Recent developments have placed an actual manned mission to Mars closer to a reality than any other time in spaceflight history, NASA’s chief claimed this week during a live webcast from NASA headquarters in Washington. D. C. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden admitted there was still “a lot of work” to be done, but getting to Mars is now definitely within mankind’s reach.
Space.com reported September 18 that Charles Bolden, sitting on a panel of NASA researchers and officials and science fiction author Andy Weir live on NASA TV, revealed positive developments within the space agency that pointed to an actual mission to the Red Planet. He and his fellow panelists also discussed details of the planned Mars mission itself.
“We are farther down the path to sending humans to Mars than at any point in NASA’s history,” Bolden said, admitting that there was “a lot of work to do to get humans to Mars, but we’ll get there.”
NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman pointed to the positive development of sustainable foodstuffs, such as the growing of fresh vegetables on board the space vehicle while in transit. Recently, edible lettuce was grown on the International Space Station as part of an experiment into understanding the production of food crops outside of Earth’s influence.
Space agency officials also discussed developments with Orion, a capsule that is designed to hold at least four astronauts and facilitate traffic to the Moon and Mars, and the Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket that is being engineered for deep-space destinations. Both Orion and the SLS are scheduled for a first-ever tandem test flight — unmanned, of course — in 2018. Although it has been reported that a manned Orion mission may not take place until 2023, NASA says it is “aggressively” pushing for a manned run in 2021, according to Space News.
As for those that will fly the mission, NBC News reported that NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko just completed half of a year-long mission on the International Space Station to further study the psychological and physiological effects of long-duration spaceflight. It is estimated that a manned mission to Mars will take at least 500 days (this is an estimated round trip, which includes several days for exploring the Red Planet).
“[Putting] boots on Mars is possibly the most exciting thing humans will ever do,” Bolden said. “We have been engaged in getting to Mars — getting humans to Mars — for at least 40 years, beginning with the first precursors,” he added. “I have no doubt that we can accomplish what we have set our minds to do.”
The space agency chief said that he had dreams as a younger astronaut (Bolden was a space shuttle commander prior to becoming Administrator) of being the first man to explore Mars. That was when he’d first started his training in 1980. That was also when the projected mission to Mars was thirty years in the future — now five years in the past. And even if he may not be among the astronauts to first set foot on the Red Planet, he believes it is an achievement that can be accomplished by the 2030s.
Charles Bolden has kept an unwavering eye on getting to Mars since taking over as NASA administrator in 2009. He’s even insisted that getting to Mars was imperative to the survival of humanity. In April 2014, speaking at the Human 2 Mars Summit in Washington, he said, “If this species is to survive indefinitely we need to become a multiplanet species; we need to go to Mars, and Mars is a stepping stone to other solar systems.”
No, Bolden may not get to be the first astronaut on Mars. He is, however, leading the way to perhaps getting there within the next two decades.