Science 4 min read

Space Experts Worry NASA Won't get to Mars by 2030

NASA may soon be at an impasse due to internal and external conflicts on what the main goal of the space agency should be. | Image By Vladi333 | Shutterstock

NASA may soon be at an impasse due to internal and external conflicts on what the main goal of the space agency should be. | Image By Vladi333 | Shutterstock

Due to the White House pushing for the Moon program, and its extra budget constraints, NASA won’t make it to Mars by the 2030s.

Ten years after it was founded, NASA, through its Apollo program, succeeded its first goal by landing astronauts on the Moon and bringing them back.

During its 60 years of existence, NASA kept pushing the boundaries of space and aeronautics technologies.

Now, the pioneer agency is struggling to reinvent itself in an industry that’s increasingly competitive with international space agencies and private companies all setting their sight on the Moon, Mars, and further on into space.

Read More: Mars Plans from NASA, Russia, and China Include a Lunar Base

As NASA is celebrating its 60th anniversary, lawmakers and space experts are voicing their doubts about the agency’s ability to meet its target dates for Mars.

NASA Will get to Mars, Sometime in the Future

At first glance, NASA’s Mars Exploration Program seems to be firing on all cylinders.

In addition to its three orbiters (Odyssey, Maven, and MRO), NASA has two rovers on the Martian soil (Opportunity and Curiosity) and is preparing for the launch of the next-gen Mars rover.

After SpaceX and its hard 2024 deadline comes NASA with a more flexible timeline (the 2030s) for the execution of its Mars plan.

Read More: Who Will Have the First Successful Manned Mission to Mars?

NASA itself has been coy about giving a hard target date for the first manned mission to Mars and has even openly discussed how money, or lack of it, is getting in the way of its Mars plan.

Will NASA meet its “2030s” window to put American astronauts on Mars?

Probably not, and the reason could be the White House’s renewed interest in the Moon, which puts an added strain on an already tight budget.

Last year, President Trump gave his “Moon to Mars” directive to NASA that puts the Moon as the primary target “for an eventual mission to Mars.”

Bill Nelson, Florida’s Democrat Representative, the state where much of NASA’s space activities takes place, is the only senator who’s been to space.

At a Senate hearing (Wednesday, July 25), Senator Nelson said the Trump administration’s orders to NASA to refocus on the Moon will delay its Mars journey

“This year’s budget request from NASA proposed some new programs – including efforts to develop a range of small, medium, and large lunar landers – ultimately leading toward a human lunar lander. The request also included development of a human-tended “gateway” in orbit around the moon… But notably absent from the request is any mention of the Mars transport vehicle… First, do these missions help us achieve our goal of getting humans to Mars within the next fifteen years or so? And, second, show me the money!” said Nelson.

Read More: NASA Budget Proposal for 2019 Includes Plans to Privatize the ISS

In 2009, the panel of aerospace experts known as the Augustine Commission assessed the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans and criticized the unsustainable trajectory it’s been taking.

The report said the goals NASA has set itself and the annual budget at its disposal simply don’t align. For NASA’s space plans to get moving according to schedule, it needs at least an extra $3 billion per year to its $18 billion annual budget.

Nelson also cited a previous report from the National Academies of Science that “found that if we only got increases in NASA’s budget equivalent to inflation, in the scenario where we returned to the Moon first, we wouldn’t make it to Mars until 2050. Well folks, I don’t think we want to wait that long.”

Nelson thinks that NASA multiplying partnerships with the American private sector and with international collaborators would help make its exploration program more cost-effective.

Chris Carberry, co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization Explore Mars that works toward “Making Humans A Multi-Planet Species”, testified at the hearing.

“Our international partners want us to lead,” said Carberry, “But they have concerns that we keep changing directions. They are not sure that we are going to stick with the direction.”

Mars was the Obama administration’s priority after it halted the Moon program, then President Trump redirected the focus to the Moon once again.

Will it take a new administration for NASA to make it to Mars? Or will private exploration companies leave the agency by the wayside?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

Comment (1)
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  1. Rod Seel July 31 at 1:24 am GMT

    It appears that China may be the first nation to step on another planet…..But at least the United States was first to the Moon!

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