The world is excitedly waiting for the first manned mission to Mars in 2030. With all the hype and NASA's go-getter attitude, the skies seem bright for the highly anticipated mission. A safety panel, however, says it is not yet time to set high expectations.
In the annual report of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), the panel expressed reservations about NASA's capability to successfully carry out a manned mission to Mars. The main reason behind the doubts is the space agency's inability to provide sufficient details in terms of technology and budget plans.
"Over the last few years, the ASAP has expressed its concern that NASA has not clearly formulated and communicated a long-term goal that would help to focus its efforts and inspire its workforce," the report reads.
The agency did come up with a report in October 2015 titled "Journey to Mars: Pioneering the Next Steps in Space Exploration." In the NASA report, the agency presented a three-phase plan for sending astronauts to the red planet by the year 2030.
However, the ASAP panel still thinks the report does not verify NASA's capability of achieving such a massive project given the limited time and funds that need to be consistent with the present economic situation. NASA was also criticized by United States lawmakers who said that the agency's plans are unrealistic unless a 5 percent yearly increase is made in its budget.
Although the paper determined a number of specific technologies such as a Deep Space Habitat and Solar Electric Propulsion, ASAP also thinks it lacks topnotch architecture and design. The absence of such components makes it hard to reach and sequence relevant technology developments to guarantee that these will be available come crunch time.
When the leaders of NASA were asked to comment, they said it would be too early to create such plans. They added that they are hesitant to design vehicles using present technologies as they expect technology improvements in the next two decades. They also pointed out that future administrations may criticize whatever they may come up with now.
ASAP believes, however, that if the mission is well-designed and if its rewards will outweigh risks, then it will surely get support from future administrations and even from the public. If not, then it may be time for NASA to work on a different project or at least utilize a different strategy for the current mission, ASAP says.
ASAP was founded in 1968 by the U.S. Congress. The panel's main function is to give safety advice and recommendations to NASA leaders. The panel conducts fact-finding efforts and public meetings quarterly. They also visit NASA sites, review safety guidelines and point out existing and potential hazards.