NASA is remaining optimistic about its plan to eventually reach Mars, but the folks in Congress aren’t quite as positive on the mission’s goals. To that end, members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology are asking if Mars should even be the next big target.
As The Verge reports, some representatives from the committee suggested NASA might be better equipped to start focusing on some more near-home projects, such as cleaning space debris and protecting Earth from potential asteroid impacts, since the funding still doesn’t really add up in a believable way for NASA to put humans on Mars within the space agency’s projected timeline.
Not surprisingly, Congress’ biggest concern was the potential price tag for a Mars mission, and concern that current funding levels will be inadequate to even pull it off — which is something they don’t want to realize a decade down the line after the government has sunk billions into a Mars mission.
It’s a shame to see this battle still rage (Solution: Fully fund NASA and we can too go live on Mars right now!), but it does raise some of the big issues the space agency is trying to gloss over as they develop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew capsule. NASA still needs to develop a ship large enough for astronauts to actually take on a trip to Mars (with room for exercise, sleeping, living, etc.), and the clock is ticking to have a prototype by 2018. NASA has opened up the door for submissions, but it’s still a tight turnaround deadline.
But there’s also the much more pressing issue of finding a way to protect astronauts from harmful, cancer-causing space radiation. Right now, the technology to do it simply doesn’t exist, which is a huge problem. NASA is essentially taking a “Yeah, we’ll figure it out when we get to that point” approach, which doesn’t really evoke a lot of confidence when you’re asking Congress to just have faith and keep writing checks.
If you’re up for a deep dive into space politics, check out the full hearing below:
(Via The Verge)