Mars isn’t just a pipe dream.
That was NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s confident opening message at the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, D.C. on May 5.
In 2010 President Obama directed NASA to land a human on Mars by the 2030s, and now Bolden says we’re on pace to meet that goal.
“It’s attainable,” Bolden said. “Mars matters to humanity and the pursuit of human progress.”
Getting humans off the ground
An ExoMars orbiter designed to circle the red planet will launch next year, and there are plans for another Mars rover in 2018, but it’s not enough to only send robots, Bolden said. Robots are great for preliminary data and laying ground work, but we need humans on the Martian surface.
And now a clear plan to make that happen is starting to take shape. There are tons of different strategies for getting to Mars, Bolden said, but the important thing is that NASA has an outline for a mission that’s feasible given what we already know about space travel and spaceflight technology.
NASA’s plans are already in motion. The organisation’s giant SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft that is designed to carry humans to Mars are already undergoing test flights. In the 2020s NASA plans to test the Orion spacecraft and the solar electric propulsion we’ll need to send cargo to Mars by exploring an asteroid and bringing samples back to Earth. Then Orion will be ready for the 6-month journey to Mars. NASA scientists are also studying astronauts onboard the International Space Station to help us better understand the risks of long-term space travel.
Financing all of this is one of the biggest problems standing in the way. As commercial spaceflight companies like SpaceX and Boeing continue to expand and develop new space travel technology, NASA will be able to partner with them and hopefully bring down the cost of future missions.
The reasons to go to Mars are clear, now we just need government and public support, Scott Hubbard, former director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, said at the Humans to Mars Summit.
Right now we have “a window of opportunity to build a consensus for a long-term, cost- constrained, executable mission to Mars,” Hubbard said.
And we need to take advantage of it.
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