NASA associate administrator for human exploration, William H. Gerstenmaier, revealed at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics that it is not possible for the agency to comply with President Donald Trump's command for a crewed Mars mission by the 2030s, especially since there are too many factors and expenses to consider.
The space agency's plans for exploration in Mars have been riddled with technical and financial difficulties even without the "manned" aspect, and some of its equally important programs have already been canceled. Since the space agency has finally confirmed that it can't afford a crewed Mars mission yet, it will most likely focus its efforts on further studying the moon and building its planned lunar outpost.
Prioritizing Lunar Missions
If it is any indication, NASA already issued a request for information on May 2 and expressed its interest in participating in uncrewed missions to the moon for commercial purposes.
"NASA is interested in understanding how commercial lunar cargo transportation opportunities can help advance our knowledge of the Moon and its potential resources for exploration," Gerstenmaier said.
If one would glaze over the commercial aspect, for now, the agency's plan for a year-long mission to the moon is actually more achievable because of its previous successful missions, plus the fact that there is still much to learn about the Earth's satellite.
It is true that NASA has successfully sent astronauts to land and collect samples from the surface of the moon but there are still many important discoveries to be made which could help humans understand space exploration better.
What NASA could learn from a long-term stay on the moon could open up knowledge that will benefit future manned missions to Mars and even in deep space.
Better Safe Than Sorry
According to NASA, it is not only the limited budget that is causing the space agency headache for a crewed Mars mission. There is still much to learn about the planet itself since it differs greatly from Earth and the moon. A higher budget would ease the agency's troubles but only to a limited extent because there are technologies that need to be developed to make human exploration — or even landing — on Mars possible.
"I can't put a date on humans on Mars, and the reason really is ... at the budget levels we described, this roughly 2 percent increase, we don't have the surface systems available for Mars ... entry, descent, and landing is a huge challenge for us for Mars," Gerstenmaier said.
Gerstenmaier does have a point since there have only been seven successful landings on Mars out of 16 attempts made since the 1970s. Of course, all of those missions were unmanned but the results alone already show that there is much more to learn about the Red Planet before even considering sending humans on what could be a suicide mission.