For NASA, Mars Beyond Reach Without Budget Boost
If NASA continues to be funded at its current levels, a manned mission to Mars could be permanently beyond reach, space industry experts say.
When asked how soon astronauts could potentially set foot on Mars under NASA’s current budget constraints, Thomas Young, the former executive vice president of Lockheed Martin, says the outlook is bleak.
"With the current budget, bear with me, I would probably say never," Young said during a meeting of the U.S. House of Representative’s space subcommittee today (June 19).
Steven Squyres, the principal investigator for NASA’s Opportunity rover now exploring Mars, agreed. Squyres, an astronomy professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., also gave testimony before the House subcommittee.
Young said that if the public and government officials treat a mission to Mars with the importance of the first mission to the moon, it is possible to put boots on the Red Planet in a little more than a decade from now.
"Mars is harder; there are a lot of significant issues to resolve before going to Mars," Young said. "But I think that if we had the same national commitment to it [as we did to going to the moon], I would say by 2025, we could land on Mars."
The current draft of NASA’s budget produced by the House asks the space agency to develop a roadmap that will define the technical capabilities needed to send humans to Mars sometime in the future.
"I think the roadmap requirements in the bill are overconstrained," Squyres said. "I think the idea of establishing a roadmap for human exploration of Mars is great. It’s one of my favorite provisions in this bill, but I think it would be best to allow NASA to do that problem, to work out that roadmap in its technical details and find the best way to achieve that and then come back with a set of recommendations for what the intermediate milestones should be."
One of those intermediate steps could be another mission to the moon. However, Young doesn’t think that a lunar mission is a necessary requirement for setting foot on Mars.
"I do not believe that landing on the moon or operations on the moon is a prerequisite to going to Mars," Young said. "Given Mars as the focus, it’s not necessary. It’s probably a significant resource consumer that will take away from the time and effort to go to Mars."
As it stands now, the budget draft expressly prohibits NASA from carrying out the asteroid-capture mission that would send a robotic spacecraft to redirect a near-Earth asteroid into lunar orbit. The mission was written into President Barack Obama’s draft of the NASA budget released earlier this year.
"While the committee supports the administration’s efforts to study near-Earth objects, this proposal lacks in detail a justification or support from NASA’s own advisory bodies," Rep. Steven Palazzo said of the proposed mission. "Because the mission appears to be a costly and complex distraction, this bill prohibits NASA from doing any work on the project."
Under the newest draft, NASA’s budget comes in at about $16.8 billion and authorizes the space agency to continue operations for another two years, Palazzo said. The bill also cuts almost $650 million in Earth sciences program funding and sets a Dec. 31, 2017, flight readiness deadline for NASA’s commercial crew program.
"This authorization bill reflects a sincere effort to maximize return to the taxpayer while working to protect America’s role as the world leader in space exploration," Palazzo said. "It is realistic and reflective of the hard choices we must make as a nation and provides support for agreed-upon priorities."
Now would be a good time to google every single space agency in the world, along with each private space company, to view their independent space exploration efforts, which are surely to not only inspire competition and collaboration, but fuel the hopes and dreams of tomorrow’s dreamers - seeing as how they are of short supply within the American political system.
If you’d rather skip an extensive web search, watch The Mars Underground, to obtain a better grasp on how far we’ve come, how shortchanged American efforts in space are, how feasible it’s been since the 70’s to reach Mars, and why we shouldn’t shoot “for” the moon, but beyond it.
What IS The Mars Underground?
The Mars Underground is a landmark documentary that follows Dr. Zubrin and his team as they try to bring this incredible dream to life. Through spellbinding animation, the film takes us on a daring first journey to the Red Planet and envisions a future Mars teeming with life and terraformed into a blue world. A must-see experience for anyone concerned for our global future and the triumph of the human spirit.
"This film captures the spirit of Mars pioneers who refuse to let their dreams be put on hold by a slumbering space program. Their passionate urge to walk the soil of an alien world is infectious and inspirational. This film is the manifesto of the new space revolution."
- James Cameron
Stay Curious! The Case for Mars | Symphony of Science (Remix)
The Case for Mars | Symphony of Science (Original)
The Case for Mars | Robert Zubrin (Lecture)
One more…in case you missed the point…here’s a short compilation of Robert Zubrin’s testimony address to the Senate. Warning: you may become inspired and fall in love with this man.
Fight for Space Documentary | Kickstarter (Goal Accomplished, 2012)