NASA is left without partners for a manned mission to Mars after the European Space Agency announced that it is redirecting its interests towards the Moon. The two partners have split ways, without any final words on the matter. Cooperation is still looming between the two space agencies. Nonetheless, the current framework leaves less room for the traditional intense cooperation between the two.
In addition, the Russian Federation and China have also decided to go their separate ways for the time being. Four of the most powerful space agencies in the world are shifting focus to their own plans. Against this background, NASA is left without partners for a manned mission to Mars.
The European Space Agency announced recently that its efforts will be redirected towards building a Moon colony. The ambitious plan sees the colony built by 2020 and missions flying from the International Space Station in the very near future.
However, the European Space Agency expressed the wish that the planned Moon mission remains subject to the principles of ‘peaceful coexistence’, harmony and cooperation. No precise details of the ambitious plan have been released so far. Perhaps, with more intensive research looming, a more comprehensive and detailed ‘how-to’ will come to light. We must admit that space exploration is in an exciting moment.
Yet, for NASA the even more ambitious plan for a Mars mission looks underfunded as the space agency’s partners are backing down. A detailed analysis of the costs of a Mars mission has surfaced numbers between 100 billion dollars and 1 trillion dollars. Provided NASA’s 2016 budget only reaches 19.3 billion dollars, it’s clear where the dilemma lies.
However, a future Mars mission still stands a chance if the public-private partnerships take precedence. The stepping stone for the deep-space manned mission is already in place. NASA’s Orion sees a budget of 6.77 billion dollars. Between 2015 and 2033 NASA planned to build two capsules relevant for Orion. The project saw the support of the European Space Agency that took over 470 million dollars out of its pocket to settle the bill on the initial module. The hard work was taken on by Europe’s Airbus Group.
At the moment, the Russian Federation as well as China are out of the loop. A Mars mission would have been much easier to plan with the two governments’ help. However, the Russian Federation is cutting back on space spending. Partnering with China is even trickier as relations between the U.S. and China hit a rocky path when the latter was barred from access to the International Space Station in 2011.
Currently, the private sector is NASA’s best shot at a Mars mission. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is already making considerable progress in this direction. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is also a vetoed competitive player on the market. It is clear that without stable partnerships NASA is grounded. However, considering options such as the private sector or making the best possible out of the limited cooperation with other governments can provide valuable resources.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia