U.S. President Donald Trump has called on NASA to resume manned lunar missions by 2024, and is asking Congress for a $1.6 billion boost to the space agency’s budget. But American scientists are already setting their sights on getting astronauts to Mars. CGTN’s Giles Gibson has more.
NASA’s robotic lander, InSight, is already on Mars, controlled by engineers tens of millions of kilometers away.
Now the question is how to get astronauts there too.
The nonprofit “Explore Mars,” made up of engineers, policy experts, and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, is holding its “Humans to Mars Summit” to discuss the main challenges of a Mars mission.
NASA’s Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the conference that the US is aiming to be back on the moon by 2024, before shooting for Mars. NASA wants to build a “Gateway” that will orbit the moon and serve as a base camp for astronauts traveling to the red planet.
The Trump administration’s space policy promises to do it by partnering with the private sector.
“We bring advanced manufacturing, streamlined development of both hardware and software, a lot of operations experience for uncrewed vehicles, for example. And then NASA brings decades of human deep space exploration experience,” said Rob Chambers from aerospace firm Lockheed Martin.
However, not everybody believes NASA’s aim of getting astronauts to Mars by 2033 is realistic.
One challenge is that the planet has a much longer orbit around the sun than the Earth, meaning missions can only go ahead in certain years.
“You have to be in a position where you can catch up to Mars, if you will, and so there’s 2033, 2035 and 2037, two-year intervals where it’s actually feasible to get to Mars,” said Keith Crane from the Science and Technology Policy Institute in Washington D.C.
“The purpose of our report was to say, well, take it easy, it’s not gonna happen in ‘33, it can happen later in the decade.”
As NASA works on how to send astronauts to the moon and beyond, there’s at least one obstacle back on Earth. The Trump administration has asked for extra money to lay the groundwork for its ambitious space policy. But members of the U.S. Congress still need to approve that funding before NASA can press the ignition button for missions to Mars.