NASA has already sent unmanned robots to crawl the surface of Mars for years with the Curiosity rover being the latest addition to this collection. Now, a workshop with leaders and experts from 30 different government, industry, and academic institutions have concluded that a NASA-led manned mission to mars could be possible by the 2030s. That is as long as proper funding is allocated and a large enough budget is provided. Given the current financial situation for space exploration, this is not the case.
Chris Carberry, executive director of Explore Mars Inc, states:
“We’re not far off from what we need. We just need to get back into a reasonable budget, which we’re not in right now. You need a budget that is consistent, that you can predict from year to year and that doesn’t get canceled in the next administration,” said Carberry.”
For the 2013 budget proposal, President Barack Obama had requested $17.7 billion for NASA which was about a $59 million decrease from what they received in 2012. For 2014, NASA received a budget increase of $800 million which is a step in the right direction for those that want to see further endeavours in space exploration.
One man who is leading the push for a larger budget for NASA is Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society. Back in December, Nye published an open letter in the form of a YouTube video President Obama, urging him to expand NASA’s budget.
“Everywhere in the world, people respect and admire what NASA does. Right now what NASA does best is explore the solar system through the planetary science program.” – Bill Nye
Throughout his letter, Nye encourages the President to ensure funding for the planetary science program is sufficient. While funding is related to all aspects of exploring the solar system, having the budget in place would help provide a possible NASA led manned mission to Mars by the 2030s, and ultimately beyond.
“So Mr. President: we strongly recommend that you make sure that funding for the planetary science program is at least $1.5 billion dollars per year.” – Bill Nye
One way to make the prospect of a manned mission to Mars more feasible is to conduct bridge missions in the meantime. For instance, NASA has an ambitious plan to capture an asteroid and allow astronauts to explore its surface. Such an operation would not only help teach astronauts how to fend for themselves in space, but give the public as well as government agencies evidence that riskier missions are possible provided the funding to make them happen substantial.
Why go to Mars, rather than perhaps Venus or Europa?
Robert Zubrin, president and founder of the Mars Society has some insight into this question. He explains that the Red Planet has a rich surface with a wealth of resources which pioneering astronauts could extract and exploit. Zubrin further goes on to explain that the Martian soil has water in it, a discovery supported by evidence which was learned from the Curiosity rover. Mars also has the essential building blocks to become habitable, something which is less likely on Venus or Europa. A hydrogen rich atmosphere once allowed liquid water to flow on the surface of Mars 3.8 billion years ago. Researchers from Penn State University believe that a greenhouse effect eventually elevated the temperatures on Mars and dried all liquid water on the planet’s surface out. This is not to say, that water may not still exist where it is cooler.
“We should be able to locate places where we can drill down and access geothermal heat,” said Zubrin. “Which might also give us liquid water as well, which would be convenient.”
In order for a possible NASA manned mission to Mars to occur by the 2030s, the budget has to remain consistent.
By Jonathan Holowka