On Wednesday, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology shred into pieces NASA’s plan to reach the Red Planet, saying that NASA’s Journey to Mars initiative lacks ‘planned strategy.’
Members of the committee were also pessimistic about the mission’s feasibility on the long run because of the massive funding the trip would require and the current state of the technological progress. Congressional members noted that the journey to Mars would require a lot more funding than what the space agency gets under a yearly budget.
As a result, the congressional committee members concluded that NASA should either come up with a better strategy or limit itself to another lunar mission. Both committee members and experts that were called to testify argued that the space agency still needs a road map for the mission and achievable milestones.
Tom Young, ex-director of the U.S. space agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, said that indeed NASA is deficient in a ‘planned strategy’ or a detailed ‘architecture’ for the Mars mission.
Currently, NASA is working on a capsule dubbed Orion and a rocket that could ferry humans to Mars. But conducting research on the Red Planet would require more hardware and money for launch and landing systems, and facilities were crews can live etc.
Sadly, NASA lacks a clear plan for these aspects. Plus, the timeline is fuzzy at best. While Orion and the rocket are slated to undergo a flight test at some point in 2018, any subsequent activities are left up in the air.
NASA only said that the first attempt to send a human crew to Mars would occur at some point between 2021 and 2023. Beyond that date, there isn’t any other Mars-related activity on the space agency’s to-do list.
In the meantime, NASA plans to use the Mars mission rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) in the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). According to the plan, a robotic probe would grab a small piece of a space rock and redirect it to a lunar orbit where a SLS crew awaits and plans to study it.
Nevertheless, although ARM has more clear goals, the committee sharply criticized it too, saying that it is just an ‘extremely expensive stunt’ and a ‘time-wasting distraction’ with no practical outcome. Still, NASA had said that ARM was just an experiment to test a propulsion technology that would be used in the Journey to Mars initiative.
But the debate caught fire the moment congressional members mentioned the cost of a Mars mission i.e. about half a trillion dollars just to reach the planet and extra money to develop the necessary technologies to shield astronauts from radiation and solve other challenges during the mission.
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