In July 2014, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk disclosed he planned a Mars mission of his own in 2001 to help spur humanity’s engagement with space. In September 2015, NASA chief Charles Bolden revealed he envisioned becoming the first person to explore Mars when he checked in for astronaut training at Houston’s Johnson Space Center way back in 1980. In October 2016, President of the United States Barack Obama assured the world, via a CNN Op-Ed, the United States was indeed sending humans to Mars by the 2030s.
While Musk’s first manned Mars mission is expected to launch in late 2024 with arrival at the Red Planet in 2025, NASA is still developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s. Though he didn’t elaborate on how much would NASA’s Mars mission cost or how would the U.S. pay for it, Obama asserted the U.S. was ready to take a giant leap after years of testing, patience and a national commitment to education.
“We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station.
“The next step is to reach beyond the bounds of Earth’s orbit. I’m excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space. These missions will teach us how humans can live far from Earth – something we’ll need for the long journey to Mars.”
Mars has harsh conditions with temperatures ranging from -195 degrees Fahrenheit in winter near the poles to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in summer near the equator. The atmosphere is 95% carbon dioxide; unlike Earth, Mars doesn’t have a global magnetic field to protect its surface from radiation. With a gravity that’s only 38% of Earth’s, these conditions make living on Mars extremely challenging. Nevertheless, Obama insisted the ultimate goal is eventually for humans to stay on the red planet for an extended time.
“Someday, I hope to hoist my own grandchildren onto my shoulders. We’ll still look to the stars in wonder, as humans have since the beginning of time. But instead of eagerly awaiting the return of our intrepid explorers, we’ll know that because of the choices we make now, they’ve gone to space not just to visit, but to stay – and in doing so, to make our lives better here on Earth.”
Critics claim the Op-Ed — calling attention to government contracts being awarded to six companies to build prototypes for “habitats” that could sustain human life in deep space — is nothing but refocusing of the fact that he set the goal to send humans to Mars by the 2030s and that NASA has been pursuing them. However, what they fail to notice is the fact that Obama also took the opportunity to boast about NASA’s achievements under his 8-year stint at the White House.
“We’ve revitalized technology innovation at NASA, extended the life of the International Space Station, and helped American companies create private-sector jobs by capitalizing on the untapped potential of the space industry. Last year alone, NASA discovered flowing water on Mars and evidence of ice on one of Jupiter’s moons, and we mapped Pluto – more than 3 billion miles away – in high-resolution.
“Our space telescopes revealed additional Earth-like planets orbiting distant stars, and we’re pursuing new missions to interact with asteroids, which will help us learn how to protect the Earth from the threat of colliding with one while also teaching us about the origins of life on Earth.”
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