WASHINGTON, July 3 (UPI) -- The partisan divide between Democrat and Republican lawmakers has extended from Washington to the surface of Mars.
While both sides of the political aisle want NASA to pursue a manned Mission to Mars, President Obama and congressional Republicans have very different ideas about how to get there.
President Obama believes the path to Mars is through NASA's proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission, the process of capturing an asteroid and extracting its solar radiation to create a fueling station between Earth and Mars.
In addition to providing a path to Mars, the ARM program would only cost $3 billion, overwhelmingly less than former President George W. Bush's $100 billion scrapped moon mission. President Obama pulled the plug on that mission after $10 billion had been spent.
"ARM achieves deep space operations experience much sooner, and at much lower cost than lunar exploration," explained Louis Friedman, co-founder of the Planetary Society. "ARM would move U.S. astronauts beyond the Moon, creating opportunities to proceed farther into interplanetary space, toward Mars."
"First, ARM would extend human space flight to a lunar distant retrograde orbit. Sorties into true interplanetary space to a near-Earth asteroid would follow, preparing for journeys to the Mars system (perhaps landing on Phobos or Deimos.) The Martian surface -- the goal -- would then be clearly visible, and clearly achievable."
House Republicans, however, want NASA to establish an American moon base. Newt Gingrich famously became the butt of jokes for suggesting this during the last presidential election cycle, but a base on the moon is a very real hope to some in the aeronautics community.
Proponents of a moon base say it would allow NASA to test landing technologies and surface operations, as well as make America the first country to test extraterrestrial physical energy resources, such as the water contained in lunar dust.
"I frankly don't think anyone would be pushing asteroid redirect if the U.S. embraced a return to the moon," John Logsdon, former director of George Washington University's Space Institute told the National Journal.
"The rest of the world is focused on going to the moon. We're the only country that's out of sync with that."
House Republicans are so enamored with the idea of a moon base, they say they won't expand funding for Mars exploration until it scraps the ARM plan, a claim Friedman warns is a red herring.
"I don't think there's an iota of indication [that funding would be raised with a renewed moon focus]. There are people who will talk about that idea," Friedman said.
"The idea of actually appropriating extra money, we haven't seen anything like that."