NASA’s Mars plans were shattered during the Congressional hearing taking place on Wednesday. Members in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology discussed all aspects of the Journey to Mars initiative, as well as its far from solid foundations.
According to the attendees, NASA needs to work on the Journey to Mars as the initiative lacks substance beyond the lofty ideals it puts forward. Budget discussions took center stage, as measurable milestones and technological leaps sidelined the arguments.
NASA’s currently approved year-to-year budget is insufficient to fund all aspects related to its Journey to Mars initiative. The final result of all investments would a trip to the surface of the Red Planet. A mighty costly result as well, one not justified by the vague milestones currently set by the U.S. space agency.
Due to all arguments brought to the table, some attendees at the Congressional hearing suggested that a more profitable and achievable goal would be the return to the Moon. As other space agencies such as the European Space Agency are directing their attention towards the lunar surface, perhaps it would be wiser for NASA to follow in their footsteps while establishing itself as a leader in the efforts.
The main stump in NASA’s planned Journey to Mars is the lack of clear and achievable milestones. According to Tom Young who is the former director of the U.S. space agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA doesn’t have any planned strategy at the moment. No ambitious, detail-ridden strategy has been laid out.
What NASA has at this time is the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, as well as the Orion crew capsule. Both the SLS rocket and the Orion crew capsule have been designed specifically for manned missions to Mars. Nonetheless, other technological stunts must be pulled out for the Journey to Mars to prove feasible.
Some of these are performant landing systems, launch systems and habitat modules. Regarding these much-needed extras, the chair of the National Academy of Sciences, John Sommerer declared that none of the piece puzzles benefit from clear definitions.
With these in mind, NASA’s Mars plans were shattered during the Congressional hearing. Other voiced opinions questioned the timeline of the Journey to Mars initiative. On paper, the SLS rocket and Orion crew capsule should undergo their first test flight in 2018. Beyond this deadline, there are no further specifications.
One more deadline set by the U.S. space agency is the first tentative manned mission using the SLS rocket and the Orion crew capsule in 2023. Several other missions have been proposed for the SLS rocket. However, NASA only approved it for the Asteroid Redirect Mission prior to anything else. The plan for the Asteroid Redirect Mission is that the spacecraft tracks an asteroid piece and drags it to lunar orbit. Here, the SLS rocket crew can visit it more easily. The aim of the Asteroid Redirect mission is supposedly to prove solar electric propulsion necessary for the Mars mission.
However, during the Congressional hearing, the mission was called a complicated and expensive stunt, the results of which could have well been demonstrated otherwise.
NASA’s Mars plans were shattered during the Congressional hearing. Attendees also mentioned that with a presidential election coming right up, the U.S. space agency needs to refine its plan if the Journey to Mars is to ever become reality.
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