NASA has hardly ever had an uninteresting moment since the 1960s, when Project Mercury initiated missions that put U.S. men in space. The organization has constantly been battling to obtain the resources it needs for future plans, and at times, NASA has had to press forward with little to nothing in funding. NASA’s budget is miniscule and since it is lower than it has ever been in nearly half a century, much of the executive staff has looked at alternatives to raising money or finding companies to partner with, such as SpaceX. While still savvy on the grounds of technology, NASA has not done as well with general reasoning and on-paper metrics, and is continuing to encounter further roadblocks along their path toward Mars.
Despite having at least 18 current missions, NASA has been struggling with how to approach their utopian goal of placing humans on Mars. The practical facets of this collective dream have been unorganized and hopeful at best. While Charles Bolden, NASA’s head administrator, has spoken very deliberately and zealously on the subject of manned Mars voyages, the equipment that would facilitate this goal has not reached finalization or testing stages. Add to that the U.S. National Research Council’s (NRC) mammoth report on NASA’s current human spaceflight methods for Mars, and the organization is up against a number of significant obstacles.
The NRC performs studies in areas of science, medicine and engineering, and they released a 286-page report on the complex situations that NASA is facing regarding travel toward Mars. While flights to the moon have become almost commonplace within the last 50 years, there has never been a human colony set up on the moon, and the report from the NRC suggests that such a project would be the most natural place to begin. The Committee on Human Spaceflight (CHS), the NRC’s branch delegated for more specific research among this field, agreed that NASA’s internal structure in preparation for Mars is inadequate.
With such weighty roadblocks along NASA’s path to Mars, the organization will need to handle these encounters in ways that further expedite action and direction, rather than just speculation and rumination. Even in the wake of receiving a funding package from the U.S. House Appropriations Committee in May, and working on lessening rocket costs alongside SpaceX, funding for NASA is nowhere near what it needs to be to fashion even a maiden voyage to Mars.
Mitch Daniels, former Indiana Governor, current Purdue University President and current co-chair of the CHS, made a keen observation on Wednesday regarding the desires of NASA in relation to American progress as a whole. Daniels commented on the need for an entirely different national approach toward business, if Mars is to remain a plausible effort.
The NRC’s report also highlighted NASA’s need to collaborate with more international partners, thus lowering the astronomical costs and resources levied by human missions on the Red Planet. In order for NASA to raise enough money for full development and execution, even for tests toward Mars, the rate of fundraising would have to surpass the rate of inflation.
The Humans2Mars Summit (H2M), the most recent of which took place in April of 2014, rallied dozens of speakers to share information about the progress of space exploration programs and how various agencies are enhancing the possibility of a human Mars mission sooner than later. If frontline developers such as SpaceX and NASA have every intention to land humans on Mars within the next two decades or less, conferences such as the H2M Summit will need to rapidly be transitioned into international events, with governmental decision-makers having a say in the matter.
Another option being considered that could clear the path for Mars missions is the Asteroid Redirect Mission, or ARM. This initiative proposed by NASA could end up being less expensive than a moon colony when executed properly, but would require an equal amount of coordination and planning. ARM would provide for a robot-operated spacecraft to identify, collect and tug an asteroid into orbit around the moon. The ideal asteroid would be “room-sized,” such that an astronaut could then land on it and obtain samples.
The majority of the details in NASA’s 2015 budget proposal submitted to Congress are slightly broader goals that have the capacity to be merged with current operations. Some of the goals are developing spacecraft materials that are suited for Mars’ terrain, and conducting tests on the health of astronauts who would be subjected to lengthy space travels.
In any case, the ambition presently shown by NASA to reach Mars by any stretch of their predictions would have to be supported by political and governmental longevity. Daniels referred to this exact issue in the NRC report, stating that “any human exploration program will only succeed” if it is consistently backed, both verbally and tangibly, by national leaders from initial stages through success. While NASA is encountering further roadblocks on their path to Mars, if they handle their fervor with diligence and international cooperation, the first Mars colony in history could come about with success.
Opinion by Brad Johnson