Robert Howard of the Johnson Space Center in Houston suggests that budget and political purpose will decide the path which the Mars mission will take.
Late in 2017, the President of the United States ordered NASA to put astronauts back on the Moon by 2024, followed by manned missions to other planets such as Mars. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine spoke at a conference recently, “The Moon is the proving ground for our eventual mission to Mars. The Moon is our path to get to Mars in the fastest, safest way possible.”
According to Robert Howard of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the challenges in achieving a Mars landing aren’t as much technical and scientific as they are monetary and political. “A lot of people want us to have an Apollo moment, and have a president stand up like Kennedy and say, we’ve got to do it and the entire country comes together. If that happened, I would actually say 2027. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think in our current approach, we are going to be lucky to do it by the 2037 date.” Howard suggests that the date could be pushed as further as 2060 because of political indecisiveness.
NASA’s chief scientist for the International Space Station, Julie Robinson lists the hurdles that need to be overcome and addressed before reaching the red planet such as manufacturing and design of the spacecraft, the amount of time taken to travel, and protecting astronauts from long-term exposure to strong solar radiations. The food system and suits are a major challenge according to experts. NASA is in the process of developing a new suit, called xEMU, however there’s still some time until it is ready for its first outing.
Lastly, there is the question of stress from being isolated for at least 2 years. Real-time communication will take up to 24 minutes to connect with the other planet, therefore a more robust AI driven system will need to be developed in order to guide astronauts.