MarsNews.com
August 3rd, 2018

Senators seek focus on Mars in NASA’s exploration plans

Members of the Senate’s space subcommittee said at a recent hear they want NASA to remain focused on human missions to Mars even as it plans activities in cislunar space and on the moon. Credit: Boeing

Senators preparing a new NASA authorization bill want to ensure that the agency’s long-term focus remains human missions to Mars even as it plans flights to the moon.

At a July 25 hearing by the Senate’s space subcommittee, titled “Destination Mars – Putting American Boots on the Surface of the Red Planet,” key senators made clear that development of a “Gateway” facility in cislunar space, or human missions to the surface of the moon, should not be a distraction to human Mars exploration.

“While the moon will provide a great testing ground in preparation for the journey to Mars, we must remain vigilant and ensure that we limit costly delays that could push a crewed Mars mission in the 2030s out of reach,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the space subcommittee, in his opening remarks. “Mars is today the focal point of our national space program.”

That view had bipartisan support. “We need to help NASA lift its gaze past the moon and understand how the work we do in space closer to Earth will serve us in our quest for Mars,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), ranking member of the subcommittee.

Both Markey and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) criticized NASA for not yet providing a “roadmap” document required by a 2017 NASA authorization act outlining its plans for eventual human missions to Mars. That report was due to Congress last December.

July 26th, 2018

Putting Boots on Mars Requires a Long-Term Commitment, Experts Tell Senators

An artist’s depiction of humans working on Mars.
Credit: NASA

A group of senators heard expert opinions during a committee hearing on Wednesday (July 25) about what will be required — logistically and scientifically — to safely land humans on Mars.

The hearing was coordinated by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is chair of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. “Mars is today the focal point of our national space program,” Cruz said during opening remarks. “If American boots are to be the first to set foot on the surface, it will define a new generation — generation Mars.”

But right now, NASA’s focus seems to be split between the moon and Mars — a point raised by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, who asked whether the NASA budget is being “robbed” because efforts aimed at a journey to the moon are drawing resources away from the real priority of Mars.

Another clear takeaway from the testimony was the sheer number of tasks NASA needs to accomplish before such a mission can become a reality: everything from figuring out how to land larger spacecraft on Mars to developing systems that can function completely independently of Earth to making sure astronauts can withstand the mental challenges of being so far from home.

All those tasks mean NASA can’t do it alone and needs to find a way to bring other countries as well as private companies into the mix. “People make it sound like the government is actually building all the hardware,” said Chris Carberry, head of Explore Mars, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting exploration of Mars. “They’re not.”

December 11th, 2017

Trump to send astronauts back to the moon — and eventually Mars

President Donald Trump wants to send astronauts where no man has gone before.

Trump will authorize the acting NASA administrator Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. to “lead an innovative space exploration program to send American astronauts back to the moon, and eventually Mars” during a White House signing ceremony.
“The President listened to the National Space Council’s recommendations and he will change our nation’s human spaceflight policy to help America become the driving force for the space industry, gain new knowledge from the cosmos, and spur incredible technology,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said Monday.
The directive, Gidley said, will push NASA to “refocus … on its core mission of space exploration” and if Trump does send astronauts back to the moon, they would be the first to visit the lunar landscape since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

March 21st, 2017

President Trump signs bill authorizing NASA funding, Mars exploration

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, after signing a bill to increase NASA’s budget to $19.5 billion and directs the agency to focus human exploration of deep space and Mars. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, after signing a bill to increase NASA’s budget to $19.5 billion and directs the agency to focus human exploration of deep space and Mars. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump signed a bill into law Tuesday that updates NASA’s mission to add exploration of Mars and authorizes $19.5 billion in spending for the U.S. space agency for the current budget year.

It’s the first time in seven years that there has been an authorization bill for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, also known as NASA, said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a chief sponsor of the bill. Cruz joined several astronauts and other lawmakers in the Oval Office to watch Trump sign the bill.

Last week, Trump sent Congress a budget proposal that would authorize $19.1 billion in agency spending next year. Congress appropriates funding for all government departments and agencies.

“For almost six decades, NASA’s work has inspired millions and millions of Americans to imagine distant worlds and a better future right here on earth,” Trump said. “I’m delighted to sign this bill. It’s been a long time since a bill like this has been signed, reaffirming our commitment to the core mission of NASA: human space exploration, space science and technology.”

The measure amends current law to add human exploration of the red planet as a goal for the agency. It supports use of the International Space Station through at least 2024, along with private sector companies partnering with NASA to deliver cargo and experiments, among other steps.

March 9th, 2017

Congress just passed a bill that tells NASA to send humans to Mars by 2033

For the first time in more than six years, both chambers of Congress passed a bill that approves funding for NASA and gives the space agency new mandates.

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 is a bill that the Senate and House collaborated on for months, and it appropriates $19.5 billion to the agency. (NASA received $19.3 billion in 2016, or 0.5% of the total federal budget.)

When the Senate brought the bill before the House of Representatives for a vote on March 7, “no members spoke against the bill” and it passed, according to Jeff Foust at Space News.

The document asks NASA to create a roadmap for getting humans “near or on the surface of Mars in the 2030s.” It also calls on the space agency to continue developing the Space Launch System (SLS) — a behemoth rocket — and the Orion space capsule in order to eventually go to the moon, Mars, and beyond.

Now it’s up to President Trump to sign the bill into law — or veto it.

December 13th, 2016

Trump could replace Obama’s asteroid catcher with a SpaceX-backed mission to Mars

Getty Images/Shutterstock/NASA; illustration by Dave Mosher/Business Insider

Getty Images/Shutterstock/NASA; illustration by Dave Mosher/Business Insider

When Donald Trump is sworn in on January 20, there’s a good chance he could scrap one of President Obama’s boldest visions for NASA: the asteroid redirect mission, or ARM.

ARM would ostensibly launch a robotic probe to an asteroid in 2023, capture the space rock, and tow it near the moon. Next, astronauts would ride NASA’s shiny new Space Launch System and Orion space capsule (which aren’t finished yet) to visit and dig into the asteroid sometime in 2025.

But ARM’s slipping deadlines, ballooning costs, redundancy with the recently launched asteroid-sampling OSIRIS-REx probe, and seeming incongruence with the space agency’s larger ambitions to send people to Mars will almost certainly doom the mission, Eric Berger reported for Ars Technica in February. (The Trump-friendly House Committee on Science, Space and Technology also recently sent an unfriendly letter about ARM to NASA, and it appears to be yet another presumed nail in ARM’s coffin.)

So what could a Trump-controlled NASA replace it with?

Physicist and former astronaut John Grunsfeld, who recently retired as the leader of NASA’s science mission directorate, is pitching a popular idea involving a retrieving a sample of Martian soil, as Berger reported on Monday.

December 2nd, 2016

Europe presses ahead with Mars rover

Europe will push ahead with its plan to put a UK-assembled robotic rover on the surface of Mars in 2021.

Research ministers meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, have agreed to stump up the outstanding €436m euros needed to take the project through to completion.

The mission is late and is costing far more than originally envisaged, prompting fears that European Space Agency member states might abandon it.

But the ministers have emphatically reaffirmed their commitment to it.

They have also said that European participation in the International Space Station (ISS) should run until at least 2024, bringing Esa into line with its partners on the orbiting laboratory – the US, Russia, Japan and Canada.

This will open new opportunities for European astronauts to visit the station, and it was announced here that Italian Luca Parmitano has been proposed to take up a tour in 2019.

The Ministerial Council was convened to set the policies, programmes and funding for ESA over the next three to five years.

November 9th, 2016

Where Will President-Elect Trump Take American Space Endeavours?

Given the fiscal policies of his party, and his own stances on Climate Change, there is concern about how a Trump administration will affect NASA. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Gage Skidmore

Given the fiscal policies of his party, and his own stances on Climate Change, there is concern about how a Trump administration will affect NASA. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Gage Skidmore

With the 2016 election now finished and Donald Trump confirmed as the president-elect of the United States, there are naturally some concerns about what this could means for the future of NASA. Given the administration’s commitment to Earth science, and its plans for crewed missions to near-Earth Orbit and Mars, there is understandably some worry that the budget environment might be changing soon.

At this juncture, it is not quite clear how a Trump presidency will affect NASA’s mandate for space exploration and scientific research. But between statements made by the president-elect in the past, and his stances on issues like climate change, it seems clear that funding for certain types of research could be threatened. But there is also reason to believe that larger exploration programs might be unaffected.

September 19th, 2016

Moon-walker Buzz Aldrin opens new Mars exhibit at Kennedy Space Center

Apollo 11 moon-walker Buzz Aldrin says he hopes the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s new “Destination: Mars” experience will help inspire human exploration of the Red Planet.

Aldrin was at the complex on Sunday at a media preview and ribbon-cutting for the attraction, which features a holographic image of Aldrin, as he guides visitors on a walk along the virtual Martian surface.

A proponent of colonization of Mars, Aldrin told reporters that he would like to see the next president make a bold statement shortly after taking office in January for accelerating the timeline for human spaceflight to Mars, so that we can one day “call two planets ‘home.'”

October 7th, 2015

Las Vegas bets that SpaceX will make it to Mars before NASA

spacex-dragon-mars

NASA may believe that it’ll be the first to land humans on Mars, but don’t tell that to Las Vegas betting houses. Popular Mechanics has asked Docsports’ Raphael Esparza to set odds for the first organization to put people on Mars, and he believes that SpaceX stands a much better chance of reaching the Red Planet (5 to 1) than anyone else, including NASA (80 to 1). To put it bluntly, SpaceX has the money and the motivation that others don’t — NASA would be the favorite, but its budget cuts are holding it back.