There has been a lot of talk and devising lately regarding how NASA could enable humans to journey out to Mars. All is not as simple as the leading staff within the organization would like to keep it, however. NASA has ambitious goals to send humans to Mars, but with budget restraints making them able to send smarter robots to the planet more easily, it seems like they are making an exciting prospect unduly complex.
Just last week, a group of aeronautics and astronautics students at Purdue University presented their senior project to a few NASA administrators in the form of a moon colonization plan, that could lead to Mars colonization. But even the students openly addressed the difficulties of the excessive costs. Taking NASA’s budget as it is, and given that it is unlikely for NASA to obtain even a sizable yearly increase in that budget, there appears no plausible means through which a fully funded human mission would take root soon.
The moon colonization plan from the Purdue students was pitched at $550 billion. This number alone is far higher than what NASA would be able to achieve in under a decade, given their current budget. Even if the U.S. GDP was split in half and funneled towards this endeavor, totaling about $8.4 trillion, it is doubtful whether or not this amount of funding would fuel the mission to Mars for humans. Bringing all of these factors into perspective allows one to see how high the key staff at NASA, and the American people, would have to reach to pull this off.
Former astronaut and current NASA administrator Charles Bolden Jr. spoke at the Humans 2 Mars Summit in Washington, DC this week, raising a variety of future possibilities that came across as a bit too zealous. He mentioned that we should be sending humans to Mars soon, so that when people are ready to move out of the solar system in the future, “we’ll know a lot more about living away from this planet than we know today.” There is a lot of initiative at the core of that statement, but the concrete formation of such a project and its timeline do not seem to be in tandem with each other yet.
Since NASA has been able to send robots to the moon and Mars affordably and easily in the past, they are probably bound to be most successful in the future if they perfect this craft before sending more humans into space. Take Google’s new collaboration with NASA, for example. The Internet and tech giant is launching floating robots with higher intelligence into orbit this summer with NASA.
The project has taken about a year to complete, but will surely aid both organizations in the success of their respective pursuits, and allow NASA to gather more critical information about space travel. 3D mapping technology that Google developed recently, allowing the satellites to form real-time maps of their travels, will be the primary ability of these new robots.
As empowering and encouraging as it is to have freshly approved technology sent into orbit, NASA will still have to figure out whether or not they can build a human-compatible platform on Mars in this century. Just last fall, the Congressional Budget Office reported that maintaining robot exploration programs, but removing human exploration programs within NASA, would save $73 billion over the course of 10 years.
One would think that NASA could be motivated by such a statistic, but administrator Bolden was still ready to press forward with manned missions. He stated “if the ultimate goal is to make humans a multi-planet species, then you’ve got to do it at some point.” The question, however, is whether or not that goal is the ultimate goal of the U.S., or even the world. It would be very interesting to see the results, and the corresponding reasons, if NASA were to open up a global poll asking about moon and Mars colonization possibilities.
It is up to individuals to ask themselves if they are attracted to the idea of NASA’s space exploration beyond robots, and if so, where they might draw a black line. Our technological and informational developments are progressing beyond what most human minds can conceive, but that does not necessarily mean our reasons for such developments are congruent. Since NASA is not yet able to send humans to Mars more easily than robots, they should take a step back and re-assess the meaning of each, hopefully shedding further light on matters of fundraising and the sentiments of the global public.
Opinion By Brad Johnson