Boldly going to Mars in the future or even back to the moon by 2020 will cost a lot more money than NASA has right now, according to the blue-ribbon panel assigned by President Obama to review the future of the U.S. human space flight program.
A work-in-progress since mid-June, the summary report of the Human Space Flight Review Committee concludes that further human exploration of space “beyond low-Earth orbit” will not be possible given NASA’s current funding.
“The U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory,” states the report. “It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources.”
Any “meaningful” human exploration, including a possible return to the Moon, will require future funding about $3 billion per year above the fiscal year 2010 NASA budget of $18.7 billion, according to the Committee’s report.
The increased funding would allow NASA to follow one of the two paths of future exploration identified by the Committee as the “Moon First, then Mars” or the “Flexible” path:
The Moon First, the Mars Path: A small colonies of humans living on the moon would work to gain the experience and develop the skills necessary for a future trip to Mars. “Over many missions, a small colony of habitats would be assembled, and explorers would begin to live there for many months, conducting scientific studies and prospecting for resources that could be used as fuel,” states the report.
The Flexible Path: Humans would visit locations progressively farther from Earth, including lunar orbit, asteroids and ultimately, orbiting Mars. One mission option on the Flexible Path calls for humans to rendezvous with a moon of Mars, a location from which they would control robotic explorers on the surface of Mars.
The additional $3 billion per year would also allow NASA to keep the International Space Station in operation until 2020, rather than allowing it to crash into the Pacific Ocean in 2016 as currently planned.
Of the overall undertaking of exploring space, the Committee concluded, “It really is rocket science. Space operations become all the more difficult when means do not match aspirations. Such is the case today.”