What would a space race in the 90s be like?

If shortly after the Gulf War the US, Japan, and Europe decided to divert 25 percent of their military budgets to a joint space program aimed at landing humans on Mars and China chooses not to spend as much on advancing military tech as OTL could humans be able to land on Mars by the late 2010s or at least the 2020s?


or would that be impossible since technology required for a Mars expedition have to be mastered aboard a space station like the ISS?
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If shortly after the Gulf War the US, Japan, and Europe decided to divert 25 percent of their military budgets to a joint space program aimed at landing humans on Mars and China chooses not to spend as much on advancing military tech as OTL could humans be able to land on Mars by the late 2010s or at least the 2020s?


or would that be impossible since technology required for a Mars expedition have to be mastered aboard a space station like the ISS?
ksc-20170824-ph_lch01_0065.jpg

mars_food_production_bisected.jpg.jpeg
If they had thrown enough money at the problem in the 1970's they could have had a Mars base (if not colony) in the 1980's.
 
If they had thrown enough money at the problem in the 1970's they could have had a Mars base (if not colony) in the 1980's.

This pretty much as it was always a lack of will, (funding being a 'manifestation' of that) that was the problem. Having said that you actually need a plausible REASON for that decision which isn't likely given the US and Europe for one are looking to consolidate and REDUCE expenditures not create more. That we got the ISS out of that period was more due to seeking ways to keep Russia from bleeding rocket (and other scientists) after the USSR collapsed. Specifically the US Congress was very dead-set against expanding the US Space Program, hence why SEI died a rather swift death.

Randy
 
I think this is wishful thinking. To be realistic I think you would need to build a space station in Low Earth orbit first where you can pile up fuel, supplies and assembly parts. You will want to do some final assembly for the rocket to take you to Mars from there. That way you can build a fairly large rocket with a really big payload capability so you can land on Mars with people, with all the fuel, food and other supplies they need and come back. This would take at least 20-30 years, probably more. If started in the 1990's we might barely be able to make it now. The Earth is about 200,000 miles from the Moon and about 35,000,000 from Mars. I am not saying it is impossible but it would be a painfully slow process.
 
I think this is wishful thinking. To be realistic I think you would need to build a space station in Low Earth orbit first where you can pile up fuel, supplies and assembly parts. You will want to do some final assembly for the rocket to take you to Mars from there. That way you can build a fairly large rocket with a really big payload capability so you can land on Mars with people, with all the fuel, food and other supplies they need and come back. This would take at least 20-30 years, probably more. If started in the 1990's we might barely be able to make it now. The Earth is about 200,000 miles from the Moon and about 35,000,000 from Mars. I am not saying it is impossible but it would be a painfully slow process.

Well, while I'd agree for the most part the assumption that there is some support for the idea the question would be how much of a national 'priority' would the entire project be? The OP proposes 25% of the military budget of the United States which would be the lions share and frankly the other nations contribution would be a drop in the bucket comparatively. (And which begs some questions on how much military involvement is also going to be attached to that money)

Your suggestion of a "orbital assembly station" matches NASA's plans for a "Space Operations Center" which was proposed in the late '70s as an orbital construction and assembly station for large orbital construction and test projects. Construction of the station would take about a decade at least but actual construction of the Mars ship and mission would take far less time given the broader depth of the world's launch capability in the late 90s.

Probably the more "important" struggle will be over the architecture of going to Mars and which 'side' would win.
On the one hand you have the more robust and sustainable vision that was eventually 'distilled' down into the infamous "90 Day Study" (which gets a bad rep but frankly was a 20 to 30 year overall plan to expand human ability and presence to Cis-Lunar space and beyond rather than "just" a plan to get to Mars, something even it's detractors have to admit) which proposed to spend about 500 billion dollars over the next three decades to establish and support bases in orbit, on the Moon and on Mars over that time period and at the end of it would see regular access to space by large number of human beings.

On the other hand was the 'quicker' and supposedly 'cheaper' concepts which can be shown with the example of "Mars Direct". Literally based on the idea that "sustainable" and building in-space infrastructure was not how we did "Apollo", (as though repeating that one specific program that required a large number of specific and unusual circumstances was the only possible thing we can do) and that public and political "attention" (and therefore funding) was limited to a single decade long window of opportunity. So the entire 'focus' of the concept and program would exclude anything that did not directly impact going directly from the surface of the Earth to Mars and then directly back again. (If this sounds a bit familiar it's because the current 'popular' plan is essentially the same thing only with 'reusable' spacecraft)

The former plan is likely not going to see a person on Mars before the late 2020's but that person (and expedition) will have a massive (and still expanding) set of infrastructure, experience and knowledge to back it all up. The latter plan tosses out everything that is not directly involved in getting to the surface of Mars, and opts for accepting lower margins of safety and operational ability in favor of getting there sooner and (arguably) cheaper. (Keep in mind that OTL's "Constellation" program was essentially a NASA version of "Mars Direct" {Griffin was very much an MD fan} that only 'tacked-on' the Ares-1 once Congress mandated that the ISS support missions continue. Prior to that point the 'plan' was to abandon the ISS in favor of, essentially, Mars Direct using the Ares-V booster) So it could see someone on Mars by the mid-20-teens, someone back on the Moon for a few limited missions by 2010-ish.

I know which one I'd prefer, (and why) but given the lobbying and effort at the time I don't see how given a clear 'incentive' to proceed that you would not see Mars Direct being the chosen path taken. Which means that China won't even try to 'compete' with the US. No one will, so it won't be a "space race" in any sense. Likely we may send a few missions to the Moon to 'test' some hardware and techniques but the focus will be mainly on Mars. The ISS doesn't likely happen though we could see several smaller relatively 'short-term' (a few years of use before decommissioning) space stations based on legacy Mir parts and new build 'transit-habitat' modules.

Of course this all assumes that 9/11 and the "War on Terror" don't see that 25% reverted back to the military and the whole program grinding to a halt as funding and priorities shift.

Randy
 
On the other hand was the 'quicker' and supposedly 'cheaper' concepts which can be shown with the example of "Mars Direct". Literally based on the idea that "sustainable" and building in-space infrastructure was not how we did "Apollo", (as though repeating that one specific program that required a large number of specific and unusual circumstances was the only possible thing we can do) and that public and political "attention" (and therefore funding) was limited to a single decade long window of opportunity. So the entire 'focus' of the concept and program would exclude anything that did not directly impact going directly from the surface of the Earth to Mars and then directly back again. (If this sounds a bit familiar it's because the current 'popular' plan is essentially the same thing only with 'reusable' spacecraft)

The former plan is likely not going to see a person on Mars before the late 2020's but that person (and expedition) will have a massive (and still expanding) set of infrastructure, experience and knowledge to back it all up. The latter plan tosses out everything that is not directly involved in getting to the surface of Mars, and opts for accepting lower margins of safety and operational ability in favor of getting there sooner and (arguably) cheaper. (Keep in mind that OTL's "Constellation" program was essentially a NASA version of "Mars Direct" {Griffin was very much an MD fan} that only 'tacked-on' the Ares-1 once Congress mandated that the ISS support missions continue. Prior to that point the 'plan' was to abandon the ISS in favor of, essentially, Mars Direct using the Ares-V booster) So it could see someone on Mars by the mid-20-teens, someone back on the Moon for a few limited missions by 2010-ish.

I know which one I'd prefer, (and why) but given the lobbying and effort at the time I don't see how given a clear 'incentive' to proceed that you would not see Mars Direct being the chosen path taken. Which means that China won't even try to 'compete' with the US. No one will, so it won't be a "space race" in any sense. Likely we may send a few missions to the Moon to 'test' some hardware and techniques but the focus will be mainly on Mars. The ISS doesn't likely happen though we could see several smaller relatively 'short-term' (a few years of use before decommissioning) space stations based on legacy Mir parts and new build 'transit-habitat' modules.
There are other reasons to dislike the 90-day report and like Mars Direct (or at least certain elements of Mars Direct) other than just "it's not Apollo 2.0," you know. In particular, the former made little use of ISRU and involved mostly short-stay missions. Zubrin had a point when he discussed how short-stay missions achieve a slightly shorter mission duration at the expense of far more in-space duration, and certainly ISRU greatly reduces necessary ISRU. Some aspects of the planned 90-day report infrastructure are also problematic or questionable, they did tend to shoehorn certain elements into places where it didn't really belong and planned on developing vehicles that were just as large and expensive as anything wanted by Mars Direct anyway. The fact that Mars Direct-based plans completely replaced the 90-day report architecture almost immediately, when the 90-day type had been basically how NASA had thought about Mars exploration since von Braun, sort of shows that it had some advantages.

I'm also not sure why you're putting 'reusable' in scare quotes, Starship certainly isn't going to be going to Mars if it isn't reusable (because no one will be able to afford it).
 
There are other reasons to dislike the 90-day report and like Mars Direct (or at least certain elements of Mars Direct) other than just "it's not Apollo 2.0," you know.

I know but considering that a main "justification" for Mars Direct was exactly that it WAS "Apollo 2.0" and obviously the ONLY 'successful' manned space exploration program was Apollo and therefore... Zubrin's not being subtle when he pounds this home in both the original paper and follow-up book. Yes there's a lot to question in the 90-Day Study, after all it was essentially the "last-gasp" of the Apollo-heritage "Big Program" studies that assumed a national level commitment of funding and support. They literally tossed in the kitchen sink in an effort to have enough 'wiggle' room to whittle things down later. It wasn't going to happen because there was no Congressional support even before Bush made his announcement, and Congress controlled the purse strings. Mars Direct got a lot of sound-bytes but no actual support beyond some Congressional mandating of 'alternate studies' which also went nowhere.

In particular, the former made little use of ISRU and involved mostly short-stay missions. Zubrin had a point when he discussed how short-stay missions achieve a slightly shorter mission duration at the expense of far more in-space duration, and certainly ISRU greatly reduces necessary ISRU.

Actually the 90-Day Study does in fact mention ISRU but not on the 'main' track for the simple reason that at the time no one wanted to seriously push a mission that depended on making your return propellant once you go there. It was a safety concern that took almost a decade to finally convince people to accept. ISRU had been studied and worked on by NASA and it's contractors since 1962-ish and it was agreed that having the ability to 'live-off-the-land' was a distinct benefit but the needed infrastructure and complexity was daunting. Zubrin's plan required a large space-rated nuclear power source which was (quite rightly) seen as problematic given the general publics anti-nuclear feelings and solar wasn't seen as up to the task. The 90-Day Study did include ISRU oxygen (and possibly water) production but made it clear that actual experiments would have to be carried out on Mars before such methods could be seriously considered. (Unlike Mars Direct they assumed they didn't bring 'feed-stock' and that's the point where the complexity and risk rapidly escalates)

Yes they base-lined short stay time missions at first, just like Apollo but what Zubrin ignored was the longer stay times also required a lot of in place maintenance and repair capability that added to the mission mass and costs. His epiphany was sending most of that on the first mission rather than the second where as NASA, (being NASA and conservative) sent it all in one large mission. NASA also planned the infrastructure and in-space experience to back that up where as Mars Direct calls for 'winging-it' as you go along meet the time-table and budget. And Zubrin did (and still does) ignore the problems with the Mars Direct concept, (hence why he never supported Mars Semi-Direct even though it became a DMR baseline) and blew off legitimate criticisms and questions about the concept. NASA at least admitter there were problems and unknowns and the the overall plans and specific time-tables were open to question and revision.

Some aspects of the planned 90-day report infrastructure are also problematic or questionable, they did tend to shoehorn certain elements into places where it didn't really belong and planned on developing vehicles that were just as large and expensive as anything wanted by Mars Direct anyway.

Again a lot of that was due to throwing everything into the report including stuff that they saw as 'nice-to-have' but not necessary and a lot of it was open to revision and re-planning.

The fact that Mars Direct-based plans completely replaced the 90-day report architecture almost immediately, when the 90-day type had been basically how NASA had thought about Mars exploration since von Braun, sort of shows that it had some advantages.

Uhm it didn't though. Mars Direct became a 'popular-replacement' but didn't become acceptable to NASA until major changes were made which Zubrin complained about. The only thing that was 'accepted' was when Griffin decided the Shuttle replacement vehicle would be a Mars Direct style Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (Ares V) and then was forced to also accept a "ISS support" LV in Ares 1. He wanted to replace the NASA Mars plan with Mars Direct but what they got was Mars Semi-Direct and that still fell short of a lot of NASA safety and development guidelines. No doubt that Mars Direct has some advantages over the historic Mars planning but it falls seriously short in sustainability and long-term planning and far too muck like Apollo it has serious political and public support issues over time.

I'm also not sure why you're putting 'reusable' in scare quotes, Starship certainly isn't going to be going to Mars if it isn't reusable (because no one will be able to afford it).

No you can "afford" to do it with non-reusable systems, that was after all the whole point of "Mars Direct" in the first place. The whole point of the SpaceX "Mars" mission is to find a way to reduce the cost of Mars Direct even more, while also lowering the utility and safety. It assumes even MORE complexity and on-site systems requirements than Mars Direct but builds no in-space infrastructure or capability and instead relies no vague planning and double down on Zubrin's ignoring problems and issues by assuming everything will go exactly right every time and in every situation. The reason 'reusable' is in "scare quotes" is because many early Starships will not in fact be "reusable" at all and that's the PLAN mind you. And many early Mars Starships, (assuming they every get built) will need to be expended to set up the surface infrastructure the 'plan' needs to get started and those will need to come after exploratory Starships map out and define the "actual" base site. Those will be actually more limited than the Mars Direct 'expendable' Lander Habs due to having to carry all the equipment and systems needed to not only get to Mars but make propellant there and then come back. Again the best part of the Mars Direct concept was splitting the mission up instead of trying to go "all out" in one flight which is exactly what Starship proposes to fall back to doing.

Randy
 
Actually the 90-Day Study does in fact mention ISRU but not on the 'main' track for the simple reason that at the time no one wanted to seriously push a mission that depended on making your return propellant once you go there. It was a safety concern that took almost a decade to finally convince people to accept. ISRU had been studied and worked on by NASA and it's contractors since 1962-ish and it was agreed that having the ability to 'live-off-the-land' was a distinct benefit but the needed infrastructure and complexity was daunting. Zubrin's plan required a large space-rated nuclear power source which was (quite rightly) seen as problematic given the general publics anti-nuclear feelings and solar wasn't seen as up to the task. The 90-Day Study did include ISRU oxygen (and possibly water) production but made it clear that actual experiments would have to be carried out on Mars before such methods could be seriously considered. (Unlike Mars Direct they assumed they didn't bring 'feed-stock' and that's the point where the complexity and risk rapidly escalates)
In other words, they basically didn't consider ISRU. The whole point of using it is to radically reduce IMLEO for your first mission, not to maybe one day support a base several missions down the line. From what I recall, they put a lot more effort into discussing lunar oxygen, anyway, and that's not useful for Mars missions or arguably anything except actually landing on the Moon.

Yes they base-lined short stay time missions at first, just like Apollo but what Zubrin ignored was the longer stay times also required a lot of in place maintenance and repair capability that added to the mission mass and costs.
The short-stay missions also require that, though, because of all of that in-space time. It's not like space is a benign environment where nothing breaks. The difference is only whether you are doing vehicle maintenance and upkeep on Mars or in interplanetary space.

Again a lot of that was due to throwing everything into the report including stuff that they saw as 'nice-to-have' but not necessary and a lot of it was open to revision and re-planning.
Which shows a considerable failure to understand how politics actually works and, in any case, is rather beside the point since you initially defended the 90-day report as a whole, not "the part of it that was actually important".

Uhm it didn't though. Mars Direct became a 'popular-replacement' but didn't become acceptable to NASA until major changes were made which Zubrin complained about. The only thing that was 'accepted' was when Griffin decided the Shuttle replacement vehicle would be a Mars Direct style Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (Ares V) and then was forced to also accept a "ISS support" LV in Ares 1. He wanted to replace the NASA Mars plan with Mars Direct but what they got was Mars Semi-Direct and that still fell short of a lot of NASA safety and development guidelines. No doubt that Mars Direct has some advantages over the historic Mars planning but it falls seriously short in sustainability and long-term planning and far too muck like Apollo it has serious political and public support issues over time.
However much Zubrin might complain about it not being "real" Mars Direct, the fact of the matter is that NASA's Mars mission plans since DRM 1.0 was published in 1993 have been completely based on Mars Direct, not pre-Mars Direct mission concepts. They might bend the design, to be sure, but they are far, far closer to Mars Direct than they are to anything NASA did earlier.

No you can "afford" to do it with non-reusable systems, that was after all the whole point of "Mars Direct" in the first place.
No, you can't afford it. No one is willing to spend the money needed to go to Mars with non-reusable systems, that's been abundantly proven by everything that's happened in spaceflight since 1991. Oh, sure, theoretically if you plot costs against national budgets it's possible, but in practice the national interest and desire to actually spend that much money doesn't exist and isn't going to exist, so you need to find a way to do it cheaper, i.e. reusability.
 
In other words, they basically didn't consider ISRU. The whole point of using it is to radically reduce IMLEO for your first mission, not to maybe one day support a base several missions down the line. From what I recall, they put a lot more effort into discussing lunar oxygen, anyway, and that's not useful for Mars missions or arguably anything except actually landing on the Moon.

The whole "point" of the 90-Day Study was to ensure a robust and affordable, (OK, based on the Shuttle sure and a likely SDLV but the intent was there :) ) system of access to LEO on a regular basis. Why would you need to 'radically reduce' your IMLEO when the mission requirements were a fraction of your regular yearly LEO launch payload? Mars Direct specifically was NOT about 'reducing' the IMLEO as it specifically never went into LEO but directly to Mars, and that was pretty much the point. Cut out EVERYTHING but getting to the surface of Mars from the surface of Earth and avoid any build up of infrastructure or assets. Notably this would allow the program to easily be cancelled at any point and have little to no follow up value so as "Apollo 2.0" it actually made a lot of sense but still didn't find support.

The short-stay missions also require that, though, because of all of that in-space time. It's not like space is a benign environment where nothing breaks. The difference is only whether you are doing vehicle maintenance and upkeep on Mars or in interplanetary space.

Mars has numerous well known, (not so well known at the time but Lunar and simulation experience suggested Mars was actually going to be worse not better as Zubrin assumed) issues with on-going maintenance and upkeep. Deep space is not any more benign but it was assumed under the 90-Day Study that much more experience and knowledge would be gained before they set out to Mars. Mars Direct is literally "we'll figure it out when we get there".

Which shows a considerable failure to understand how politics actually works and, in any case, is rather beside the point since you initially defended the 90-day report as a whole, not "the part of it that was actually important".

"Last gasp of the Apollo era planning" I noted :) And yes actually the whole study was important despite that caveat, but to be clear Bush's SEI announcement was exactly the "Kennedy moment" all the old-timers said was all that was needed to get "back" to Apollo-level business as usual so of course everyone jumped on the opportunity. That they were wrong and that far more nuanced politics was in play was very soon made abundantly clear and the fact that everyone had piled on the bandwagon was very much used as a big point against the entire study.

But the study itself was at its core a large scale plan to not only go to Mars but to go back to the Moon, to invest in and expand a major LEO infrastructure system and provide a robust launch architecture to support it all. Expensive as heck to put into place over a couple of decades yes, but once there it would be available and usable for missions far beyond just going to Mars a couple of times. The Mars mission itself was only marginally "planned" as it was specifically stated to be 20 to 30 years out, (which made none of the Mars Underground happy of course) and was very much only a preliminary plan. Unlike Apollo, (and what the old-Apollo hands were trying to correct in the first place) SEI would build up an actual space program with layers of self supporting infrastructure and depth so that once we reached Mars that would just be another goal along the way of the whole effort. (Again, something the Mars Underground was not happy with) The 90-Day Study was NOT about just going to Mars, (repeat complaint from the MU folks and Zubrin in particular) but actually fulfilling the SEI directive something Mars Direct could never do.

The problem with the OP is that such could never be a 'race' in the sense meant, aka harkening back the the supposed US/USSR "Space Race" fever of the mid-60s. Russia in the early 90s was dependent on US and European aid. Japan was finding it's 'bubble' of economics were not as stable as they'd planned and China, frankly, needed to spend the money it did to modernize and recover so it could not afford to 'compete' with anyone on something so esoteric as space flight and certainly not anything beyond LEO.
Had the US actually committed to SEI then it's likely a shaved version of the 90-Day Study would have been the main contender but as I noted given the more focused and politically easier to 'control' option of Mars Direct i would be more confident that a modified version would be what would be chosen. Unfortunately I also see it all going by the wayside after 9/11 :(

However much Zubrin might complain about it not being "real" Mars Direct, the fact of the matter is that NASA's Mars mission plans since DRM 1.0 was published in 1993 have been completely based on Mars Direct, not pre-Mars Direct mission concepts. They might bend the design, to be sure, but they are far, far closer to Mars Direct than they are to anything NASA did earlier.

NASA's "Mars Semi-Direct" (DRM 1, 1993) used the ISRU initially but retained a dedicated return ship that remained in Mars orbit and only used ISRU to put propellant in the surface return vehicle. This changed for Constellation (which Griffin pushed to try to get NASA to wholly accept Mars Direct, but since Congress was insisting on continued support for the ISS Griffin had to modify the planning even more) with Ares V being the Mars Direct Areas SDLV. Future DRM's as we can see here, have had NASA steadily moving AWAY from Mars Direct because of its shortcomings in both safety and operations.

No, you can't afford it. No one is willing to spend the money needed to go to Mars with non-reusable systems, that's been abundantly proven by everything that's happened in spaceflight since 1991. Oh, sure, theoretically if you plot costs against national budgets it's possible, but in practice the national interest and desire to actually spend that much money doesn't exist and isn't going to exist, so you need to find a way to do it cheaper, i.e. reusability.

In the context of the OP you CAN afford it which was the point :)
I'm not knocking "reusability" in and of itself mind you, (specifically I note below another fully reusable system that includes planned "expendable" portions that allow a more rapid and robust build up of capability that actually comes closer to the "idea" of Mars Direct than what SpaceX plans) I'm questioning it in the context of a Mars Direct style mission architecture (aka SpaceX's "Mars Plan") and I'm far from the only person who highly doubts that "reusability", in that context, is going to be a large "key" factor in suddenly making a Mars mission affordable. More specifically the insistence on not having infrastructure where and when it could and arguably should be planned is worrying since there are obvious points where both having such infrastructure and the capability and utility of using it make vastly more sense.

ISRU is a great game changer but by definition you have to the ability to both extract and store the resources as well as process them. Mars Direct (as NASA had pretty much always done) assumed a robust surface nuclear power supply and importing at least part of the raw materials. SpaceX is going to have to do the same, likely without the nuclear power source which makes the operation marginal at best. (Worse is the idea of tapping water ice as the needed infrastructure and equipment just about doubles in mass and complexity)

In the same vein using planned and dedicated "expendable" (in that they go to Mars but do not return) modules and systems, especially when setting up ISRU, makes vastly more sense than trying to cram things into a 'reusable' system that comes back to Earth every mission. NASA has proposed a more 'modular' system concept for a "reusable" transfer and landing system that is used to rapidly build up and put into operation such a suggested ISRU system but it gets little attention, (though the entire study series that originated it the NASA "ISRU-to-the-wall" study actually does get a lot of citation :) ) because it does not put anywhere near the "assumed" payload on the surface in one go as Starship is supposed to do. (Though also like the 'required' payload of the SLS per-Congress, Musk's 'required' payload has about as much backing it so there's that :) )

Arguably (if we wish to go in that direction :) ) the ability to reuse a super-heavy...er, "Super Heavy" booster, (awkward :) ) as a launch vehicle actually has more 'utility' if used to launch full-up "Mars Direct" like payloads directly to Mars than any expendable booster system. But that's not the plan and by adding the "fully reusable" Starship, its multiple tanker flights and all the cost and complexity of the ISRU systems needed at Mars pushes the costs higher, not lower.

Randy
 
Hmmm... this is not my forte, but maybe the reasoning why is to try and explore the extraterrestial economy. Things like looking for stuff on the moon or stuff that would leasd to mining asteroids.
 
Hmmm... this is not my forte, but maybe the reasoning why is to try and explore the extraterrestial economy. Things like looking for stuff on the moon or stuff that would leasd to mining asteroids.

Unfortunately there's no 'extraterrestrial' economy without a major Cis-Lunar infrastructure and/or economy to drive it. Shipping to Earth isn't cost effective at all and even a LEO or Cis-Lunar processing and manufacturing system is rather marginal. Building and using such an infrastructure would help to justify and build up the use of off-Earth resources but it very much needs a 'seed' program to jump start it and to be frank no Earth-nation (or business interest) has expressed an interest or desire to do so.

Randy
 
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