For the first time in four years, a new class of astronauts is being hired at NASA. Unlike classes before it, someone from this group will likely walk on Mars.
As NASA advances, it must combat difficult challenges including funding and public perception problems.
Interest for NASA peaked in the mid-’60s during the Space Race. Over the years, investment in space travel has come and gone with various projects. The ’90s saw a boost in popularity due to projects like the Kennedy Space Station Processing Facility, according to Universe Today.
Recently, space has become popular again. Stephen Hawking released controversial findings on black holes, flowing water was speculated to be on Mars and the super-moon captivated millions. Populaer astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has helped promote space movies like “Gravity” and “Interstellar,” according to Cinema Blend.
Organizations dedicated to space exploration have adopted modern marketing campaigns. NASA released joke vacation posters for the red planet and worked closely with Ridley Scott on production of “The Martian,” according to Space.com.
NASA’s colonization brief states, “There are challenges to pioneering Mars, but we know they are solvable. We are developing the capabilities necessary to get there, land there, and live there.”
While NASA launches PR campaigns aimed at increasing public awareness, it also faces funding issues. The Obama Administration’s 2017 Federal budget allocated $19 billion to NASA. This cut is not as drastic as past proposals, but the steadily shrinking funds are down $300 million from 2016, according to Universe Today.
Other financial problems include NASA’s InSight lander, designed to probe the interior of Mars. The lander has experienced delays and spending problems following a leak in a vacuum container surrounding one of its key instruments, Scientific American reports.
InSight is delayed until at least 2018, according to Space Flight Now. Favorable alignment of Earth and Mars only occurs every 26 month, making timing of the project critical — and delays costly.
NASA is also rapidly approaching the cost cap of $675 million, with $525 million already spent. This jeopardizes the new lander’s success and the public perception of NASA.
Private aerospace companies have emerged to compete with the agency, believing a niche for consumer space travel exists. SpaceX was founded by Tesla Motors entrepreneur Elon Musk. Another aerospace company, Blue Origin, was created by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. The companies envision private access to space, comparable to a high-octane airline.
We are witnessing another Space Race between NASA and private groups driven by market incentive. And these organizations tell us to brace for Mars.