Debate over a Manned Flight to Mars
Task Force Proposal and the Cost Estimates
President nixon soon will decide whether the United States should adopt the goal of landing men on Mars before the end of the century. The President has before him a report by a special Space Task Group whose primary recommendation was that this country undertake such a mission. It is now up to Nixon to decide whether to accept one of the task group's suggested Mars landing dates—1983, 1986, or sometime in the 1990s—or to suspend judgment, at least for the time being. Whatever decision the President makes, it is sure to be preceded by vigorous debate among the public and in Congress.
The Space Task Group report, made public Sept. 17, gave the President three “options” on a Mars manned landing. Under the option that would land men on Mars in 1983, the federal space budget would increase to $4.2 billion in fiscal 1971—up by $500 million from the fiscal 1970 budget request—to $4.8 billion in fiscal 1972, $6 billion in fiscal 1973, and almost $7 billion in fiscal 1974. The final decision whether to go ahead with the Mars landing would be made in 1974 if the foregoing timetable were adopted. A favorable decision would mean that the space budget would climb to $7.7 billion in fiscal 1975 and continue to increase over the following five years to a peak of $9.4 billion in fiscal 1980.
The option that Agnew favors—adoption of a 1986 Mars landing goal—would keep NASA spending below $5 billion a year until fiscal 1975, when it would reach $5.5 billion. Congress and the then-President would decide in 1978, under this timetable, whether to proceed with the Mars program. If they did so, the NASA budget would mount to $6.6 billion in fiscal 1979 and to $7.7 billion the following year. Peak annual expenditures of $8 billion a year would be required in the early 1980s. National Aeronautics and Space Administrator Thomas O. Paine said on Sept. 17 that a Mars program “should be no more expensive than the program to go to the moon.” The lunar program has cost about $24 billion to date. Other estimates place the total cost of a Mars program as high as $100 billion.