Despite all evidence to the contrary, NASA still has Martian intentions.
The space program folks made that clear with the release of their latest plans for the next Mars rover. There have been three rovers so far -- Spirit, Curiosity and Opportunity -- and the vehicles have been collecting data to figure out whether Mars actually has the ability to support life, while also searching for signs of past Martians. The 2020 rover will focus on making oxygen and looking for potential farmland, more practical steps in the journey toward actually putting human feet on the red planet. Making oxygen could both give astronauts something to, you know, breathe if they ever arrive on the planet. It could also be used to make rocket fuel to allow the astronauts to leave (which sounds significantly better than Eli Musk's one-way ticket plan to land people on Mars.)
It all sounds pretty nifty, but NASA is supposed to have astronaut boots on red ground by the 2030s. Way back when, NASA did manage to get from the Earth to the Moon faster than anyone ever thought possible, but will they be able to pull that off with Mars?
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It's possible that NASA could be ready to make the trip, and experts say it could even be affordable, according to space.com. The catch is, it's going to require a huge increase in the NASA budget, with a big dollop of funds set aside specifically for getting to Mars, the problem with today's setup that has been noted by many critics.
The expense is a huge part of NASA's problems these days, since the space agency doesn't pull down a big chunk of the budget these days, and the budget it has is seemingly always being cut. Plus the money allotted has to be split up between all the agencies, each of which has its own projects and agendas.
President Obama has announced a mission to lasso an asteroid, and said this mission is the one that will put astronauts on the path to Mars. That mission -- which isn't even slated to take place until after Obama is out of office -- with the 2020 Mars rover are supposed to signal Martian intentions, which is nifty, but good intentions don't add up to much if no one ever actually sets foot on Mars. Add in that there is a big faction of NASA folks who say that this asteroid program is the wrong way to go, and that NASA should be looking to the moon as the next step to Mars, and the whole thing gets even less certain. Right now, barring a return to the Soviet-era space race, it seems like Ray Bradbory's Martian Chronicles could stay fictional for a long time to come, despite encouraging NASA news releases about the 2020 rover and all the plans in the works. Plans, plus 50 cents will get you a soda (if you can scrounge up another quarter.)
On the upside, the U.S. isn't exactly cuddly with Russia right now. Maybe the cosmonauts will start thinking red planet sometime in the near future. Being scared of the Soviets got us to the moon so perhaps they'll scare the U.S. into getting super-focused on Mars, with a fat budget and everything.