The US has had several alternatives to the shuttle designed, built and tested. President Bush has spent not a single dime on them. He's only interested in cashing in on NASAs recent Mars success.
Let's look at some of the evidence for this. His abandonment of the Hubble Space Telescope. If he was interested in space exploration, he'd be interested in knowing what's there, right? Especially what those ultra-massive Gamma-Ray bursts are from, and whether they can be predicted.
One zap from one of those would fry the occupants of any manned space vehicle. Right now, we know that they're the most extreme source of gamma rays in the Universe, they're very localized and they're evenly distributed across the sky. What we don't know is anything else. The more high-power telescopes we have in space that can help in identifying these, the better.
Now, we move onto the next issue. the ISS. One of the original justifications for it was that it could serve as a way-station for a Mars voyage. The technical demands on a rocket in an atmosphere are very different from those of a rocket in space, so assembling a rocket for Mars on Earth is rather stupid.
Something that is aerodynamic enough to not burn itself into a cinder or run out of fuel trying to displace air, shielded enough to keep radiation down, large enough to hold a decent-sized crew for 7-12 months without them going stir-crazy, and small enough that manoevers don't rip the vessel apart from inertial forces...
Much, much simpler to build in space. Fewer variables.
Personally, I think the ISS has been a gigantic waste of money, so fat, but this could be its saving grace. Adapt the ISS to being a construction and launch platform, then build the Mars rocket there.
Of course, we all know that the real reason for the money is that President Bush wants his ABM system but the military hasn't been able to deliver.
How do we know this is the real reason? Because President Bush has no interest in technology or science, and a Mars mission would be about both. Because the systems that exist that would be required for such a mission are being scrapped. Because if President Bush really, trully wanted man on Mars, it wouldn't take 30 years or bilions of dollars.
The cost, the timescale, and the dismantling of what would be vital infrastructure are very telling. The cost and timescale are just about right hor his dream "Star Wars II" ABM system. On the other hand, if we wanted to go to Mars for real, it would likely cost less than a single billion, and take five to ten years at most.
Remember, getting to the moon took less than a decade, and at that time we didn't even know wwhat the moon surface was composed of! We had no maps usable for a landing, we had next to no knowledge of rocketry, computers were less powerful than a modern pocket calculator and guidance systems capable of putting a rocket into a free-return orbit over those kinds of distances were the stuff of sci-fi.
We still got there. We already know more about Mars than we did then about the moon. We already have rockets that can travel those distances with near pinpoint precision. We have computers that can operate in space with high reliability. We have life-support systems that can operate over the timescales required.
What we don't have is enough data on deep-space extreme events, nor facilities capable of building a vehicle large enough.
Compared to the Apollo missions, these problems are relatively minor and can be solved in a very short time. But not by diverting cash from the very projects that can solve them!
The current plans would be like Ford closing all its car plants, in order to design the ultimate 2005 model. Even if you produced the design - and it's unlikely, 'cos you've laid off all the designers by closing the plants - you couldn't then build it! You've nothing to build it with!
Now, sure, I believe NASA is underfunded. I'd like to see them get a billion extra a year. It might even be enough for them to get something useful done. But to reach Mars - assuming the other projects remain active and are properly maintained?
Reaching a moon of Jupiter within a decade might need a billion a year. That's tougher, as you'vre the asteroid belt and Jupiter's radiation to contend with. Unmanned probes don't worry about minor structural damage, but a manned vehicle certainly would. Radiation-tolerent components (I listed a whole bunch a few years back, on here) can be far tougher than the average person.
Yes, I can see that taking longer. But 10 years is still generous for that. In 30 years, a well-funded NASA should be sending manned missions into the Keplar Belt.
That is why I believe this is crap. The timeframe is such that Bush can have his advanced rocket systems for shooting down missiles. Once that is in place, and the Rover mission is forgotten history, he can quietly scrap the Mars Mission and nobody will even notice.
This isn't about science, it's about deception for the purpose of abusing a science organization to make their machinations come true.