NASA Facing Challenges as They Develop Mars Plans


NASA has been working almost feverishly toward their colonization efforts of Mars for about eight years, and has been in no shortage of media coverage as of late. The space exploration and research body is not shy about their interest in transporting human life over to the Red Planet, but has encountered a number of roadblocks that matches the number of reasons they want to colonize Mars. NASA seems to be juggling more projects than it can handle, with movements involving the International Space Station (ISS), Mars rovers, satellite development, and partnership projects with SpaceX all in full swing. NASA will continue to face challenges as they develop plans for Mars.

Of the recent victories that NASA has landed, the grant provided by the U.S. House Appropriations Committee (HAC) just two weeks ago is one of the more significant. The nearly $18 billion in funds provided by the HAC was for NASA to use toward planetary science programs, and they will squeeze every drop out of it. Initiatives from NASA have already provided for 56 unmanned missions involving Mars since 2002, five of which are current missions.

The Curiosity and Opportunity rovers are currently on the surface of Mars and are sending information back to Earth through an ongoing basis. There are three spacecraft from NASA orbiting Mars, with two more on the way. The most recent rover that passed testing and examination before construction is the InSight rover model. The name stands for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, and is planned to launch in 2016 from California. InSight will be a mission representing international interests, and will gather broader data on the composition of Mars’ core and surface material.

The quest to discover whether or not Mars can sustain the necessary components for organic life, as well as the search for fossilization remains and carbon traces, has been a top-tier objective of NASA since the beginning of 2014. John P. Grotzinger, professor of geology at the California Institute of Technology, also covered these initiatives more comprehensively in Science magazine in January of 2014.

The development of NASA’s plans for Mars has been facing numerous challenges since September of 2008, when Hurricane Ike harmed over 160 buildings and caused over $37 billion in damages throughout the state of Texas. The Union of Concerned Scientists also released a report this week stating that rising sea levels are posing as an increasing threat to NASA development.

NASA operates a total of seven research or launch centers across the U.S., five of which are near coastlines. As rockets and spacecraft are moved along in development, bodies of water are almost always used in a few stages of testing, if only to ensure that spacecraft re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere can land adequately in the ocean. While climate change continues to affect the water levels across the world, NASA is doing its best to take precautionary actions against such natural fluctuations and avoid losing expensive facilities or equipment.

Two of NASA’s more notable and historically significant facilities are the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The KSC was home to every U.S. manned space mission since 1968, and the JSC provided the platform for many of the Apollo missions.

In response to the barrage of unpredictable environmental impact, NASA has been constructing sea walls around the borders of facility property, and in some cases, even shutting down operations where they exist and resuming development when new buildings have been approved for use. Russell De Young is a key staff member of NASA who handles climate change mitigation. De Young has mentioned that while preparations for the future must be made, the level of value in the existing NASA sites for posterity and functionality alone warrant the need to fortify them instead of constructing new sites.

The biggest hope that NASA has for seamless progression in the years to come is through heeding the observations of scientists like De Young, who are speaking on the wisdom of maintaining what has already been set in motion instead of changing course halfway through the journey. NASA has goals on a grandiose scale, but their inventions and long-term projects may not last much longer if they do not apply their trademark ingenuity to matters of the present.

This government body may need to reach out to cultural groups and diverse businesses that they have previously never corresponded with, in order to make a more concerted effort regarding climate change. NASA has the opportunity to develop their plans to fruition, but if they do not face the challenges on their doorstep in the present, they may not make it to Mars as soon as they want.

Opinion by Brad Johnson

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