At a special hearing today, members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology tore apart NASA’s Journey to Mars initiative, claiming the program needs a much more defined plan and clear, achievable milestones to work. Those in attendance also doubted the feasibility of a long-term Mars mission; they cited the massive amount of money needed for the trip — much more than NASA currently receives year to year — as well as a significant leap in technological development. Because of these enormous challenges, a few witnesses at the hearing suggested that NASA either rethink its approach or divert its attention to a Moon mission instead.
Above all, Congress members and the three expert witnesses who testified argued that NASA lacks a clear road map for Mars. “We do not have a planned strategy or architecture with sufficient detail,” said Tom Young, the former director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The space agency is currently building a rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) and a crew capsule called Orion, both of which are supposed to transport humans to the Red Planet. But NASA is going to need a lot more hardware for a Mars trip — including habitat modules, landing systems, and launch systems for a return voyage back to Earth. None of those pieces have been clearly defined by NASA yet, according to John Sommerer, chair of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We do not have a planned strategy or architecture with sufficient detail.”
The timeline for the Mars trip is also unclear. The first test flight of the SLS and Orion combo is scheduled for 2018, but beyond that, the rocket’s future is up in the air. The first crewed flight of Orion and SLS is tentatively scheduled for no later than 2023, though NASA is working toward a launch date of 2021; the agency doesn’t have any launches scheduled after that. And while numerous missions have been proposed for the SLS, the rocket is really only slated to participate in NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). That’s the initiative where a robotic spacecraft will capture a small piece of an asteroid and bring it into lunar orbit, where humans on the SLS can visit it.
It’s just a time-wasting distraction.