New gov't report calls NASA's strategy for reaching Mars ‘unsustainable'

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Jun 5, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

If you’ve been putting your faith in NASA to get humanity to Mars at some point in the foreseeable future, prepare to have your bubble popped. Big-time.

A massive, 18-month review of NASA’s human spaceflight initiative commissioned by Congress has determined that the space agency has an “unsustainable and unsafe” strategy that will prevent humans from successfully reaching Mars for the foreseeable future. Ouch.

Spearheaded by the National Research Council (NRC), the 286-page report pointed to one underlying problem that has the United States’ space program headed in the wrong direction: funding. Or, more specifically, a major lack of it. The report concludes that to continue with budgets that don’t keep pace with inflation “is to invite failure, disillusionment, and the loss of the longstanding international perception that human spaceflight is something the United States does best.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Mitch Daniels, co-chair of the NRC’s Committee on Human Spaceflight, noted that “it is not realistic to believe that we can achieve the consensus goal of reaching Mars.”

Though Pres. Obama isn’t terribly keen on the idea of returning to the moon, two of the report’s three potential paths forward involved a lunar return trip. Findings encourage the development of a lunar habitat to develop technologies that could be used on Mars, and also note NASA’s current plan to capture and redirect an asteroid into orbit around the moon and send astronauts there to take samples. Though the asteroid mission made the list, the NRC report wasn’t keen on the idea, fearing it would require the development of too much “dead-end” technology.

So what’s the solution? The report doesn’t really find one, though it notes that aspirational reasons still make a Mars mission a semi-viable endeavor. They also don’t put much hope in private space companies, many of which aspire to eventually make it to Mars on their own. As committee member John Sommerer noted: “Mars is very hard.”

How, and when, do you think we’ll ever finally make it to the Red Planet?

(Via The Washington Post)