A planned manned flyby mission to March has suffered another setback delaying the mission's launch to 2021.

Washington lawmakers from the Science, Space, and Technology Commission held a meeting on Feb. 27 to determine the fate of a crewed flyby to Mars by the year 2021. The mission was proposed last year by Dennis Tito, one of the pioneers for space tourism. However, the success of the planned flyby mission will be dependent on the completion of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew habitation module. Washington lawmakers conducted the hearing to discuss the details of the proposed project, which is referred to as Inspiration Mars.

"Mankind's first steps on the Moon are a distant memory," said Lamar Smith, chairman of the House committee. "There's a sense that America is falling behind, with our best days behind us."

Proponents of the project are hoping to leverage on NASA technologies that are currently under development. However, the space agency has been facing numerous budgetary issues that may affect the progress of its new technologies. Assuming that the SLS rocket and Orion module are completed on time, the proposed flyby will take advantage of a rare alignment between the Earth and the Red Planet this coming 2021. The alignment will make it possible to reduce both the time and energy needed to get a manned spacecraft to Mars. Instead of taking two to three years, which would normally be the case, the alignment will allow the crew to reach Mars in as little as a year and a half. However, the support of the U.S. government will be necessary to bring the proposal into fruition.

"We must rekindle within NASA the fire that blazed that trail to the Moon. The future of this nation's exploration efforts lead to Mars," added Smith.  "The first flag to fly on another planet in our Solar System should be that of the United States."

After the panel was adjourned, several members of the committee sent a letter to NASA requesting that the agency study the feasibility of the 2021 Mars flyby mission. The letter also indicated that the agency should also explore the possibilities for other deep space exploratory missions.

"NASA needs a well-formulated, long-term series of missions to utilize the Orion crew capsule, the Space Launch System, and other systems that will enable American astronauts to travel beyond low-Earth orbit," said the lawmakers in their letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden Jr.

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