A workshop of over 60 people representing more than 30 governmental, industry, and academic organizations has concluded that NASA could mount a manned expedition to Mars in the 2030s. According to Space.com, the Affording Mars Workshop was convened in December 2013 by Explore Mars Inc. and the American Astronautical Society.
The workshop found that NASA could launch a manned Mars mission in the 2030s if the agency’s budget is returned to pre-sequestration levels. President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget proposal included $17.7 billion for NASA, $59 million less than what the agency was granted in 2012.
The workshop vaulted the International Space Station as an example of an enormous endeavor that could be achieved with a consistent budget and international and commercial cooperation. The station could serve as a testing ground for technologies necessary to a Mars mission, such as new spacesuits and telerobotics.
The workshop also advocated a “bridge mission” that would fill the experience and knowledge gap between the space station and Mars. Such a mission could be NASA’s plan to capture and visit an asteroid, or a small space station outside of low-Earth orbit and easy communication with Mission Control.
Private concerns are also gearing up for manned forays to Mars. Mars One intends to send a lander to Mars in 2018, followed by a group of colonists in 2022. The Inspiration Mars mission will launch a pair of astronauts towards the Red Planet for a flyby in 2021.
As for NASA, the workshop’s findings emphasized the importance of two major developing technologies: the Space Launch System, NASA’s next generation of heavy-lift rocket, and the Orion crew module. Orion’s first unmanned flight is scheduled for later this year.
Workshop attendees from NASA, Boeing, Orbital Sciences Corp, and other organizations agreed upon six points regarding a manned Mars mission: such a mission is affordable with the right mix of governmental, international, and commercial partnerships, budget consistency, and efficiency and purpose; such a mission will be possible by the 2030s; Mars should be the priority for manned spaceflight over the next three decades; investments and missions in space exploration should be designed to advance the goal of manned Mars missions by the 2030s; the International Space Station is an essential staging ground; and it is crucial to continue the series of robotic landers and rovers on Mars through the 2020s.