US plans trip to Mars by 2030s

Elizabeth Harasym
Science & Tech Editor

Earth’s neighbor Mars has intrigued many for decades with evidence of flowing water at its surface and a relatively habitable environment compared to other planets in the solar system. NASA has made it an objective to understand the inner workings of “The Red Planet” for decades. Viking 1, launched in 1975, was the first successful probe landing on Mars, and many more highly successful missions such as Mars Odyssey and Mars Science Laboratory have increased the desire to explore the mysterious Martian world.

President Obama recently announced a hopeful goal for the U. S. in an essay published on CNN — to send humans to Mars by the 2030s and to return them safely to Earth. In 2010, Obama had alluded to this plan during a speech at the Kennedy Space Center, however, more details for the trip have arisen. The mission is considered to be a difficult one but possible one, given significant time, money and acceptance of the risks involved.

President Obama’s news came quick on the heels of Elon Musk’s announcement of plans to get to Mars around 2024. Musk is the founder of the SpaceX rocket company, and he has hinted about space travel to Mars previously. At the International Astronautical Congress on September 27, Musk announced some of the engineering details involved for the mission and a hopeful timeline for completion. His plan consists of a large rocket, costing $10 billion to create, that will transport 100 people at a time to Mars. Similar to NASA’s plans for traveling to Mars, SpaceX’s mission faces potential delay from insufficient funding.

NASA has never received a large enough infusion of money to truly begin the pursuit or reaching Mars. Successfully getting to the planet will involve continual cooperation between the government and private companies for funding. And successful work has already begun – they are currently building new habitats designed for long-duration space travel for those missions in deep space.

These habitats would be necessary for travel to Mars because at the shortest distance between Earth and Mars, the planets are still 33.9 million miles apart versus the 238,900-mile distance between Earth and the moon. More technologies aboard the space station will also be tested for future use in long-distance space travel.
President Obama also stressed a devotion to science and math education for younger generations in his essay in order to successfully reach Mars in the future.

He wrote, “Getting there will take a giant leap. But the first, small steps happen when our students — the Mars generation — walk into their classrooms each day. Scientific discovery doesn’t happen with the flip of a switch; it takes years of testing, patience and a national commitment to education.”

Though there is an initiative for space travel beyond the Earth’s orbit, political and financial discrepancies often create a delay in completing the plan. NASA’s budget is $19.3 billion for the space agency, which only equates to 0.5 percent of federal spending. In addition, operating the International Space Station costs $3 billion to $4 billion a year. When NASA discontinues work on the Space Station in 2024, more money can be devoted to studying the technologies needed for the trip to Mars. NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations expects NASA astronauts in orbit around Mars in the 2030s, however, he does not expect a landing until the 2040s.

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