EVEN as man prepared to take his first tentative extraterrestrial steps, other celestial adventures beckoned him. The shape and scope of the post-Apollo manned space program remained hazy, and a great deal depends on the safe and successful outcome of Apollo 11. But well before the moon flight was launched, NASA was casting eyes on targets far beyond the moon. The most inviting: the earth's close, and probably most hospitable, planetary neighbor. Given the same energy and dedication that took them to the moon, says Wernher von Braun, Americans could land on Mars as early as 1982.
Mustering the necessary zealnot to mention the political and budgetary supportmay be more difficult than mastering the technology. NASA has no plans yet for any manned expeditions beyond the moon, largely because of its inability to wrest more funds from a Congress whose members are already divided over the $24 billion tab for Apollo. Last week, as head of a task force on future U.S. space objectives, Vice President Spiro Agnew said the nation should aim for a manned Martian landing by the end of the century. But Agnew conceded that the other members of the panel might be more cautious about a manned Martian expedition.
With sufficient funds, NASA intends to launch nine more Apollo flights to the moon in the next three years. Lofted by the same powerful Saturn 5 boosters that have been Apollo's workhorses, U.S. astronauts will range over increasingly rugged areas. The scheduled Apollo 12 flight in November will take them to the Ocean of Storms. On subsequent missions, they will touch down near the Crater Censorinus, the Sea of Serenity, the Crater Tycho and finally such forbidding abysses as the craters Aristarchus and Copernicus.
As the lunar expeditions become more ambitious, so will their hardware. NASA is now improving the life-support systems in the lunar module to allow visits to the moon of up to three days by 1970. The agency is also developing more flexible space suits and designing a small rocket-propelled "lunar flyer."
NASA also hopes to keep its manned space effort alive by using surplus Saturn 4B rocketswhich now serve as the third stage of the Apollo launch vehiclefor earth-orbiting flights. This effort, dubbed the Apollo Applications Program, will begin in 1971 with a 28-day flight by three menone a doctor. These vehicles are only forerunners of a giant space station that NASA plans to orbit by the late 1970s. The first station will probably accommodate twelve people, including the first American spacewoman. It will remain aloft for at least ten years, with crew members rotated every six months.
Mapping the Red Planet
At the same time, NASA will attempt increasingly complex unmanned probes. Two unmanned Mariner spacecraft will soon pass within 2,000 miles of Mars and radio back enough close-up photographs to map about 20% of the Martian surface. In 1973, other Martian orbiters will eject two instrument-packed capsules for soft landings on Mars.