Click the arrow to watch the media event. Video source: NASA YouTube channel.
As part of this week's Orion EFT-1 publicity, NASA held a media event today to promote what they call “Journey to Mars.”
This new public relations outreach features a Starfleet-like logo and the below graphic outlining NASA's plan for sending people to Mars in the 2030s.
Click the image to see a larger version.
While robotic explorers have studied Mars for more than 40 years, NASA’s path for the human exploration of Mars begins in low-Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station. Astronauts on the orbiting laboratory are helping us prove many of the technologies and communications systems needed for human missions to deep space, including Mars. The space station also advances our understanding of how the body changes in space and how to protect astronaut health.
Our next step is deep space, where NASA will send a robotic mission to capture and redirect an asteroid to orbit the moon. Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft will explore the asteroid in the 2020s, returning to Earth with samples. This experience in human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit will help NASA test new systems and capabilities, such as Solar Electric Propulsion, which we’ll need to send cargo as part of human missions to Mars. Beginning in FY 2018, NASA’s powerful Space Launch System rocket will enable these “proving ground” missions to test new capabilities. Human missions to Mars will rely on Orion and an evolved version of SLS that will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever flown.
A fleet of robotic spacecraft and rovers already are on and around Mars, dramatically increasing our knowledge about the Red Planet and paving the way for future human explorers. The Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover measured radiation on the way to Mars and is sending back radiation data from the surface. This data will help us plan how to protect the astronauts who will explore Mars. Future missions like the Mars 2020 rover, seeking signs of past life, also will demonstrate new technologies that could help astronauts survive on Mars.
The problem with all this is that Congress has not approved any human spaceflight missions to Mars, and most members of the Congressional space committees are openly derisive of the Asteroid Initiative.
The House space subcommittee held a hearing in March 2014 urging NASA to fly two people past Mars and Venus in 2021 — while providing no funding or logical reason for such a stunt.
The same subcommittee held another hearing in June 2014 to bash the Asteroid Initiative and call for a human spaceflight to Mars — despite the testimony by National Research Council representatives who estimated such a mission could cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and might not be achieved until the 2050s.
None of the subcommittee members has offered to stake his or her political career and commit hundreds of billions of dollars to a Mars human spaceflight. But that hasn't stopped them from demanding one.
Which makes today's media event, in my opinion, an exercise in wishful thinking.