Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI
Sending people to Mars and the Moon is too daunting a task to consider accomplishing within the next few decades, says a panel gathered by President Obama to help chart the future of American space missions. The costs and technical challenges are simply too great, the panel agreed during its six-hour public meeting Wednesday.
NASA doesn't currently have the budget to return humans to the Moon, it warned. And the 10-member panel completely crossed off human flights to Mars from its list of near-term recommendations.
"We think Mars Direct [as the journey to the red planet is called] is a mission that we're really not prepared to take on technically or financially, and it would likely not succeed," committee chairman Norman Augustine, a former Lockheed Martin CEO, told Space.com after the meeting. "I really want to emphasize that we're not giving up on Mars at all."
Mars remains as NASA's long-term goal, but the agency must cover a lot of ground to reach this dream, he said.
This is the same panel whose members previously argued that NASA spends too much money ferrying astronauts to and from space, and that it’s time for the agency to hand off shuttle trips to private firms.
Human space missions currently burn through half of NASA’s annual budget – some $18 billion. Better to outsource such work to companies and allow NASA to focus on grander goals, such as reaching deeper into outer space, said one of the panel’s members.