Review: Mars Wars
by Jeff Foust
|“To ensure the success of future efforts to send humans to Mars,” Hogan writes at the end of Mars Wars, “current and future policy makers must learn the lessons of SEI.”
Hogan goes beyond a simple recounting of history in Mars Wars to look at some of the reasons why SEI failed. First and foremost, arguably, were the conflicts between the White House and NASA administrator Richard Truly. The Space Council expressed “outright shock” at the 90-Day Study and its lack of real alternatives (Mark Albrecht, executive secretary of the National Space Council at the time, said in an interview for the book that the report “was the biggest ‘F’ flunk you could ever get in government”), while Truly and some others in NASA felt that the White House didn’t understand the technical complexities and associated costs with such an exploration architecture. That fractured relationship made it all the more difficult to sell SEI to a skeptical Congress, particularly given the sticker shock created by the 90-Day Study.
The last part of Mars Wars tries to put the failure of SEI in a political science context, using concepts like policy streams and punctuated equilibrium theory that can get a little dense for non-academics. Hogan, though, does identify some lessons learned from SEI’s failure: the lack of clear policy guidance from the White House, the failure by the administration to adequately brief Congress on SEI before its public announcement, and, interestingly, that “NASA needs competition for ideas from other space policy community actors.” The Vision for Space Exploration has avoided those pitfalls to date, perhaps primarily because of the closer cooperation between the White House and NASA during the plan’s formulation than during SEI. “To ensure the success of future efforts to send humans to Mars,” Hogan writes at the end of Mars Wars, “current and future policy makers must learn the lessons of SEI.” The relative success of the Vision to date (as measured by its survival, if nothing else) relative to SEI suggests that key policymakers have indeed learned those lessons; for those uncertain as to what those lessons are, Mars Wars provides a good review of what went wrong with SEI, and why.