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Astronomy and Space Exploration Reporting

NASA will not be able to send men to Mars until the end of the 2030s

In the United States, NASA’s goal of sending humans to Mars in 2033 is hardly feasible. This is at least the conclusion reached by the Science and Technology Policy Institute, in a report that audited NASA’s manned exploration program.

The goal of a first human Martian mission in 2033, wanted by the US Congress and President Trump, is moving away. An independent report, commissioned by NASA, concluded that the agency has no chance to send humans to Mars by this time. At best, a first inhabited mission could be carried out before the end of the 2030s, perhaps during the firing window of 2037. As a reminder, the first Martian missions of NASA concern orbits around Mars, even Phobos.

This report was written by the Science and Technology Policy Institute, an Institute affiliated with the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA). He reviewed the roadmap for the first human missions to Mars and the technological architecture of the program that relies on the SLS launcher, the Orion vehicle, and the Lunar Outpost (Gateway). The technical and financial assessment of this five-phase plan shows that NASA’s roadmap is too optimistic. Reporters doubt Nasa’s ability to meet deadlines.

The launch of a manned mission in 2033 would require the testing of the most critical technologies by 2022. However, some of them are still not in the development phase. This is true for the Deep Space Transport System (DST), the vehicle used to travel between the Moon and Mars but also for survival systems, for example. The propulsion of the DST will also require particular developments.

Moon before Mars

The report estimated the cost of this first mission around Mars to be $120.6 billion in 2037, an amount corresponding to the cost of the SLS launcher, the Orion vehicle, the Gateway, the DST and others. Of this total, $33.7 billion has already been spent. This mission is part of a global program of manned space flights whose total costs, up to 2037, amount to $217.4 billion.

This includes the costs of the first Martian mission, low Earth orbit operations, and the development of Mars surface systems required for future exploration. It also includes a series of missions to land on the moon. This report, drafted before the speech of Mike Pence, the current vice-president of the United States, who urged NASA to return to the moon by 2024, predicted that the first human lunar landing would take place in 2028, followed by four other missions (one per year, until 2032).

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