May 7, 2013
NASA Administrator Affirms That Man On Mars Could Become A Reality
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Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineDuring the Humans to Mars Summit at George Washington University yesterday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden laid down some thoughts about the US space agency sending man to the Red Planet.
Bolden started off his keynote speech by addressing the growing international interest in sending humans to Mars, while also pointing out how even President Barack Obama has challenged NASA to send humans there by the 2030s.
"As I have said many times, a human mission to Mars is today the ultimate destination in our solar system for humanity and it is a priority for NASA," Bolden said during the Keynote. "Our entire exploration program is aligned to support this goal."
The administrator reaffirmed the growing interest in human spaceflight as well, saying that last year NASA received the second highest number of astronaut applications in history, including over 6,300 applicants. Less than 20 of these astronauts will be making the final cut and only three will be "among the first to be trained specifically for long duration space flights."
First, NASA plans to continue to study how the human body reacts to long-duration missions in space. The space agency will be sending astronaut Scott Kelly on a one-year mission to the International Space Station in 2015. Bolden said this will help scientists gain a better understanding of the effects of microgravity on bone density, muscle mass, strength, vision and other aspects of human health.
"This research is essential as we plan for a long-duration flight to Mars," the administrator said.
Other activities ongoing aboard the space station are helping ensure we are capable of making the bold step to the Red Planet. Bolden said space agencies across the globe working on the ISS are handling challenges on a daily basis that are critical to sending humans to Mars. They are using the orbiting laboratory as a test bed for technologies and systems under development for future manned Mars missions.
Bolden laid out NASA's upcoming plans to try and identify, capture and relocate an asteroid. This mission would be followed by a manned mission to an asteroid. According to the administrator, this mission will provide valuable experience in mission planning and operations for future crewed deep-space missions. Also, the future asteroid mission will allow NASA to explore the potential of using the space rocks as future resources. The space agency will be able to use the mission to determine whether they have what it takes to prevent an asteroid from colliding with Earth.
"As a former astronaut who has flown four missions on the space shuttle, including the 1990 flight that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope, I´ve learned that scientific discovery and human exploration go hand in hand," he said. "NASA´s vision is to reach new heights and explore the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind. I believe that unraveling the planetary puzzle about life and climate on Mars is the essential next step in realizing that vision."
Bolden also heralded the Obama administration for the moves it has made with NASA's budget. He said the 2014 budget for NASA of $17.7 billion will ensure "the United States will remain the world's leader in space exploration and scientific discovery for years to come."
"This budget makes it clear that the Administration remains committed to a vibrant and coordinated strategy of Mars exploration and continuing America´s leadership role in the exploration of the Red Planet," he said. "By better coordinating NASA´s scientific and human exploration programs, we will achieve our goals of discovery quicker and at less cost to the taxpayer."
Sending man to Mars is a dream also shared by SpaceX founder Elon Musk. He said last year that he hopes to put a man on the Red Planet within the next 12 to 15 years. Not only does Musk want man to make a footprint on Mars, but he also wants to build a colony and establish businesses there.
Before we ever have a mission set to land man on Mars, a couple of humans may get the opportunity to at least fly past the Red Planet in 2018. The Inspiration Mars Foundation announced it plans to send tourists to Mars in five years on a 501-day journey. This organization is accepting applications for a man and a woman to become the first Martian tourists. They believe the technology is already under development to achieve this goal, and it could be seen as a stepping stone to what could be years full of adventures in space exploration over the next few decades.