The Humans to Mars or H2M Summit held this year on May 9-11 in Washington, D.C. brought big news regarding NASA's plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.
The space agency announced its intention to launch a yearlong manned mission around a moon in Phase 2 of the Mars plan, with the goal to test the Deep Space Transport vehicle that will ultimately carry astronauts to the Red Planet.
This announcement, along with other updates made public at the H2M summit, instilled the confidence that the two-phase strategy to reach Mars's system will proceed right as scheduled.
Journey To Mars Plan Still On Track For The 2030s
Despite avid discussion in media following the famous White House call to the International Space Station on April 24, which seemed to suggest the mission to Mars would be expedited, NASA remains on track with its current schedule.
During the Earth-to-space videoconference, President Donald Trump told astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer we would like to see human landing on the Red Planet "during my first term or, at worst, during my second term."
However, NASA will be staying on course with its announced two-phase strategy and is aiming to launch a crewed mission in Mars's vicinity in the 2030s — when President Trump's mandate will have ended.
According to Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator, White House officials asked the space agency "to look at the plan we have today, and see if we can keep going on that plan."
"They have not asked us to go to Mars by 2024," Lightfoot clarified during a May 12 teleconference.
No Changes For The EM-1 Either
At the same time, the Trump administration has asked NASA to consider turning Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) into a crewed mission as well.
This first exploration mission to Mars, in which the Orion capsule and the Space Launch System or SLS mega rocket will be making their first joint flight, was originally envisioned as an unmanned mission.
"After weighing the data and assessing all implications, the agency will continue pursuing the original plan for the first launch, as a rigorous flight test of the integrated systems without crew," state NASA officials.
The space agency also confirmed EM-1 has been pushed to 2019 and will be taking the unmanned Orion spacecraft on a mission to orbit the moon, which is expected to last approximately three weeks.
The exact date of the EM-1 lift-off will probably be set in the next few months, estimate Lightfoot and Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's human-spaceflight chief.
According to Gerstenmaier, the EM-1's delay stemmed from financial problems, mainly regarding the difficulty to procure the large number of components needed for the giant SLS rocket, such as valves, wiring and avionics.
Present at the H2M conference on May 9, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin expressed his concern that NASA's plan to send astronauts to Mars and eventually colonize the Red Planet is hampered by the huge cost of keeping the ISS in orbit.
In Aldrin's opinion, NASA should retire the space station as soon as possible and redirect the annual $3.5 billion budget allocated for the ISS to the Mars mission.