According to recent Congressional reports, NASA's plan to send humans to Mars is going to cost a lot more money that previously thought. That is, if they can even find the money to bring back the rovers they have on the planet right now.
On July 15, NASA announced it was one step closer to achieving its Mars 2020 mission after passing a “major milestone,” according to Space News. The mission is set to send a rover to the red planet in mid-2020 for a February 2021 landing. “The Mars 2020 rover is the first step in a potential multi-mission campaign to return carefully selected and sealed samples of Martian rocks and soil to Earth,” said Geoff Yoder, NASA’s acting associate administrator for science, in a statement.
However, NASA was also grilled on its Mars 2020 mission at a Congressional hearing on July 20. Congressmen wanted to know why the mission will be so expensive—current estimates put the bill at $2.1 billion plus another $300 million to keep the operation running for one year on Mars. That is $900 million more than NASA’s original estimate, and they are only 70 percent sure that that amount of money is enough for the mission. As if that wasn’t enough, the Mars 2020 Rover is behind schedule, putting its carefully calculated launch window in jeopardy, according to the Government Accountability Office.
In addition, a new review by the Planetary Society claims that NASA does not have the funds to send the rovers it currently has on Mars back to Earth. “It seems clear from this analysis that NASA is barely keeping the Mars Exploration Program on life support,” the review stated.
Just last week, NASA helped to unveil a new Mars rover at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum designed by the Kennedy Space Center. But the rover—which weighs 5,500 pounds and is is almost 24 feet long and 14 feet tall—was never built with the intention of going to Mars. Instead, it’s a kind of PR stunt that aims to strike curiosity in the minds of the young children who will come to see it. “If we get a single scientist out of this effort, it will have been worth it,” Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of the visitor center, told BuzzFeed News. “You are basically looking at a concept vehicle that is intended to be inspiring to future generations.”
Last week, on July 19, Elon Musk, who is funding his own project to send humans to Mars, spoke at the International Space Station and even he seemed to understand that the trip to Mars will take longer than many might hope. He said that “if you want to get the public fired up, you've got to put a base on the moon," adding that it would be the "continuance to the dream" of the Apollo missions, according to CNBC.
These reports come just as Trump has revived the National Space Council, which, is “a panel meant to coordinate U.S. scientific, military, and commercial space plans, handing the job to Vice President Mike Pence,” according to BuzzFeed News. That was the same ceremony that had astronaut Buzz Aldrin looking super uncomfortable as he sat next to Trump when a joke about “infinity and beyond” flew right over the President’s head.
Although NASA and their space exploration programs are certainly exciting and important for the U.S., it seems things are looking a bit messy on their end right now, particularly in the financial sector. Here’s to hoping they get it together sometime soon.