NASA's planned Mars mission, which would have astronauts embarking on the long-haul journey to the Red Planet, may have met its first hurdle: members of the United States Congress expressed skepticism over the idea.
The space agency recently released its proposal, "NASA's Journey to Mars," which highlights a three-phased plan for sending a manned mission to the Red Planet by the 2030s.
According to the report, NASA wants to start the Mars mission by creating a large space rocket that would shuttle astronauts to an asteroid. If the mission proves successful, the space agency would then transport the crew into the orbit of Mars.
NASA also proposes to build a solar-powered Martian habitat for the astronauts once they reach the Red Planet's surface.
The Mars mission has already made several strides, with components of the jumbo space rocket and space capsule having been built by the space agency. NASA has also funded two test launches scheduled for 2018 and 2023.
During a subcommittee hearing on Friday, Oct. 9, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science Committee, pointed out that the NASA proposal does not contain a budget, schedule and deadlines.
"This sounds good, but it is actually a journey to nowhere until we have that budget and we have the schedule and we have the deadlines," Smith said.
The committee chairman added that he hopes the Obama administration supports the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion projects and keeps both on schedule. He said the administration's proposals to cut the budget of the SLS and Orion projects every year do not help them achieve significant goals that many people in the U.S. want to achieve in space.
Smith and other Republican lawmakers who are opposed to the Obama administration want to provide the $3.25 billion NASA project an additional $400 million in funds for next year.
Meanwhile, members of the Democrat Party in Congress, including Virginia Rep. Don Beyer, complained that the spending caps the Republicans placed on the federal budget have caused NASA's spending to flatline in this decade.
In 2014, the National Research Council informed Congress that space missions to Mars are unrealistic unless a 5 percent yearly increase of the NASA budget is made. There have been no budget increases given to the space agency.
Members of the Science Committee who were present at the hearing expressed their disappointment that NASA has not provided them with a price tag for the journey to the Red Planet.
NASA has said in previous hearings that it plans to stretch out its Mars missions to fit whatever budget Congress provides the space agency in order to avoid potential overruns in costs, which caused an earlier Mars program to be canceled by the Bush administration.