NRC: Overhaul of NASA Needed to Reach Mars This Century
The Obama administration's space-exploration goal— to send a human to an asteroid by 2025, and then a team to Mars by the mid-2030s— was deemed highly unrealistic by the congressionally mandated NASA report that has recently been conducted.
According to the National Research Council, and their 285-page report, unless NASA completely restructures its organization, the U.S. will not reach Mars during the 21st century.
Jonathan Lunine, co-chairman of the committee responsible for the report, stated, "There really isn't a strong direction to the human spaceflight program beyond ISS itself, which is in the mature phase."
The overarching message of the report is clear. The committee believes that NASA needs to reorganize itself, and concentrate it's efforts on getting to Mars during the 21st century.
Although they don't explain exactly how NASA should approach the proposed restructuring, they do outline three suggested "pathways":
The first proposes the moon as a stepping-stone for astronauts, suggesting that they build a base there to prepare more quickly and efficiently for Mars than they could on Earth.
The second path is more technologically daunting— it includes NASA's current plan to robotically capture an asteroid, redirect it into an orbit around the moon, send astronauts to it, and eventually repeat the process using one of Mars's moons.
The third, the most expensive but the least technologically risky, involves humans traveling between space stations from our moon to an orbit beyond the moon, to an asteroid in it's native orbit, then from Mars's lunar surface to the Martian orbit, and finally landing on the Red Planet's surface.
Mitch Daniels Jr., the chairman of the report's technical panel and former governor of Indiana, is in favor of this restructuring, and specifically supports the more expensive route. "A program worthy of the risk and worthy of the cost has to be ambitious— and Mars has to be the goal," he explains. "But we do conclude that we will not get there... without a new approach."
The report also urges NASA to begin branching out past the idiosyncratic work that it has been sticking to lately. While China has been sending probes to the moon, the U.S. has been fixated on looking at asteroids. The authors point out that NASA's international isolation is detrimental to the advancement of our space exploration goals, and will prevent the United States from reaching Mars during the 21st century.
They therefore suggest that NASA's goals must undergo a fundamental shift that will hopefully allow for U.S. participation in an international effort for space exploration. The authors of the report state that the necessary funding and support for a trip to Mars won't be possible without international cooperation. This would mean putting aside any geopolitical tensions, because cooperation with China and Russia is absolutely necessary.