Shortly after coming into office in 2009, President Obama announced a very ambitious agenda for NASA, reminiscent pf President Kennedy's plan to go to the Moon. The goal: land astronauts on Mars by the mid 2030s. Problem: America will not have a manned space program again until, at the earliest, 2017, with the first test flight of NASA's New Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
Now, a group of over 60 people representing government, the private sector, and academia, have come to a conclusion about the feasibility of such a mission: it's possible, but with catches.
According to Chris Carberry, executive director of Explore Mars Inc., there is a growing consensus among the space community that a manned mission to Mars should be a priority. Explore Mars Inc., along with the American Astronautical Society, hosted the workshop studying the feasibility of a manned Mars mission by 2030.
The big catch, according to Carberry: money.
“To be able to make it feasible and affordable, you need a sustainable budget . . .you need a budget that is consistent, that you can predict from year to year and that doesn't get canceled in the next administration."
Problem: the transition from Bush to Obama involved killing President Bush's Constellation Program, which called for Americans to return to the Moon and construct permanent bases by 2020. Implication: when Obama is replaced by the next president in 2017, who's to say that the same couldn't happen again?
Additionally, Carberry said that, with the way the current NASA budget is divided amongst several divisions, it will be very hard to give the manned spaceflight program the money it needs in order to make a Mars mission financially feasible.
Additionally, the group came to 6 conclusions as to what was needed to make a manned Mars mission by 2030 possible. Their findings are as follows:
The goal of sending humans to Mars is affordable with the right partnerships (international, commercial/industrial, intergovernmental, etc.), commitment to efficiency, constancy of purpose and policy/budget consistency.
Human exploration of Mars is technologically feasible by the 2030s.
Mars should be the priority for human spaceflight over the next two to three decades.
Between now and 2030, investments and activities in the human exploration of space must be prioritized in a manner that advances the objective of initial human missions to Mars beginning in the 2030s.
Utilizing the International Space Station, including international partnerships, is essential for human missions to deep space.
Continuation of robotic precursor missions to Mars throughout the 2020s is essential for the success of human missions to Mars.
They key here: an international mission, which would, in theory, help stabilize the budget by having several countries footing the bill.
Additionally, the group also examined the worthiness of a bridge mission at an earlier date. The finding: a bridge mission to gain experience that could be applied to a Mars trip is a worthy undertaking and one that should be acted upon.
Still, these recommendations are just that, recommendations, and ones that will probably have no practical impact on NASA's budget and/or how its dollars are spread within the agency during the next 20 years, either.
Still, there's hope.
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