A NASA spokesman said on Wednesday that the agency is probably not going to be able to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. During a meeting of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, William H. Gerstenmaier, said the agency doesn’t have the necessary funding it needs to send astronauts to Mars.
NASA’s “Journey to Mars,” a plan in which the agency detailed the necessary steps to send humans to Mars, was announced back in October 2015, and now it seems it won’t be possible to carry out the plans.
In a statement from October 2015, NASA officials said the agency was close to sending American astronauts to Mars that at any point in its history.
NASA won’t be able to take astronauts to Mars without more funding
Gerstenmaier also noted that, besides the money issue, NASA engineers still haven’t been able to figure how to land something as heavy as a manned spacecraft on the Red Planet.
“I can’t put a date on humans on Mars, and the reason really is the other piece is, at the budget levels we described, this roughly 2 percent increase, we don’t have the surface systems available for Mars,” said Gerstenmaier when he was questioned whether NASA planned to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. “And that entry, descent and landing is a huge challenge for us for Mars.”
NASA’s new rocket called the Space Launch System, and the new spacecraft, Orion, were said to be the vehicles responsible for carrying humans to Mars. However, manufacturing these space vehicles has been extremely expensive.
Due to the almost prohibitive costs of building the rocket and the spacecraft, NASA has simply no more money to design vehicles to land on Mars or to ascend from the surface when it’s time to come back.
In 1997 Donald Lloyd Neff wrote in Time magazine that missions to Mars have such a high failure rate that “there must be a Great Galactic Ghoul living on Mars that subsides on human spacecraft.” Out of 16 attempted spacecraft landings on Mars since the 1970s, only seven have been able to land on the Red Planet, and all of those were carried out by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Just in October of last year, the European Space Agency sent a spacecraft that crashed before landing.
According to Popular Mechanics, NASA transition team member Jack Burns said back in April that due to the challenge of landing, he thought it’s going to take a bit longer than the 2030s before the agency can land astronauts on Mars safely.
Mars is currently out of the question but the moon is an alternative
While Gerstenmaier discarded the possibility of sending humans to Mars, he did note that there could be a new mission to the moon. NASA hasn’t considered missions to the moon since George W. Bush’s administration, who told the agency to plan a mission to go there. However, that initiative was canceled in the Obama administration.
“If we find out there’s water on the moon, and we want to do more extensive operations on the moon to go explore that, we have the ability with Deep Space Gateway to support an extensive Moon surface program,” said Gerstenmaier. “If we want to stay focused more towards Mars we can keep that.”
Ars Technica reports that NASA won’t be able probably to go anywhere unless something changes and more funding is approved for the space agency. NASA currently doesn’t have the funding necessary to build a lunar outpost if it has to rely on the Space Launch System, which officials say it will only fly once a year, at a cost per fly of over $1 billion.
SpaceX also plans to send humans to Mars by 2030
Meanwhile, even though NASA said it couldn’t send humans to Mars by the 2030s at the rate they’re going, it may be possible for private company SpaceX to achieve the feat. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly said his company would send humans to Mars in the near future, and he recently shared plans to create a human colony on Mars of over 1 million people.
Currently, SpaceX is working on the Dragon spacecraft, a vehicle that will allegedly land on Martian surface in 2020. The company even said it’s considering sending two Dragon spacecraft, just in case.
While the specific details of the space vehicle haven’t been announced, experts estimate the Dragon will weigh about six metric tons, making it the heaviest object ever landed on Martian surface if Musk’s company succeeds.
The task seems to be just around the corner, and while many experts consider the company won’t be able to carry it out so soon, SpaceX is already known to keep its promises and to revolutionize space research in ways still impossible for government space agencies. For instance, the company recently landed an orbital class rocket after launch, something that hasn’t been done by anyone in the past.
However, Musk recently said the company also needs more funding to carry out its plans. In the meantime, the only confirmed Mars landing in the coming years is that of the Mars rover, which NASA intends to launch in 2020.
Source: Popular Mechanics