It’s no secret that NASA is drastically underfunded, especially when you mirror that lack of cash with the space agency’s ambitious goals. So, with a manned Mars mission on the horizon, something has to give, right?
According to The Verge, members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology basically shredded NASA's entire Journey to Mars initiative. The biggest problems (and they are big) according to the committee range from a lack of discernible milestones, detail and general feasibility in the plan itself. The committee noted that much of the specific equipment and technology (i.e. crew capsules, landing/launch system for when you reach Mars, radiation protection for the trip, etc.) they’ll need hasn’t really been developed yet, and there’s not enough money to make it all happen within the next decade or so.
Put simply: The committee, and the witnesses called to testify, all argue that NASA does not have a clear roadmap to Mars. One specific bone of contention was the proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which aims to bring a small piece of an asteroid into lunar orbit. It’s a cool idea, sure, but the committee questioned its practical scientific application, especially considering how much time and resources it’ll take to do it. NASA claims the mission will help develop tech needed to get to Mars, but Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) called the side mission a “time-wasting distraction.”
With Mars looking more and more like a long shot, the committee also encouraged NASA to consider a more concrete plan to return to the moon first, since the international space community is already developing plans for a permanent presence on the lunar surface. Once established, that could also serve as a way station for travel deeper into the solar system.
Regardless, it looks like the wheels are coming off NASA’s plan. Coupled with the recent report that NASA is cutting corners that could cost lives, it seems the space agency needs to take a long, hard look at where it’s going next. Yes, ambition is a great and noble thing, but sadly it all eventually comes down to funding when you're trying to (literally) get off the ground.
The real shame here is all the time wasted over the past few decades, considering we haven’t actually set foot on the moon in more than 40 years. Had we been able to maintain that momentum through the 1980s and 1990s, we’d likely already have some type of lunar presence — not to mention the plethora of technology that would’ve been developed during that time, which could certainly go a long way toward getting us to Mars now. In a way, we’ve set ourselves back decades, and we may have to crawl (again) before we can walk.
What do you think? What should be NASA’s priority list?
(Via The Verge)