Congress Tears Apart NASA's Journey to Mars: "We Do Not Have a Planned Strategy"

Thursday, 04 February 2016 - 3:28PM
Space
Science News
Mars
Thursday, 04 February 2016 - 3:28PM
Congress Tears Apart NASA's Journey to Mars: "We Do Not Have a Planned Strategy"
Congress just positively ripped apart NASA's plans for a Journey to Mars, criticizing their lack of a concrete plan with achievable milestones. They went so far as to question whether a plan to reach Mars is feasible to have on the horizon at this point, and whether we should instead divert our resources to a lunar mission.

At a special hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, witnesses from the scientific community testified that a long-term mission to Mars would be prohibitively expensive, costing much more money than the government allocates to them each year, and that the technological advancement that needs to occur is so steep, humans will not reach Mars for a very long time. But most of all, there were allegations that NASA does not have a clearly structured, realistic plan or timeline for a mission to Mars.

Opening quote
"We do not have a planned strategy or architecture with sufficient detail," Tom Young, the former director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said at the meeting (via The Verge).
Closing quote

Strictly speaking, NASA is well on its way to developing the technology necessary to reach Mars, as they are currently developing the Space Launch System (SLS), which is projected to be the most powerful rocket in the world and will be powerful enough to get us to the Red Planet. However, there has reportedly not been enough advancement in the technology that would be necessary once we reach Mars, such as habitat modules, landing systems, and launch systems for returning to Earth.

According to the witnesses, NASA has a vague goal to reach Mars, but not enough incremental lead-up missions to test the technology that will make this mission feasible. Even the SLS is only officially scheduled for one mission: the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which will aim to capture a small piece of an asteroid and place it in lunar orbit. But the representatives view this as an expensive and unnecessary stunt--essentially scientific muscle-flexing. Some witnesses claimed that the capability of the SLS could be demonstrated with less complex and expensive missions, but that the specifics of ARM are unrelated to any space exploration ambitions.

Opening quote
"This is a misguided mission without a mission, without a launch date, and without ties to exploration goals," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). "It's just a time-wasting distraction."
Closing quote

However, no one is turning against space exploration in general, as several planetary scientists noted that it may be more feasible to concentrate on the Moon, at least at first. This mission would be nearly as exciting, and would provide opportunities to test technologies for other deep space locations like Mars.

Opening quote
"The moon is reachable, it's close, it's interesting, and it's useful," Spudis said.
Closing quote

This isn't the first time this alternative has been proposed; former CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield recently stated that we have several generations of technological development before we can feasibly colonize Mars, and it makes more sense to visit our Moon, which is closer and more practical, in order to test the technologies before we're ready to settle down there. 

Opening quote
"We have a moon. It just makes sense to test and prove and learn all the things that we need to on the Moon," Hadfield said in October. "So that's where we're going to go next. And then eventually, we'll have invented enough things that we can safely point and go as far as Mars. But it's early yet."
Closing quote
Science
NASA
Space
Science News
Mars

Load Comments