Every dollar must go to bridge gaps to Mars, NASA says (Update)

May 06, 2013 by Kerry Sheridan
NASA logo

Setting foot on Mars by the 2030s is human destiny and a US priority, and every dollar available must be spent on bridging gaps in knowledge on how to get there, NASA's chief said Monday.

Addressing a conference of space experts at George Washington University, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said that despite hard economic times the United States is committed to breaking new boundaries in space exploration.

"A human mission to Mars is today the ultimate destination in our solar system for humanity, and it is a priority for NASA. Our entire exploration program is aligned to support this goal," Bolden said.

President Barack Obama has proposed a $17.7 billion dollar budget for NASA in 2014, and he supports a "vibrant and coordinated strategy for Mars exploration," Bolden said.

Among the first steps to sending astronauts to Mars are NASA's plans to capture and relocate an asteroid by 2025, a process that should inform future efforts to send humans into deep space, the former astronaut said.

Also, US astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have volunteered to spend one year at the International Space Station beginning in 2015 to allow doctors to assess how long-duration zero gravity exposure affects bone density, muscle mass and vision.

Currently, a rotating cast of global astronauts each spend a maximum of six months aboard the orbiting outpost.

But despite a newly diverse space race that involves many more countries than old Cold War foes the United States and Russia, there is plenty that experts do not know about how to reach Mars.

For instance, there is no existing space vehicle to carry people on the seven-month or longer journey there, and no plan for how to return people to Earth.

Medical experts are unsure what the physical ramifications would be for people who attempt to travel in high-radiation environments for such extended periods.

And just how people would survive, breathe, eat and drink on the dry, red planet are significant obstacles that have yet to be overcome.

"The US has demonstrated that we know how to get to the Moon," Bolden said.

"What we have not demonstrated and what I think everyone in this room—well most people in this room will concede, is that there are technological gaps to sending humans to an asteroid and to Mars," he added.

"And so every single moment of our time and every single dollar of our assets must be dedicated to developing those technologies that allow us to go beyond low Earth orbit, beyond the Moon."

The United States is the only nation that has successfully sent robotic explorers to land on Mars, the most recent being Curiosity, a nearly one-tonne vehicle which touched down in August 2012.

Many experts believe that the size of the package needed to maintain a human habitat on Mars would weigh more like 40 tonnes.

"We need a factor of 40 improvement over what we can do today," said Bret Drake, who leads future mission planning and analysis activities for NASA.

There also needs to be a type of fuel potent enough to get the spaceship there quickly. Options for aborting the mission would be sharply limited, he said.

"Once the crew is on their way, they are committed to be self-reliant," said Drake.

Perhaps a precursor to a human landing on Mars would be another rover that would land at an established site, drill down and hopefully find fresh water, said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the science mission directorate.

"That would also be the beacon that allows subsequent missions to navigate to a very precise landing," said Grunsfeld.

The three-day conference aims to offer a forum for experts to discuss the latest technologies. It will feature discussions on astronaut health concerns Tuesday and an address by retired celebrity astronaut Buzz Aldrin on Wednesday.

"We can't wait until the technology is available before we go and explore," Bolden said.

"We now stand on the precipice of a second opportunity to press forward to what I think is man's destiny, and that is to go to another planet."

Explore further: Successful engine test enables SpaceX Falcon 9 soar to space station in Jan. 2015

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why Mars again? A look at NASA's latest venture

Aug 06, 2012

(AP) — NASA's new robot rover named Curiosity landed safely late Sunday in a huge crater near the equator of Mars and will soon begin its scientific studies. This marks NASA's seventh landing on the red ...

NASA seeks new ideas for Mars missions

Apr 13, 2012

The US space agency said Friday it is seeking fresh ideas for robotic missions to explore Mars, after budget cuts nixed a planned partnership with the European space agency.

Recommended for you

The top 101 astronomical events to watch for in 2015

Dec 24, 2014

Now in its seventh year of compilation and the second year running on Universe Today, we're proud to feature our list of astronomical happenings for the coming year. Print it, bookmark it, hang it on your ...

NASA image: Frosty slopes on Mars

Dec 24, 2014

This image of an area on the surface of Mars, approximately 1.5 by 3 kilometers in size, shows frosted gullies on a south-facing slope within a crater.

Opportunity rover struggles with flash memory problems

Dec 24, 2014

NASA's Opportunity Mars rover, also known as "Oppy", is continuing its traverse southward on the western rim of Endeavour Crater despite computer resets and "amnesia" that have occurred after reformatting ...

User comments : 15

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

deatopmg
1.4 / 5 (10) May 06, 2013
What are the unintended consequences if we discover life on Mars then we contaminate the planet w/ Earth based life before we have a chance to study it?
EyeNStein
1.4 / 5 (10) May 06, 2013
"Setting foot on Mars by the 2030s is human destiny and a US priority, and every dollar available must be spent."
This is a very blinkered vision. We will learn more from robotic and telescopic missions. Mars will still be there when we are ready and when our technology is more mature.
rwinners
2.4 / 5 (10) May 06, 2013
I disagree. I think that we (earthlings) should refit and send a portion of the Space Station into Mars orbit. Slowly. Living on the SS has been proven and can be improved further before the journey begins. As it's 'life' declines, why not wrap a portion of the SS in new materials, fit that part with propulsion and send it on it's way.
The possibilities are, not endless, but wide. There is NO rush.
VendicarE
3.3 / 5 (7) May 07, 2013
ISS will be in the ocean within 15 years.

As for a U.S. mission to Mars? The U.S. won't exist in 2030.
dan42day
3.3 / 5 (7) May 07, 2013
They really ought to get to work on a robot sample return mission. Having successfully launched a vehicle from mars to earth would be a good box to have checked before we try to land humans there.
DirtySquirties
1.9 / 5 (9) May 07, 2013
NASA will never go to Mars again. Not with the screwed up mess that is the US Congress. They'll find a way to keep cutting money from it, claiming it's 'unnecessary' or some other BS like that. I won't be surprised if NASA no longer exists by the time 2030 rolls around.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) May 07, 2013
What are the unintended consequences if we discover life on Mars then we contaminate the planet w/ Earth based life before we have a chance to study it?

Earth life isn't adaptd to the Mars 'ecosphere'. Little chance of contamination.
Even if: Life on Mars (if it exists) is surely more adapted to martian conditions - so it should easily out-compete any Earth bug that could survive.

We're talking different planets here - not like on Earth where fundamentally same biological entities get separated and then may intermix (with potentially catastrophic consequences for one)
El_Nose
3 / 5 (4) May 07, 2013
@deatopmg

You may be unaware but all missions from Earth that has a planet or moon in mind as a landing destination are scrubbed clean. Meaning considerable effort is put into killing, destroying, and preventing bacteria and pathogens of earth are not transported into space -- and in the unlikely event that biological material is transported into space - that it is already dead. This involves chemical cleaners, clean room procedures, and tons of UV exposure. This has been in place since the 70's I think. Either way there was a write up on it when the curiosity mission went up, as to how NASA has always tried to keep the solar system clean.

@rwinners

I agree to a point -- why not just keep the ISS as Earth space station and dock point to build out other bigger space stations

@Vendicar

gave you a 1 -- i for one like my country as flawed as it is

@Dirty

I hope you are wrong -- but too much truth in your statement
VendicarE
2 / 5 (4) May 07, 2013

"i for one like my country as flawed as it is" - ElNose

You like America Morally, Intellectually, Ethically and Financially Bankrupt?
El_Nose
3 / 5 (5) May 07, 2013
I like America

I like the people. It is a country as such it is more than the decisions of its leaders. It is product of shared experiences, goals, and outlooks on life. It is the differences of ideas, it is the product of things that are never thought of here because we would it alien on a basic level. It is the things we all agree on because our shared experience here helps us shape our reality.

I like America because every country is flawed, and i choose to like our flaws. Because our flaws change with time like every other country. I do not believe we are uniquely superior or different. I do believe that we make mistakes as a country and we try to learn from them as a country.

Like a living organism this takes time. When was the last time you met an old man whose personality changed a lot year to year, that was not caused by mental disease. We are slow to change because people are slow to change.

I like America.

Now go hide under your bridge ... you darned dirty troll
geokstr
1 / 5 (10) May 07, 2013
ISS will be in the ocean within 15 years.

As for a U.S. mission to Mars? The U.S. won't exist in 2030.


Yes, Obama will see to that. He's doing a great job of "fundamentally transforming" it into a 3rd world nation.

NASA will never go to Mars again. Not with the screwed up mess that is the US Congress. They'll find a way to keep cutting money from it, claiming it's 'unnecessary' or some other BS like that. I won't be surprised if NASA no longer exists by the time 2030 rolls around.


What country do you live in? You must not live in the US, otherwise you'd know that, since there have been no budgets passed during the last 5 years, with Obama unable to get a single DEMOCRAT senator to vote for his in that time. And this congress has passed continuing resolutions instead, which included a built-in $800 billion stimulus every year, so if NASA funding is going down, it must Obama doing it, partly through his #1 priority for NASA of raising Muslim self-esteem.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) May 08, 2013
They really ought to get to work on a robot sample return mission. Having successfully launched a vehicle from mars to earth would be a good box to have checked before we try to land humans there.


That is a certainty. We need data from AT LEAST one launch from Mars' surface so that we know how we need to build a rocket to get people back from there. Depending on how that test launch goes, we may need more.

A sample return would also be a priority prior to sending people. We need to know more about the materials the astronauts would be tracking back into their habitat on their boots before exposing them to it.

Simple electrical power would be a problem for us today. There's not enough fuel for suffient RTG's, standard batteries are too heavy, and solar isn't efficient enough on Mars, unless you build a massive power station, which isn't realistic. We need to fire up the fuel pland at Oak Ridge to make more RTG's first. That alone will take years.
Osiris1
1 / 5 (5) May 09, 2013
Somebody better listen to Dr Chang-Diaz and develop nuclear-electric plasma propulsion...all we have to do is drive there in a few weeks if the ship has enuf power....4-500,000 miles/hr possible..and more. We could fit some of the stuff on a shuttle that we already have and send them up for a few more missions to assemble our system ship in space. Check Popular Science from November 2010. A bit of refinement could boost plasma speeds by using fields to protect the output nozzles from the flow so higher power could be used.
Jo01
1 / 5 (5) May 12, 2013
Somebody better listen to Dr Chang-Diaz and develop nuclear-electric plasma propulsion...all we have to do is drive there in a few weeks if the ship has enuf power....4-500,000 miles/hr possible..and more. We could fit some of the stuff on a shuttle that we already have and send them up for a few more missions to assemble our system ship in space. Check Popular Science from November 2010. A bit of refinement could boost plasma speeds by using fields to protect the output nozzles from the flow so higher power could be used.


Better yet, this can be combined with an artificial magnetic field to lock out radiation.

J.
MaiioBihzon
1.8 / 5 (15) May 15, 2013
As it's 'life' declines, why not wrap a portion of the SS in new materials, fit that part with propulsion and send it on it's way.


This may sound half-baked to some, but the spirit behind it is irresistible (to me, anyway). I have doubts about separating parts of the ISS now that the tinkertoy is all assembled, but there is a nugget here that I nevertheless like. Rwinners has put his or her finger on something.

A manned mission to Mars SHOULD have a lot in common with the ISS. Why not have ISS partners build and launch modules into orbit for such a mission, just as they did for the Space Station? Spread the costs and the risks. And share the glory. A European should go, if at all possible. The crew should be more than just two. There will have to be a water-jacketed storm cellar as a refuge from solar flares; just make sure it can hold four or five persons.

And I'm afraid Aldrin is right. They should be prepared to go to Mars, knowing they might not return.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.