Testimony at a hearing before the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Space suggested that NASA’s Journey to Mars lacks a plan to achieve the first human landing on the Red Planet almost six years after President Obama announced the goal on April 15, 2010. Moreover, two of the three witnesses argued that a more realistic near term goal for the space agency would be a return to the moon. The moon is not only a scientifically interesting and potentially commercially profitable place to go but access to lunar water, which can be refined into rocket fuel, would make the Journey to Mars easier and cheaper.
Tom Young, the former director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, noted that the Journey to Mars lacks a timeline or architecture beyond the heavy lift Space Launch System and the deep spacecraft Orion. NASA has also not come the grips over how to deal with long-term exposure to radiation that crews going to and from Mars will be subjected to.
John Sommerer, chair of the National Academy of Sciences, and Paul Spudis, a senior scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, urged that NASA consider a return to the moon before going to Mars. The moon is not only doable in the near term, but would be in line with the plans of other countries, such as the European Union, Russia, China, and India.
No one, especially Dr. Spudis, had much use for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, a plan to extract a boulder from an asteroid and take it to lunar orbit for a later visit by astronauts. The ARM does not have any scientific or engineering merit.
Nevertheless, some members of the subcommittee urged that some kind of continuity be maintained in NASA deep space exploration plans when the next president is sworn into office. No one wants a repeat of the spectacle that occurred when President Obama blew up his predecessor’s Constellation program that would have returned Americans to the moon by 2019. The move, which many felt was politically motivated, caused the loss of billions of dollars and years of effort in the push to begin exploration beyond low Earth orbit.