The race to Mars is on. And by race I mean “painfully slow planning and plodding.” Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Putting people on Mars is no small feat — the journey itself is 7-8 months long (please tell me the astronauts will have Netflix!) and the astronauts will be subject to radiation the whole way. And then there’s everything that has to happen once we land, although I think a smart mission would involve sending robots ahead of time to set up some infrastructure. But more than anything, there’s the funding. It’s true that the House recently passed a reauthorization bill that supports manned Mars missions, but it’s unclear how much that will help, and to say that the price tag of such a mission is prohibitive would be an understatement. Still, despite all these obstacles, we humans are committed to spreading our species to another planet. The question is, who will be the first to do it? Will it be Mars One, the Dutch non-profit that’s currently whittling down a field of over 200,000 candidates for a Mars landing in 2025? Will it be NASA, with or without the help of other countries? Or will it be SpaceX, the renegades of the private space technology sector? Elon Musk is betting on the latter.
Perhaps the recent National Research Council report lambasting NASA’s plan to get humans to Mars was the wake-up call the government needed. That report (which somewhat ironically cost upwards of $3 million to assemble) couldn’t have been clearer in stating that, under current circumstances, NASA’s manned Mars missions were nothing but a pipe dream, and an invitation to “failure, disillusionment, and the loss of the longstanding international perception that human spaceflight is something the United States does best.” Yikes. But sometimes, a kick (or ten) in the ass is what the government needs, and when the House passed a new NASA reauthorization bill last week, it took the step in providing a more feasible budget for putting people on Mars.
Just before the bill passed the House, Steven Palazzo, Chairman of the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said, “We are committed to once more launching American astronauts, on American rockets, from American soil,” and argued that the bill would “serve as a pathway to Mars.” The bill also reinforces Obama’s previous commitment to developing a cutting-edge heavy-lift rocket launcher, as well as the new generation of Orion spacecraft, which is currently undergoing testing.
I’m guessing any fan of GFR dreams of living long enough to see our species actually spread out beyond our own solar system. If that’s going to happen, we really need some sort of game-changing technology that can overcome the ridiculous distances between the stars without requiring us to resort to generation ships and centuries-long voyages. Well, imagine our surprise — and childish, unrestrained glee — when the story broke a few years back that NASA was working on an actual, honest-to-gosh warp drive. Sadly, this was a “purely theoretical for the moment” kind of situation, which means we can’t book passage to the Uncharted Territories just yet. Well, that reality is even more frustrating right now, because the latest designs for NASA’s warp ship look like they were pulled directly from my eight-year-old brain after a particularly aggressive Star Trek marathon.
Both NASA and President Obama—at least, early on, before budget realities called for revisions—have outlined goals to get humans to the Red Planet by 2030. Whether or not that’s actually going to happen is up for debate. According to the National Research Council, the space agency’s current plan won’t get us there, and to continue to pursue this course “is to invite failure, disillusionment, and the loss of the longstanding international perception that human spaceflight is something the United States does best.” In other words, NASA just got busted.
Congress authorized the report, which took the NRC 18 months and cost more than $3 million dollars. One of the findings is that on its current trajectory, NASA sorely lacks the funding to make a manned Mars mission happen, even if Obama’s vision pans out. Hmm…where have we heard that before?
One of the coolest things about social media is the way it lets us experience by proxy something most of us probably never will directly: travelling into space. Sure, we’ve had access to videos taken in space for decades now, but social media has narrowed the distance between us and the humans who are currently orbiting high above us by quite a bit. Now that Chris Hadfield is back groundside, it’s time to update your Twitter with some new astronaut-y goodness. Allow us to suggest astronaut Reid Wiseman, who recently joined the crew of the ISS, and who is bleeding enthusiasm all over Twitter in a truly endearing way.
— Reid Wiseman (@astro_reid) May 29, 2014
I’m not sure how long the tradition of putting your kid’s art up on the refrigerator has been around, but I’m guessing it started sometime after somebody came up with the refrigerator magnet. (Before that, art laid tragically in piles across the kitchen floor.) But as happy as a kid might be to see his parents proudly displaying his work for all to see, how much cooler would it be to have your artwork pinned up on NASA’s fridge? (I presume they only have the one.)
Well, several kids accomplished just that, at least metaphorically. NASA’s Langley Research Center recently hosted an art competition for students ranging from kindergarten all the way up through 12th grade. Kids from the area of Hampton Roads, Virginia were given the theme “The Future Is Now” and invited to let their imaginations soar. Kristina Ruhlman, public outreach specialist for the center, said, “The idea was for young artists to take technologies that once seemed far away and explore how they were becoming reality today,” So presumably it was just pictures of NASA employees with empty wallets or panhandling for spare funding.