United States has vowed to send the first humans to Mars by the 2030s, but space experts and lawmakers expressed concern that poor planning and lack of funds will delay those plans.
At a hearing in Washington, Senator Bill Nelson said the White House decision to return to the Moon — a program former president Barack Obama halted in order to focus on reaching Mars — could drag down the whole process. “We don’t want to rob the NASA budget of what is the goal, and the goal is to get to Mars with humans,” said Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, which is home to Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center.
NASA officials have said as recently as this year they are trying to craft a deep space program with far less, using only inflation-based increases in the budget. And the National Academies of Science has calculated that if NASA’s budget continued on its current path, “forget the scenario of getting to Mars by the 2030s. It would take us until 2050,” Nelson added. “I don’t think we want to wait that long.”
Testifying at the hearing, Chris Carberry, chief executive of Explore Mars, said international and private partnerships could help the United States make it more affordable to reach Mars. “Our international partners want us to lead,” he told lawmakers. “But they have concerns that we keep changing directions. They are not sure that we are going to stick with the direction.”
Even more, aerospace experts have identified about a dozen technologies that “we need to start working on pretty much immediately if we have any hope of landing humans on Mars in the 2030s,” Carberry added. These include developing spacecraft that can survive the harsh entry into Mars and land softly enough, as well as the ability to lift people off the surface and head back to Earth.
“This next NASA authorization, the hope is that it will reach further and be bolder in its aspirations,” he said. Cruz then asked retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who has spent a US record of 665 days in space, for her view on what is needed going forward.
“The one most important thing is constancy of purpose,” she answered. “We have to have a vision that lasts more than one administration. We have to have a budget line that will support those goals and objectives that we are trying to reach.”