Getting People to Mars Not ‘Viable’ Under Current Budget, NRC Says
Posted at 11 a.m. on June 4
NASA wants send humans to Mars, but the National Research Council says there isn’t a”viable” way to get to the Red Planet under the agency’s currently flat funding projections for human spaceflight.
NASA would have to boost the human spaceflight budget by 5 percent annually to “enable pathways with potentially viable mission rates,” according to the report. The trend for human spaceflight funding has been flat at about $8 billion annually in fiscal 2013 dollars.
Under the pathways that the NRC sees as “operationally viable,” NASA would get humans to Mars in the 2040s at the earliest:
Assuming the [International Space Station] is extended to 2028 and the HSF budget is increased up to 5 percent per year (two times the rate of inflation), the earliest a crewed surface mission to Mars is likely to occur will be approximately 2040 to 2050.
The report also signaled a warning about NASA’s current proposed path to get to Mars — an asteroid redirect mission, saying it was “tempting to suggest that the ‘best’ pathway to Mars is the shortest and cheapest” given the current budget situation, but without “considerable increase” in funding for NASA’s human spaceflight program, there was the prospect of a “long period of technology development where NASA’s stakeholders do not see actual human explorations missions taking place.” And it says the plan is not aligned with the near-term goals of other countries, most of which are looking to Earth’s moon.
And the proposal hasn’t attracted “substantial enthusiasm” amongst lawmakers or the scientific community, the report said.
In contrast, other pathways the report lays out would let Congress and the public see an “expanding horizon of human activity,” and even though they would cost more, these alternatives could be more sustainable, the report states.
Also on pathways that include the moon:
While this report’s recommendation for adoption of a pathways approach is made without prejudice as to which particular pathway might be followed, it was, nevertheless, clear to the committee from this report’s independent analysis of several pathways that a return to extended surface operations on the Moon would make significant contributions to a strategy ultimately aimed at landing people on Mars and that it is also likely to provide a broad array of opportunities for international and commercial cooperation.
The report’s statements are likely to provide fuel for Republicans who dislike the asteroid plan.
The report said its highest priority recommendation was for NASA to adopt “pathway principals” it laid out, including committing to a deep space exploration pathway towards a “clear horizon goal” that addresses human spaceflight’s “enduring questions.”
The NRC also recommended that once a pathway’s set, Congress, NASA and the administration should apply certain rules in responding to problems, including not even going down the pathway if appropriated and projected money won’t allow for the plan to be executed “within the established schedule.”
“Probably the most significant single factor in allowing progress beyond LEO is the development of a strong national (and international) consensus about the pathway to be undertaken and sustained discipline in not tampering with that plan over many administrations and Congresses,” the report stated.
Without it, the report said it appeared ” all too likely that the potential of SLS will be wasted, human spaceflight to LEO will become increasingly routine (though still with risk to life), and the horizons of human existence will not be expanded, at least not by the United States.”
It adds that:
With such a consensus, however, and with strict adherence to the pathways approach and principles outlined in this report, the United States could maintain its historic position of leadership in space exploration and embark on a program of human spaceflight beyond LEO that, perhaps for the first time in the more than half-century of human spaceflight, would be sustainable.