NASA admitted today during a meeting of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics that under the current budget they cannot afford to get humans to Mars. NASA's next steps will depend on its funding, but now more than ever, the future of Mars colonization rests in the hands of commercial space companies.â€‹
NASA has been talking about getting humans to Mars for years, and continues to provide updated plans for getting there. Unfortunately, though, NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, William H. Gerstenmaier, just announced that the agency can’t achieve the Mars goal on its current budget.
“I can’t put a date on humans on Mars, and the reason really is the other piece is, at the budget levels we described, this roughly 2 percent increase, we don’t have the surface systems available for Mars,” Gerstenmaier said during a propulsion meeting of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics on Wednesday. “And that entry, descent, and landing is a huge challenge for us for Mars.”
Essentially, the SLS rocket and Orion craft have cost the agency a lot. As a result, NASA hasn’t even been able to begin designing vehicles to land on Mars or ascend from the surface.
NASA’s next moves will depend on funding. Gerstenmaier indicated the agency might be interested in a Moon exploration mission – one that is more extensive than the current plan to build the Deep Space Gateway in the Moon’s orbit. Beyond just being a launching pad for further space exploration, the gateway could “support an extensive moon surface program,” says Gerstenmaier.