Over the past several months, NASA has worked toward a single goal: Going to Mars. Every flyby, rocket launch and new morsel of information is being collected for an eventual trip to the Red Planet, and maybe even colonization. Have you seen The Martian? That’s what NASA is aiming for, minus the part where Mark Watney gets stranded.
Congress, however, is not so confident NASA will actually get that far. During a House space subcommittee hearing, a panel of experts expressed their doubts when talking about NASA’s plan, saying it is “far from clear.”
NASA has been using the slogan “Journey to Mars” to get people pumped for its planned trip to our distant neighbor, saying humans could go there as early as the 2030s. However, these experts say NASA is being way too ambitious, lacking the funds and technology to ever get there, especially with low-orbit projects, such as the International Space Station going on. The overall message from these experts appears to be that NASA should stop dreaming and focus on a more obtainable goal, like going to the moon.
“It might be better to stop talking about Mars if there is no appetite in Congress and the administration for higher human spaceflight budgets, and no willingness to cut programs that do not contribute to progress,” said John Sommerer, retired director of the Space Department at Johns Hopkins University.
Sommerer did go on to say that, with a clearer direction, the right discipline, and funding, there is a possibility humans could go to Mars in as little as 17 years. But without a much clearer plan, and upwards of half a trillion dollars, there’s no chance on Earth NASA will make it happen. NASA’s current budget over the next 20 years is around $180 billion for exploration programs—far from the money needed for a Mars mission.
With a plan that’s not clearly defined, it sounds like the Journey to Mars campaign might end before it even begins. And as one presidential term comes to an end, no one can ever be sure if the next administration shares the same passion for ongoing projects.
You can watch the full hearing in the video below.