NASA Lacks Clear Road Map for Mars, Says Congressional Committee

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NASA Lacks Clear Road Map for Mars, Says Congressional Committee

Members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology claimed that the Nasa’s Journey to Mars initiative program needs a much more defined plan and clear, achievable milestones to work. They even raised the question on the feasibility of the long-term Mars mission. They cited that the massive amount of money needed for the trip is much more than NASA currently receives year to year as well as significant leap in technological development. Because of all these factors, few witnesses at the hearing today suggested that NASA either need to rethink its approach or divert its attention to a Moon mission instead.

Congress members and the three expert witnesses who testified argued that NASA lacks a clear road map for Mars. Tom Young, the former director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said NASA is not having any planned strategy or architecture with sufficient detail. 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. According to John Sommerer, chair of the National Academy of Sciences, none of those pieces have been clearly defined by NASA yet.

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). Many planetary experts have claimed ARM doesn’t advance scientific knowledge very much at all. This is a misguided mission without a mission, without a launch date, and without ties to exploration goals.

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