyond a 0 on the Torino Scale, a
0-to-10 measurement of the threat posed by an asteroid unveiled
earlier this year. A 0 on the Torino Scale corresponds to an object
with a smaller probability of impact than that for a random
undiscovered object of similar size.

	Several asteroids have been discovered in the last two years
that, at least for a time, has a small possibility of a collision with
the Earth in the 21st century. In addition to the well-publicized 1997
XF11 affair in March 1998, asteroids 1999 AN10 and 1998 OX4 were found
earlier this year to have small impact probabilities. While 1998 OX4
has been lost, an impact by 1999 AN10 has been ruled out by other

	These discoveries, however, have convinced at least one
observer of the need for dedicated telescopes to follow-up NEO
discoveries.  "Given the faintness of RM45, it would appear that the
most important need for the NEO search community is to have at its
disposal a large telescope (specifically dedicated for NEO searches)
which is powerful enough to search faint objects such as RM45 (i.e.
mag 22-23-24) when such observations are really needed," noted Benny
Peiser, moderator of the Cambridge-Conference Network mailing list,
earlier this week.

		House Passes Launch Indemnification Bill

	The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Monday,
October 4, that extends government indemnification of commercial

	The House approved by a voice vote H.R.2607, the Commercial
Space Transportation Competitiveness Act of 1999, during its session
Monday.  There was little debate on the House floor, and no arguments
against the bill, before the voice vote.

	The primary purpose of H.R.2607 is to extend government
indemnification of commercial launches, set to expire by the end of
the year, through 2004.

	The indemnification agreement requires commercial launch
companies to purchase several hundred million dollars' of insurance
coverage in the event of a launch accident. The government, in turn,
agrees to provide up to $1.5 billion in third-party excess liability
coverage in the event of a catastrophic accident that affects people
or property not related to the launch site.

	The bill also requires the federal government to study over
the next 18 months whether the current risk-sharing arrangement
between the government and commercial launches, dating back to 1988,
should be revised.  The bill also includes funding authorizations for
the Office of Commercial Space Transportation and the Office of Space
Commercialization, part of the Departments of Transportation and
Commerce, respectively.

	"America's space transportation industry is becoming very
dynamic, with many new reusable as well as expendable launch vehicles
under development," noted Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), sponsor of the
bill.  "Therefore, this legislation sets in place an independent
process to advise the Congress on how the government and private
sector should share the risk in future space transportation

	The commercial launch industry supported the bill but had
sought a ten-year extension of indemnification, though, fearing that a
shorter extension could create "market uncertainty" about American

	The industry may still get their wish.  The Senate bill that
deals with launch indemnification, S.832, would extend indemnification
for ten years.  That legislation has passed through committee but has
yet to be considered by the full Senate.

		   X-34 Completes Test Flights for Year

	The X-34, a vehicle designed to test reusable launch vehicle
technologies, completed its last captive carry test flight of 1999
last month, NASA officials announced Monday, October 4.

	The X-34 vehicle A-1 completed an eight-hour test flight
attached to its L-1011 carrier aircraft on September 14, although the
flight was not announced by NASA officials until October 4 for
unspecified reasons.  The flight, conducted at the Dryden Flight
Research Center in California, was the latest in a series of captive
carry flights that started June 29.

	The captive carry tests are designed to test the flight
characteristics of the X-34 when attached to the Orbital Sciences
Corporation L-1011.  The X-34 remained attached to the L-1011 for the
entire flight.

	With this year's captive carry tests completed, the A-1
vehicle used for the tests will undergo a series of upgrades,
including avionics and hydraulics systems.  Redesignated the A-1A, it
will resume captive carry tests from Dryden in late January.

	Before then, though, it will undergo a series of at least 16
tow tests, as it is pulled down the runway by a tractor at speeds of
up to 80 miles an hour.  The tow tests will used to examine the
vehicles landing gear, brakes, and control and other systems.

	Meanwhile, the second X-34 vehicle, A-2, is still scheduled
for completion by early 2000.  The first powered version of the X-34,
the A-2 will test-fire its Fastrac engine during a series of ground
tests at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, in early 2000.

	While NASA officials said in August that the first powered
test flights of the X-34 would take place by mid-2000 from Dryden,
NASA officials said Monday that the location of the test flights --
either Dryden, Holloman, or Kennedy Space Center, Florida -- was
pending the result of environmental impact studies.

	The X-34 is one of three vehicles -- the X-33 and X-37 being
the other two -- NASA is working with industry to develop that will
test technologies and operational methods for reusable launch vehicles
that promise the lower the cost of space access below $2,200 per
kilogram ($1,000 per pound.)

		      Delta 2 Launches GPS Satellite

	A Boeing Delta 2 successfully launched a U.S. Air Force Global
Positioning System (GPS) satellite Thursday morning, October 7, from
Cape Canaveral.

	The Delta 2 lifted off at 8:51 am EDT (1251 UT), the beginning
of its launch window, from Pad 17A at Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Its
payload, a Block IIR Navstar GPS satellite, successfully separated
from the booster after a series of burns a little over an hour after

	The launch of the GPS satellite had been scheduled for May,
but was delayed when rain from a strong thunderstorm leaked through a
mobile structure surrounding the satellite on the launch pad during
launch preparations.  The rainwater caused an estimated $2.1 million
in damage to the satellite and delayed its launch until now.

	An investigation into the accident concluded that technicians
improperly assembled a plastic waterproof rain shroud over the
satellite, allowing water to pool on it until its weight caused the
shroud to collapse, spilling water onto the satellite.

	Since then the launch has been pushed back a few weeks because
of weather problems, including Hurricane Floyd, which threatened the
Cape Canaveral area last month.

	The Block IIR satellite is the third in a series of 21 such
satellites that will replenish the existing constellation of GPS
satellites that provide navigational data to civilian and military

	The IIR satellites, built by Lockheed Martin, featured
improved performance and navigational accuracy as well as longer
autonomous operations.  "The GPS IIR satellites are designed to
provide significant improvements in the navigational services for
users of the system around the globe,"  said Len Kwiatkowski, a
Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space vice president.

	Boeing has a contract to develop the next generation of GPS
satellites, designated Block IIF.  These satellites will be launched
starting in 2002 on the Boeing Delta 4 booster currently being

	       Taxpayers Group Calls for NASA Privatization

	NASA's space shuttles and International Space Station should
be sold to private companies, and exploration programs replaced with
grants and tax credits, according to a recent report by a taxpayers'

	According to the study by the National Taxpayers Union
Foundation, released Wednesday, September 29, NASA is a major obstacle
to the private development of space.

	"Americans are no closer to realizing the dream of living and
working in space today than they were thirty years ago," said NTUF
policy analyst and study author Jennifer DeButts. "The reason is
because NASA, the agency entrusted with the space program, is

	According to the study, NASA was an appropriate response to
the Cold War-era competition with the Soviet Union, but, because of
its need to justify its existence after Apollo, has hindered private
development of space by charging below-market costs for services,
among other things.

	The NTUF study analyzed a number of possible solutions,
ranging from a complete liquidation of the space agency through to a
model such as the one advocated by the Space Frontier Foundation,
where NASA explores the "far frontier" beyond the orbit of the Moon,
leaving the Moon and Earth orbit in the purview of private interests.

	The study chose a different route, calling for both a
privatization of near-Earth space and government incentives for more
distant exploration.  Under this plan, the space shuttle and
International Space Station would be sold to private companies for
commercial operation.

	However, instead of keeping NASA in place to explore the far
frontier, the study advocates a system of government grants and tax
incentives that would be used for missions and other projects beyond
the Earth until private industry grows to the point where is can
support such projects on its own.

	The study also concluded that the web of regulations
concerning space that span several government agencies should be
streamlined, preferably under the Department of Commerce's Office of
Commercial Space Transportation.

	"America cannot allow NASA to rest on its laurels," the study
concluded.  "Instead, private enterprise should lead the way to the
next millennium."

	       Mars Images Show No Evidence of Ancient Ocean

	Images from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft have turned up
no evidence of an ancient ocean of water that many scientists believe
existed early in the planet's history, NASA announced Friday, October

	Scientists looking for evidence of shorelines from those
theorized oceans failed to find any in a particularly promising region
of the planet, but emphasize that the lack of any obvious shoreline
does not mean the planet lacked oceans.

	Project scientists examined high-resolution images of an area
northwest of the giant volcano Olympus Mons.  Lower-resolution images
from the Viking missions of the 1970s showed evidence of cliffs
between two land regions that scientists thought could be formed by
wave erosion from an ocean, similar to shoreline cliffs on Earth.

	The new high-resolution images, however, show that area is not
a "wave-cut" cliff, nor are any of the other features in the area
clearly associated with a shoreline.  "The newer images do not show
any coastal landforms in areas where previous researchers proposed
there were shorelines," concluded Kenneth Edgett, a staff scientist
with Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS), the company that provided the
Mars Orbiter Camera on MGS.

	"Even on Earth, looking for ancient shorelines from the air or
space is a challenge," said Michael Malin, principal investigator for
the camera at MSSS. "Despite these difficulties, we believe these
images of the proposed shorelines are of a high-enough resolution that
they would have shown features indicative of a coastal environment had
there been an ancient ocean on Mars."

	The new images strike a blow against the "ocean hypothesis"
first proposed in the 1980s, based on the putative shorelines seen in
the Viking data, that the northern regions of the planet were covered
by an ocean early in the planet's history, when the planet was warm
enough to support liquid water on its surface.

	However, scientists cautioned that the lack of any shorelines
visible in the images does not mean such an ocean did not exist at
all.  "While the suggestion that Mars at one time had oceans cannot be
ruled out, the foundation for the 'ocean hypothesis' developed in the
1980s on the basis of suspected shorelines appears now to have been
incorrect," said Malin. "However, it should be understood that there
is significant other evidence of water on Mars in the past, both from
Mars Global Surveyor and from previous missions."

	A paper by Edgett and Malin summarizing their work was
published in the October 1 issue of the Journal of Geophysical
Research Letters.

			SpaceViews Event Horizon

October 10	Sea Launh Zenit 3SL launch of the DIRECTV 1R satellite
		from a  mobile platform on the equator in the Pacific
		Ocean, at 10:28 pm EDT (0228 UT Oct. 11)

October 11	Galileo flyby of Io

October 18	Soyuz launch of four Globalstar communications
		satellites from Baikonur, Kazakhstan

October 18	Ariane 4 launch of the Orion-2 communications
		satellite from Kourou, French Guiana

November 2-4	International Space Business Assembly, Washington, DC

November 13	"The Final Frontier: Open For Business" Space
		Enterprise Symposium, Seattle, WA

December 3-5	Planetfest '99, Pasadena, CA

				Other News

Titan Launch Delayed:  The launch of a military weather satellite
aboard a Titan 2 booster has been delayed until December to repair
faulty electronics on the satellite, the Air Force announced October
5.   The Titan 2 was scheduled to lift off this week from Vandenberg
Air Force Base, California, and place into orbit the latest satellite
in the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP).  However, the
launch was pushed back, initially to late October, when problems were
detected in the spacecraft's electronics.  The problem was eventually
traced to a faulty chip in a solid-state data recorder on the
spacecraft.  Fixing the problem will push the launch back until

Marshall Director to Head MCO Panel:  Arthur Stephenson, director of
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, was named by NASA October 6 to
head an independent review panel to investigate the loss of the Mars
Climate Orbiter spacecraft last month.  Stephenson's panel will report
its initial findings to NASA headquarters by November 3, one month
before the Mars Polar Lander arrives at the planet.  Two other review
panels, based at JPL, are also looking into the accident, which
preliminary accounts blame on differences in units -- metric vs.
English -- used by two spacecraft teams.

New Moon Weighs in on Asteroid Mass:  The discovery earlier this year
of a small moon around a main belt asteroid has provided new evidence
that some asteroids may be surprisingly light, astronomers announced
Wednesday, October 6.  The discovery of a small moon around asteroid
45 Eugenia, announced earlier this year, allowed a group of American
and European astronomers to measure the mass and density of the
asteroid.  The result:  a density of only about 1.2 grams per cubic
centimeter, far less than the 3 grams per cubic centimeter expected
for a solid, rocky asteroid.  "Either these objects are highly porous
rubble-piles of rock, or they are mostly water ice," said team member
Clark Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).  Searches
are ongoing for other asteroid moons which may help astronomers
understand how common or uncommon Eugenia's low density is.

The Battle of the (Galactic) Bulge:  The central bulges of different
types of spiral galaxies formed very differently, European astronomers
using Hubble Space Telescope images reported October 6.  The large
central bulges of tightly-wound spirals all formed at about the same
time early in the history of the universe, according to one group.
Another group noticed that the smaller bulges of barred spirals grow
over time as gas and dust from the bars flows into the bulge,
providing the raw materials for new stars to form.

Chips off Pluto:  Some bodies in the Kuiper Belt, a disk of icy bodies
beyond the orbit of Neptune, may be debris left over from a collision
that formed the Pluto-Charon system, astronomers announced October 6.
Astronomers at SwRI noticed that the orbits, sizes, and colors of some
Kuiper Belt objects known as "Plutinos" -- so named because they have
similar orbits to Pluto -- are consist with them being debris from a
collision between a proto-Pluto and another body that created Pluto
and its large moon Charon.  As the Kuiper Belt is also the source for
short-period comets that pass through the inner solar system, a "small
but significant" fraction of the comet that pass near the Earth may in
fact be pieces of the planet, the researchers concluded.

Briefly:  A new estimate of the age of carbonates in Martian meteorite
ALH 84001 is consistent with, but not necessarily evidence of, a
biological origin, scientists reported October 1.  The carbonates were
found to be 3.9 billion years old, and thus formed on Mars in
conditions conducive to the formation of life, although the dating
itself doesn't provide any additional evidence that they were in fact
formed by biological processes.  "It's another piece in the puzzle,"
said lead researcher Larry Nyquist... If Lucy wants to be in the sky
with diamonds, she should consider going to Uranus or Neptune, UC
Berkeley scientists concluded October 1.  Lab experiments show that
methane, exposed to the high temperatures and pressures believed to
exist in the interior of those two planets, breaks down and forms
diamonds, which then rain into the cores of the planets.  The
gravitational energy released by the falling diamonds on Neptune is
enough to explain its high heat flux, although this explanation fails
for Uranus, which lacks such a large heat flux.  Scientists plan to
see what those high temperatures and pressures do to other atmospheric
constituents, such as ammonia and water.

Correction: In the article in our last issue about the Space Frontier
Conference, we inadvertently misspelled the name of one of the
speakers, Brent Sherwood.  We apologize for the error.

			     *** Articles ***

			    Thinking About Mars
			       by Jeff Foust

	Why are there no humans on Mars today, and why it is likely
there will be no humans there for at least a decade or two to come?
Answers to this question usually come in one of two forms: "why" and
"how".  The "how" answers usually focus on the lack of technology and
infrastructure needed to accomplish a human Mars mission, while the
"why" answers note the lack of public and government interest in
funding the mission.  Yet, most of the technology needed for a human
Mars mission already exists, and Mars advocates can point to a wide
range of reasons, from scientific to societal, for going there.  We
are stopped by a fundamental disconnect between perception and

	One step in the elimination of that disconnect took place on
October 1-3, when over one hundred people gathered on the campus of
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for the "Mars Week"
conference.  Sponsored by the "Think Mars" student group, which has
created an innovative plan for a "semi-commercial" human Mars mission,
the conference brought together experts to talk about the whys and
hows of Martian exploration.

Why Go?

	One of the most exciting reasons why to go to Mars has
centered on the possibility that the planet once harbored -- or might
still harbor today -- life.  Everett Gibson, a leading member of a
team of scientists in the center of the debate regarding evidence for
life in ALH 84001, believes that life still exists on Mars today.

	Gibson reviewed the several lines of evidence that he says
supports his group's conclusion that the meteorite contains evidence
of primitive, ancient life on Mars, including tiny features that
appear to be nanofossils like those seen in some terrestrial rocks.
He then went to two other Martian meteorites, Nakhla and Shergotty.
These meteorites are much younger than the 4-billion-year-old ALH
84001 -- Shergotty is only about 165 million years old -- yet these
meteorites also contain features that closely resemble nanofossils.

	If those features do turn out to be evidence of life, then it
would mean that life existed on Mars from 4 billion years ago, when
ALH 84001 was formed, until 165 million years ago.  Since Mars has not
been subjected to any major global catastrophes since then, Gibson
said this would mean that life would exist on Mars to this day in some
protected niche.

	There are plenty of other scientific reasons to explore Mars,
as explained by MIT planetary scientist Maria Zuber.  The discovery of
a relic magnetic field over portions of the planet has been the "major
surprise" of the Mars Global Surveyor mission to date, she said,
although there have been a bevy of other discoveries dealing with the
geology and topography of the surface.  She noted that those looking
for evidence of past oceans on Mars should look in the northern
hemisphere, given the asymmetric topography of the planet, but the
discovery of channels extending farther north into the putative ocean
basin than earlier known suggests that early Mars may have had a
network of channels, rather than a continuous, deep ocean.

	However, scientific arguments are neither the only reason to
support going to Mars nor necessarily the most important reason.
Outlining the philosophy described in his latest book, Robert Zubrin
said humanity needs new frontiers like Mars to continue to stimulate
human civilization.  Without them, he warned, "we are doomed to be
inhabitants of our society, not the makers."

Go How?

	Arguments in favor of human exploration of Mars lose their
appeal if there's no feasible way to go there.  Fortunately, there is
no shortage of proposals for such missions, ranging from the grandiose
-- and insanely expensive -- Space Exploration Initiative proposals of
a decade ago to much less expensive proposals like Mars Direct (which
Zubrin discussed at Mars Week) and variations.

	There is still room for other ideas, though.  Astronaut
Franklin Chang-Diaz discussed his concept, called VASIMR, a
constant-thrust engine that ionizes hydrogen and accelerates it out
the back with a magnetic field.  Such an engine could be used on a
spacecraft that can travel from Earth to Mars in as little as 90 days,
about half the best proposals for spacecraft injected on Mars-bound
trajectories by ordinary rockets.

	VASIMR is more than just a paper study.  Chang-Diaz and his
team of researchers at the Johnson Space Center have been working on a
number of small-scale designs.  They hope to fly a version of the
VASIMR engine on a spacecraft called the Radiation and Technology
Demonstrator (RTD), scheduled for launch in 2004.

	Once you get to Mars, what will you do and how will you live?
These are questions being answered by researchers who spend parts of
the last several summers on Devon Island, an uninhabited piece of the
Canadian arctic that closely resembles the Martian landscape.

	Scientists such as Pascal Lee of NASA's Ames Research Center
have spent parts of the last few summers at Haughton Crater, an impact
crater formed 23 million years ago.  Soon, he said, their temporary
tent homes will be supplanted by the Mars Arctic Research Station
(MARS), a larger facility in the form of Mars lander spacecraft.  MARS
is being sponsored and built by the Mars Society, and should be ready
by next summer.

Think Mars

	These answers to "why" and "how" still leave unanswered
arguably the most important question: "how to you pay for it?"  One
solution to that problem, one that involves "substantial" private
investment, was at the core of the conference; in fact, it was the
reason the conference took place to begin with.

	Think Mars grew out of a NASA student competition that started
a year ago.  Called "NASA Means Business", the content challenged
students to develop a business plan for a human mission to Mars.  A
team of MIT and Harvard students developed such a plan, and was one of
a half-dozen winning teams.

	Not content to stop with the end of the competition, the Think
Mars team, which grew to dozens of contributors at the two
universities and elsewhere, fleshed out the business plan even
further, talking with major players within NASA, Congress, and the
aerospace industry.  Another aspect of the group's efforts was the
Mars Week conference.

	The Think Mars business plan focuses on finding the money for
human Mars missions, not the technical details of the mission itself.
The plan identifies a number of commercial sources of revenue to fund
a mission, from Olympic-style sponsorship to selling crew slots on the
mission itself.  These funds would not necessarily pay for the mission
in total, but could "significantly offset" total costs, according to
Think Mars business plan manager Kevin Leclaire.

	The Think Mars leaders believe that this plan can establish a
partnership between the public and private sectors that can lower the
costs of the mission to the participating governments while increasing
public and political support.

	There are still plenty of risks to such a project, ranging
from the high cost of capital to uncertain regulations to the
necessity of establishing credibility, but Think Mars leaders believe
they have made a good first step.  They acknowledge the need to do
additional work identifying markets, products, services, and financing
issues, among many other things.

	It's a step in the right direction, although Robert Zubrin
noted that all this talk about Mars should not be construed as the
ultimate goal for space exploration and settlement.  "Mars is not the
destination," he said.  "It's the direction."

Jeff Foust is editor of SpaceViews.

			    *** CyberSpace ***

			     The Astronomy Net

The Astronomy Net is intended as a resource for various topics in
astronomy.  The key features of the site are discussion forums for
various astronomy topics, from amateur astronomy to black holes; and
an extensive list of astronomy-related Web sites.  You can also find
astronomy news and articles n the site as well as classified
advertising for buying or selling astronomy merchandise.



Looking for quality space and astronomy shows on TV?  Maybe you're
looking in the wrong medium.  SpaceWatch provides three shows -- two
weekly and one monthly -- about space and astronomy... on the Web.
The shows, viewable through RealVideo, cover a range of topics and
include guests such as former NASA astronauts.  You can view
previously-recorded shows or watch them live, with the opportunity to
pose questions to the guests during the show.   It's all free, too,
save for some commercials from the site's sponsor, the Omega Watch


			   Astrobiology at NASA

Astrobiology (sometimes called exobiology), the study of life outside
the Earth, has become a hot topic in recent years, with a number of
NASA missions and projects devoted to it.  This Web site at NASA's
Ames Research Center provides an overview of astrobiology in general
and NASA's astrobiology efforts in particular.  In addition, the site
includes links to astrobiology-related news articles on other sites,
as well as conference and research resources.


			  Hubble Heritage Project

The Hubble Heritage Project is a project to build, in its words, "a
bridge between the endeavors of scientists and the public."  Each
month, a team of astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute
releases an image generated from data in the Hubble Space Telescope's
extensive archives.  The images are designed to be both aesthetically
pleasing and scientifically interesting.  The objects featured in the
stunning images range from Jupiter's Great Red Spot to nebulae and
distant galaxies.


	This has been the October 8, 1999, issue of SpaceViews.
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