WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
The falling cost of space exploration and grand visions are pushing organisations to take the next giant leap – to make us an interplanetary species.
Last week, perhaps in response to the growing interest in Mars from companies such as Boeing, and SpaceX, as well as China and the UAE who’ve all recently announced they’re heading to Mars in the near future, both US chambers of Congress passed the “NASA Authorization Act of 2017.”
While it might not sound too exciting at first it could be one of the most significant acts in history – but not because it gives NASA a rather healthy $19.5 Billion in funding but because it contained an instruction – get humanity to Mars.
It’s fair to say that NASA has had the red planet on its radar for decades but this is the first time that they’ve been given an official mandate by the government to get there. In the act congress wants NASA to get humans “near or on the surface of Mars in the 2030s,” and they want NASA to develop “an initial human exploration roadmap” that they have to submit by December 1, 2017.
The act also makes the reason for the roadmap clear – because Congress knows that reaching the red planet is going to be a series of small steps, and not one giant leap.
“It is the sense of Congress that expanding human presence beyond low Earth orbit and advancing toward human missions to Mars in the 2030s requires early strategic planning and timely decisions to be made in the near term on the necessary courses of action for commitments to achieve short term and long term goals and objectives,” the act says, and it even goes as far as suggesting the stages:
“A human exploration roadmap should begin with low Earth orbit, then address in greater detail progress beyond low Earth orbit to cis-lunar space, and then address future missions aimed at human arrival and activities near and then on the surface of Mars,” it says.
As for NASA though they’ve been laying ink to paper for years and it’s fair to say that their plan, which has three distinct phases complete with Mars habitat concept, is already fairly well advanced:
“The human exploration of Mars crosses three thresholds, each with increasing challenges as humans move farther from Earth: Earth Reliant [now until the mid-2020s], the Proving Ground [2018-2030], and Earth Independent [now to 2030s and beyond].”
Interestingly, and almost as though they needed to press the point home, the act also affirms that “Mars is the appropriate long term goal for the human space flight program,” and ironically it’s likely that the Moon will be little more than a stop over in the 2020’s.
After all every journey needs a pit stop, and with Amazon announcing a Moon delivery service who knows, maybe the astronauts will even have a chance to put chill out, catch up on Top Gear and have a pizza. It’s all hard work being an astronaut – apparently.