We’re going to need more than a spaceship and massive amounts of rocket fuel to get to Mars.
At a recent congressional hearing, “Destination Mars: Putting American Boots on the Surface of the Red Planet”, there was a bipartisan effort from the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness to discuss the importance of leaving American boot prints on Mars first — and why that could possibly take priority over another lunar landing.
NASA has been indecisive whether it should launch another moon mission or put every effort into going straight to Mars. Mars has been slightly ahead, which is reflected in the space agency’s budget shift, and space experts voiced their opinions on what it will really take to land the first humans in its red dust.
“We’ve been stuck in LEO for far too long,” argued former MIT professor and NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman in reference to the ISS floating in low-Earth orbit.
While Newman has taken her own research experiments into LEO on the space station and acknowledged the positives, she feels that reprioritizing the funds that keep the ISS orbiting our planet could get us closer to the Red Planet.
Her proposition for a potential Mars Program Office that would merge the objectives of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, the Science Mission Directorate, and the Space Technology Mission Directorate is what we need to supercharge our efforts to go beyond LEO.
Another voice at the hearing was astronaut Peggy Whitson, the legend who not only holds the record for the most time spent in space and most spacewalks by a woman but was the first woman to command the ISS and the only one to do it again. She believes the ISS has been a training ground for what is to come. If you ask Whitson, Mars will only be reached through a series of missions that join forces between commercial entities and government agencies like NASA and gradually increase in complexity as they progress.
The moon wasn’t completely left in the dark. United Launch Alliance (ULA) has been behind every successful U.S. mission that has blasted off to Mars since 2006, but president Tory Bruno believes there must be extra phases in the journey when humans are involved. ULA has a vision for a human colony in cislunar space that will be not only our launchpad to Mars but also a haven if Earth ever sinks into the dystopian future eerily predicted by one too many post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies.
“NASA must lead humanity to return to the Moon and travel to Mars,” Bruno said, “and SLS and Orion are going to get us there.”