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Sensible Suggestions From Dr. Bob

Bob Zubrin has reacted to the Bush Plan rumor with a list of things that that plan should include:

1. The goal needs to be REAL, which means that it must be sufficiently imminent in character to force NASA to change its spending from its current random activity to focused action to develop, build and fly a coherent set of hardware to implement the program plan.

2. While Lunar precursor activities can play a role, the true goal of the program needs to be understood as humans to Mars. Thus the hardware set designed should be suitable for supporting manned Mars missions. It is fine to use lunar missions as an intermediate milestone to test out and exercise a subset of the Mars hardware. But we do NOT want a stand alone Lunar program, undertaken with the assurance that the experience will be useful at some future date when
Mars missions are considered. To save money, accelerate the program, and maximize the validity of Lunar testing to prepare the Mars mission, commonality of hardware is key, allowing the Lunar missions to be done with a subset of the Mars hardware. This overall coherence needs to be designed into the program from the start.

3. The Mars mission must actually go to Mars. Missions that simply fly by Mars, go into Mars orbit, or to the Martian moons are insufficient. The purpose of sending humans to Mars is not to set a new altitude record for the aviation almanac. The purpose is to explore and pioneer a new world. This can only be done with astronauts on the Martian surface.

23 comments to Sensible Suggestions From Dr. Bob

  • Keith Cowing

    Currently posted on NASA Watch

    19 December 2003: Post Kitty Hawk Momentum Shifts to Mars, Bob Zubrin, Mars Society President

    “In part because of the mobilization by the membership of the Mars Society demanding a real goal, and the right goal, for the space agency, the bandwagon for answering the Gehman report with a fake lunar program proclamation at Kitty Hawk was derailed. As a result, the decision process to determine NASA’s new goal will now be prolonged until AFTER the Mars exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity land on the Red Planet January 3 and 24, respectively.”

    Editor’s note: This is simply contrived fantasy on the part of Bob Zubrin. The Mars Society had zero effect on the formulation or adoption of space policy by the Bush Administration. Zero. The policy was already completed and accepted by the President before Zubrin posted this note and has not changed since. The announcement date for this policy by the President, 14 January 2004, was chosen before Spirit landed on Mars. This date was chosen because it was the first open date on the President’s schedule. Note that it is also before Opportunity is scheduled to land on Mars – and for that matter, before the State of the Union address. Had Spirit failed, the announcement would have been made as scheduled.

    It is unfortunate that Dr. Zubrin continues to post this blatant nonsense since it only serves to diminish whatever remaining stature the Mars Society has in Washington. Indeed, Dr. Zubrin’s unsubstantiated assertions cast a pall over all space advocacy organizations who could – and should – play a role in the development of national space policy.

    Once again, the best thing Bob Zubrin can do for the cause of sending humans to Mars is to sit down and shut up.

  • T.L. James

    Keith, you’ve made no secret of your dislike for Bob Zubrin, but I fail to see how either your personal animosity towards him or the self-serving bombast in his past comments constitute a rebuttal to the suggestions he makes.

    These sound sensible to me, and reflect comments I and many other space advocates (and especially humans-to-Mars advocates) have made over the past year. I don’t see anything unreasonable here. Other than the fact that they were made by Bob Zubrin, what don’t you like about the three suggestions I’ve reprinted in this post?

  • Keith Cowing

    The point is – he made this up. It did not happen. How can utter fabrication help the Mars Society? People who actually make the policy laugh at this. Hardly the way to exert influence on their actions.

  • T.L. James

    The three suggestions have no merit because Bob Zubrin made them. Is that what you’re saying, Keith?

  • Keith Cowing

    He claimed that the Mars Society had caused the WH to change its mind. This did not happen. He claimed that they could still change their mind. They would not. He claimed that the WH was going to change the way it was making its announcement. They did not.

    Zubrin makes claims that I know for a fact caused the people who made these decisions to have a good laugh – and then dismiss Zubrin and his organization as comical and irrelevant.

    Whether I agree with what he said is of no consequence. That WH policy makers do or do not agree is important since Zubrin is trying to influence them on the behalf of the MS.

    The longer you MS folks stay in denial about the deleterious effect of Zubrin’s comical behavior the more your society will continue to decrease in importance.

  • T.L. James

    While my opinion of Bob Zubrin is nowhere near as caustic as yours, I have expressed my misgivings about his performance in the text or comments of at least three entries:

    While I don’t berate and belittle him at every opportunity, I wouldn’t class myself as an “in denial” sycophant.

  • If NASA are going to have any chance whatsoever of getting men on the Moon and Mars within budget, they must scrap their own plans for new launch vehicles. It is reckoned that it would cost NASA $10-50 billon to develop a new heavy lift rocket. SpaceX say can do it for less than $1 billon. So NASA must put its funding into SpaceX and let them build all of the new rockets that will be required if manned Moon and Mars missions are ever to become a reality!

    NASA would save many billions of $ by using SpaceX’s rockets than developing it’s own!!! By using SpaceX’s rockets, the return to the Moon is likely to cost less than $10 billion instead of well over $100 billion!!!

    If NASA does not choose SpaceX as its launch vehicle provider, they are likely to run out of money and their space program will collapse!

  • T.L. James

    You don’t, by chance, work in the SpaceX PR department, do you Dominic?

  • Carl Carlsson

    While Zubrin’s style and delivery often leave something to be desired, even to MS adherents like myself, the fact is that he has the best message. If it’s a choice between substance and style, I’ll take substance. If a stronger advocate comes along, then I’ll be glad to support him or her as the standard bearer for humans-to-Mars. Right now I don’t know who that person is.

    The points made by Zubrin in the original post were entirely valid and entirely necessary to respond to some of the deatils emerging regarding the proposed programs. A humans-to-Mars mission that orbits Mars, without landing, and then returns? Who is the WH listening to?

    While I expect some degree of criticism directed toward Zubin, Cowling’s comments are consistently more nasty than what is warranted, bordering on hysteria. It takes away from his own credibility. I’m sure most reading this will recall Keith taking one sentence in a 2002 editorial by Zubrin out of context and labeling the whole document a racist rant. Someday I look forward to learning what is behind the hatred.

  • Keith Cowing

    Let me try simpler language: Zubrin claimed that he had affected the decision process at the White House. The people at the White House tell me that they think Zubrin is nuts becuase Zubrin had no effect –and yet he still makes these wild and fabricated claims in public as the leader of an organization trying to influence national space policy

    How wacko is that!?

    Why would anyone listen to anything he says from now on? He has torpedoed any credibility he has – regardless of the merits of the plans he proposes. You folks should keep (most of) his ideas and jettison him as a spokesman.

    The again, he does provide comic relief on ocassion.

    Oh yes, you claim that I refered to Zubrin’s post- 9-11 editorial as “racist”. I never used that word or made that accusation. I called him an “anti-islamic bigot”. If you are going to make accusations, at least get your facts straight.

  • Carl Carlsson

    I was going from memory and you are splitting hairs, Keith. Zubrin’s editorial was not “anti-islamic” but clearly “anti-islamic fundamentalism”. Like most folks I know, I saw your comments and thought, “My God, what the hell did Bob write?” Then I read his entire editorial, agreed with it, and found your attack petty. It was obvious to me then that you have an axe to grind with Zubrin. Other comments since then have only reinforced that opinion. So I take anything you say about him with a grain of salt. A very large grain.

  • Keith Cowing

    I did not accuse him of being a “racist”. You accused me of doing so. You are wrong. I am not splitting hairs. If you do not see the difference, that is your problem.

  • Anonymous MS member

    Keith Cowing is the joke here, not Zubrin. Cowing claims to be an advocate of mars, but he has attacked the Mars Society since day 1. I remember sitting in a political action meeting during the 2nd conference where Cowing singlehandedly disrupted the entire agenda of the meeting by arguing with the organizers over trivial issues. Then he makes statements like “The longer you MS folks stay in denial…the more your society will continue to decrease in importance.” like he is some outsider.

    Zubrin should revoke Cowing’s membership and refuse to comment on any of his nasawatch articles. Cowing should shut his huge mouth already… but we all know he won’t, just wait until he reads this 🙂

  • Anonymous MS Member

    I should also mention that Cowing once claimed that the IRS was after the Mars Society because the weren’t REALLY a 501(c)(3). Hey Keith, what ever came of that, huh?

  • Keith Cowing

    Dear anonymous. At least I use my name. You are too cowardly to use your own.

    Soon to be posted on NASA Watch:

    Bob Zubrin regularly, and grossly, misrepresents the actual membership of the Mars Society in a most dishonest fashion.

    In this article Pluses of manned Mars missions touted, in the 8 January 2004 edition of the Rocky Mountain News

    “Zubrin: We founded it here in Colorado in 1998 and since that time we’ve grown to about 6,000 members, 80 chapters, 40 different countries. We do three things. One is broad public outreach to spread our vision.”

    Contrast this with the 7 September 2003 post (You need to be a member to read this) from the Rocky Mountain Mars Society Yahoo Group:

    “Brian presented a comprehensive encapsulated slide show from the 6th
    annual convention (attendance approx. 300) in Eugene, OR, showing the
    day’s plenaries and speakers with Tony and Jim chiming in re: various
    activities and topics that were presented at the conference and all
    agreeing that it was a good and well-done convention made much easier
    with the talks all being in the hotel convention center. Tony updated us
    on the Steering Committee’s report re: contributions (large corporate
    down, but we’re still breaking even), approx. 1,600 dues-paying members
    and a recognized need to automatically notify expired members of their
    lapsed dues in order to re-up, the decision to hire an executive
    director to supplement Maggie Zubrin, and the next convention being in
    either the Denver-Boulder area or in Ann Arbor MI., tba in a month or two.”

    In addition, Zubrin counts some people twice. Although I have not paid any dues for years, and have made it abundantly clear that I am no longer a member of the Mars Society, I am still counted as a Mars Society member. Indeed, I am counted twice (I get two copies of every mailing and have two different ID numbers). As I understand the system, Zubrin counts anyone who has ever joined the Mars Society as a member – even if they never renewed their dues. In addition, he counts anyone who has ever attended a Mars Society conference as a member – even if they are unaware that they are a member or ever paid renewal fees.

  • Carl Carlsson

    It is no secret that the Mars Society has had office problems. Last year, like many others, I renewed on-line only to find out later that my renewal was not processed due to a technical glitch. I was eventually able to formally renew, and became an “official” Mars Society member once again, but I certainly considered myself a member in the interim.

    MS is still a young organization, and the problem described above is not terribly unexpected. The excerpt Keith refers to shows me that problems have been identified and are being addressed. I am more willing to forgive such problems because the Society has been distracted by so many real projects, not least of which is the analog research stations. We may lack the political clout of some of the other advocacy groups, but in terms of actually going out and physically accomplishing something, I am proud of what this young organization has achieved.

    The above discussion illustrates how individuals can look at the same situation and see very different things. I see a young organization with growing pains, and Keith sees a great fraud. I listened to Congressional testimony (all of it) and heard most of the questioning directed at Zubrin or to other panelists asking them what they thought of Zubrin’s comments. Keith sees any assertion to that effect as a fabrication. I read a 2001 Zubrin editorial on the importance of space technology in the War on Terror and the danger of muslim fundamentalism, and found it timely and inciteful. Keith read the same thing and found it bigoted. (Not “racist” — excuse me for making the common error of mixing up two words that, while not identical in meaning, do have overlapping definitions. Even though I was not quoting directly, I should have been much, much more careful).

    I am entitled to my opinion and Keith is entitled to his. However, there is a very real distinction in how we present ourselves. While I have been an MS member for some years and have met the Zubrins 2 or 3 times, I am not close to them and I do criticize on occasion. Also, I am not the editor or webmaster of multiple respected on-line publications. Every Keith Cowing post regarding Robert Zubrin that I have ever read betrays an intense hatred that goes beyond any fanatical loyalty I have seen within MS. There is clearly something going on that is much deeper than any of the technical disagreements that Keith is willing to mention in his posts.

    There is always room for criticism, but due to their vehement and disproportionate nature, Keith’s comments are shameful and are themselves a disservice to the space advocacy community.

  • Keith Cowing

    For you (and others) to constantly come to this man’s defense – even when it is made abundantly clear that he is making a fool of himself, and by proxy, of your organization (and all of the really good people in it), makes me wonder if (to borrow your words) “there is clearly something going on that is much deeper.”

    I see that posting here is pointless. Zubrin has you all hypnotized.

  • No, Keith, we’re not hypnotized. Nor do we suffer from the same kind of baby-with-the-bathwater blind hatred for Bob that you seem to be afflicted by.

    Go ahead, take your marbles and go home if that’s what you wish. But I am still curious why it is that you have the degree of animosity towards Bob that you do. It seems to go well past mere philosophical or organizational disagreement.

  • Keith Cowing

    T.L. et al: My God you people are goofy! Ciao for now. Busy week ahead.

  • T.L. James

    Buh-bye, Keith. Thanks again for your mature, insightful input.

  • Keith Cowing

    My pleasure!

  • T.L. James

    I’m sure it was.

  • LongTimeFan, FirstTimePoster

    And in other news, Bob Zubrin has the lead in the Iowa caucus polls at 26%, followed by Kerry, Dean, oh, and what’s this? Keith Cowing? I knew he was in the primaries there somewhere!