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Zubrin’s Take on the Congressional Hearing

Here’s Bob Zubrin’s views on Wednesday’s Senate hearings on the future of NASA:

On Oct. 29, 2003, Mars Society president Dr. Robert Zubrin addressed
the full Senate Commerce Committee chaired by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in hearings held on the future of the US Space program. Testifying at the same hearing were NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, Columbia investigation committee chairman Admiral Gehman, former NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science Dr. Wes Huntress, University of Ohio professor David Woods, and Space Frontier Foundation president Rick Tumlinson.

The hearing was divided into two panels, with O’Keefe and Gehman appearing in the first panel, and Zubrin, Huntress, Woods, and Tumlinson in the second. During the first panel, members of the Senate Committee grilled O’Keefe hard on NASA’s poor recent performance, its tendency to repeatedly start and stop various billion dollar programs without achieving anything, the out-of control bloated price of the Orbital Space Plane program, and the agency’s overall lack of achievement in sending humans anywhere beyond LEO for the past 30 years. In response to the grilling, O’Keefe proffered excuses and fog-talk, while Admiral Gehman offered helpful advice.

The real action began with the second panel. Dr. Wes Huntress was the first to speak. Contradicting O’Keefe, the former Associate Administrator for Space Science said NASA must be destination driven, and the destination should be humans to Mars. However Huntress said this goal should be achieved after a fifty (!) year program of preliminary robotic exploration.

Dr. Zubrin was next at bat. The Mars Society president led his testimony with arguments adapted from his incisive “Two Roads for NASA” Oct. 6 Space News editorial which showed how NASA could only by effective in its destination-driven “Apollo Mode” and that the destination-free “Shuttle Mode” of operation advocated by Mr. O’Keefe has been, and must always be, a formula for perpetual stagnation and impotence in space. Zubrin then said; “I agree with Dr. Huntress. NASA should make humans to Mars its goal. Mars is where the science is, Mars is where the challenge is, and Mars is where the future is. But should do it in ten years, not fifty. We can do it. Despite all the problems that could be cited, real or overdrawn, we are much better prepared to send humans to Mars today then we were to send men to the Moon in 1961, when Kennedy started the Apollo program. And we were there ten years later. Given the right kind of leadership, we could be on Mars within a decade.”

Zubrin then briefly laid out the Mars Direct plan for near-term human Mars exploration, after which he concluded with a set of concrete recommendations for immediate Congressional action.

“Congress should not fund NASA to build THINGS,” he said. “You should fund NASA to implement PLANS. NASA has just come to you with a request to provide $17 billion for an Orbital Space Plane. Don’t do it. Instead of spending $17 billion to develop a gold-plated Orbital Space Plane that won’t take us anywhere, Congress should appropriate $60 million to fund two COMPETING teams to spend six months developing cost-limited plans for humans to Mars within ten years. One of the teams should be NASA JSC. The other should be an
interagency task force led by someone from the non-NASA government space community. After six months, the teams should hand in their reports, and their plans judged by a blue-ribbon committee on the basis of cost, technical feasibility, and exploratory punch. The best team should be selected to head the program, and its plan funded. No major hardware developments outside of the plan should be funded.”

“The American people want and deserve a space program that is actually going somewhere. Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate, it is within your power to give it to them. I ask that you do so.”

Zubrin’s complete written testimony is available at Actual streaming video of the hearing itself can be viewed at:

Virtually all the questioning from the Senators following the four panelists remarks were either directed to Zubrin, or to the other panelists to request comment on Zubrin’s remarks. All the assembled Senators asked for autographed copies of “The Case for Mars,” and Admiral Gehman took one as well. Senator Brownback (R-KS), chairman of the Space Subcommittee within the Commerce Committee, talked to Zubrin for some time after the hearing, and expressed a desire to hear more about Mars Direct in further hearings that could be held within his subcommittee in the near future.

Following the hearing, Zubrin traveled across town and met with a representative of the Executive branch who is currently engaged in a focused deliberation on determining a new direction for the US space program. The Executive branch representative had seen Zubrin’s Senate testimony that morning over the TV, and was very impressed, keeping the Mars Society president in his office for over an hour, asking many questions, and finally taking eight copies of “The Case for Mars” to distribute among very high ranking personnel within the Bush administration.

The conclusion that Zubrin obtained from both administration and Senate staffers was that there clearly is a move going on RIGHT NOW for determining a new destination-driven policy that will take NASA’s astronautics beyond LEO. The question is what that destination will be. It is imperative that all Mars Society members join in this debate. Write your congressmen, Senators, and President Bush immediately and tell them America’s space program must adopt humans to Mars as its goal. Then set up a meeting with your Congressman in
his or her home office and explain why in person.

The situation is in flux. People in power are listening. We can win. Mobilize now!

17 comments to Zubrin’s Take on the Congressional Hearing

  • “Virtually all the questioning from the Senators following the four panelists remarks were either directed to Zubrin, or to the other panelists to request comment on Zubrin’s remarks.”

    Boy, he must have testified at a different hearing than the one that I listened to…

    Here’s my take:,2933,101623,00.html

    Kind of a narcissistic report. I think it’s a little weird to write about yourself in the third person, but then I’m not Bob Zubrin…or Bob Dole.

  • Rik Declercq

    This is NOT Zubrin speaking about himself in the third person. Its an announcement on the MarsSociety web.
    Not everything on that site is necceserily written by him. You’re just assuming things, making people look bad.

  • T.L. James

    Apparently, whoever wrote that press release was not the only one who saw it that way. I was not able to watch the hearings, but someone who did see them concurred here with the assessment in the release. YMMV.

    I read the testimony, and my gripe is that it’s all rehashed from previous op-eds and the like. I mean, if you’re testifying before Congress, one would expect that you would present fresh material.

  • Zubrin was always a good speaker. It’s fantastic to see his message finally reaching those in a position of leadership. NASA long ago lost it’s way and we need practical yet visionary people to set them back on course. That course can only have one destination at this point. Mars direct.

  • T.L. James

    Don’t be too sure about that — there’s plenty of time and opportunity for NASA to snatch defeat here. On the other hand, it’s also possible that a return to the Moon will be chosen over Mars — if that is done correctly (an admittedly gargantuan “if”), it opens the (back) door to Mars.

    Something is going to come of the post-Columbia attention NASA is getting. If it’s “more of the same”, then perhaps it’s time to get out the wooden stakes. If it’s humans-to-Mars, then we need to do everything in our power (such as it is) to prevent it from being another mule project like Apollo. If it’s the Moon, the same but more so.

    In either of these latter two cases, we also need to do whatever we can to bring the private sector into it — use of private launch/logistics services, development of infrastructure for mixed public/private use (eg: space tourism), etc. If NASA is given any such “grand goal”, it should be in the context of developing a permanent, open presence — modeled on the Interstate system rather than a national laboratory.

  • T.L. James

    Then again, some big crisis could happen tomorrow, diverting attention and interest away from NASA and ensuring business as usual continues indefinitely.

  • “This is NOT Zubrin speaking about himself in the third person. Its an announcement on the MarsSociety web.

    Not everything on that site is necceserily written by him. You’re just assuming things, making people look bad.”

    I’m not “assuming things to make people look bad.” I made the inference based on Thomas’ post. When I read that something is “Robert Zubrin’s views” on something, I take it at face value. Sorry if I misinterpreted.

  • Arun


    In my opinion you are the victim of an abberant title.

  • Rik Declercq

    One could say that Zubrin is the victim here… The first thing you read after the article, is a real bringdown. Sorry to be so grumpy, mr. Simberg, but aren’t reporters assumed to double-check their sources?
    Wouldn’t we all be better cheering, and try to keep up the momentum, now that the testimonies by the ‘unusual suspects,’ as you put it so nicely, rang a positive note by the decisionmakers? IMO that’s the big news. The ‘unusual suspects’ got a friendly ear *at last* to make their point.
    Ok, I’ll stop ranting now.

  • Carl Carlsson

    I listened to the entire hearing via C-Span on-line. Sorry Mr. Simberg, but the statement “Virtually all the questioning from the Senators following the four panelists remarks were either directed at Zubrin, or to the other panelists to request comnents on Zubrin’s remarks” is dead-on accurate. I made the same observation to friends immediately following the hearing.

  • T.L. James

    FYI: I titled it that way because it came from the Yahoo!Groups mailing list under his userid.

  • I heard them all asked a question about whether or not OSP should be funded. In what way was that uniquely about Dr. Zubrin’s remarks? While he mentioned it, so did Rick. It’s surely a question that would have been asked regardless of what Bob said.

    I didn’t hear the questioning as Zubin-centric as you apparently did. He was clearly of interest to the committee, and even a star of the show, but it doesn’t serve anyone’s interest to dramatically overstate the situation. It comes across to me as boosterism, rather than objective reporting.

  • I agree with Rand. Whoever wrote that Mars Society piece (mine arrive directly from Zubrin BTW) was describing a hearing other than the one which I and others listened to. As for going to the WH, the EOP (OSTP etc.) is talking to all sorts of people right now about space. There were many ahead of Zubrin – and there will be many more who follow.

    FWIW Senate staffers I have talked to after the hearing thought Zubrin was shrill and hard to follow. No one affiliated with the Mars Society sees to bother to report the laughter that could be heard throughout the hearing room the moment after Zubrin finished – nor the odd looks on the faces of Senators present – Sen. McCain in particular.

    I find it curious how such a self-described stellar performance resulted in near zero press coverage – see – and note that 2 of the 3 items are on my SpaceRef website. Hardly what I would call a home run for Zubrin.

  • T.L. James

    See, now, it’s that kind of thing that worries me about Bob Zubrin — that he comes across as a wacko to some (many?) people, particularly those with the influence to potentially make the organization’s goals happen.

    In Hoffer’s terms, Bob Zubrin is a combination Man of Words and Fanatic — when what is needed now, at this point in the Mars Society’s life, is a Practical Man of Action, someone who will consolidate, expand, and perpetuate the organization.

  • Jak Kern

    I think this whole space thing is a croc that weve neverbeen there!

  • Tim Reichelt

    Boy. Tough audience. I watched the whole thing on C-Span and thought Zubrin did a good job. The Senators are not stupid (despite popular opinion). They know Bob is nervous, they know he’s passionate, they know that he would feel that this is his big chance. Sure they laughed at him when he’d finished but it struck me as kind laughter. They knew he’d just put everything into the pitch of his life. Don’t forget, he’s been waiting about 14 years for this opportunity. Cut him a little slack.

    As for the business about writing about himself in the third person; others would know better than me but my guess is that he writes editorial bits for the Mars society with the idea that the press will grab them and drop them into their papers unedited. Is this really important. If you think Bob is a little odd, perhaps not the best advocate for the push to Mars, have a go yourself…

    I also noticed the fact that his speech was a re-run. That doesn’t matter. It was pretty clear from their questions that the Senators, unlike most of us, have not read up on this stuff and know little about it. The speech would have be fairly fresh to them I think. The message hasn’t changed in the last few weeks so the speech was always going to recapitulate the basic arguments and it did this effectively.

    The Senators are politicians. They know something is wrong with the space program and that it is not giving them enough bang for the bucks. It is good for some of them to have the space dollars flowing into their electorates but they know that too many Columbias will see it cut off. It is a time of re-assessment.

    The critical thing is what happens in the Executive branch. Bush’s father said “Let’s go to Mars” and the space community shot itself in the foot. (“You’ve gotta haggle” but starting at $400B is so far out there that haggling was pointless.) I think his son will say “Let’s go to Mars” and this time the mistake will not be repeated.

  • Sadly, Mars is off the table as far as WH is concerned. Stay tuned. Details to follow on NASA Watch.