back to article NASA review: Forget about boots on Mars by 2030

A panel appointed to recommend a way ahead for the US space programme following major funding cuts has rejected the idea of ignoring the Moon and sending astronauts straight to Mars. Trimming its shortlist of plans from seven to four, the Augustine panel has also stated that serious human space exploration is not possible …


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  1. Simon Woodworth

    It's the Moon I'm worried about

    The more worrying problem is that the Moon by 2020 might be off the cards. This would be a big mistake. Getting to the Moon should be much cheaper and much more sustainable than going to Mars. I don't understand why some of the development cost can't be moved to private industry. SpaceX isn't that far away from launching its Falcon 9 vehicle, which is designed from the outset to be human-rated.

  2. Stevie Silver badge


    "Bush-era plan"?

    I wasn't aware that simply saying "Nasa should go to the Moon, then Mars" constituted a "plan". For there to have been any suggestion of a plan, one would normally look for a hint of funding, budgets and so forth to included in the pronouncement.

    No-one ever explained to that particular president that a plan consists of details of the "how" of a thing in addtition to the "what". Of course, he viewed himself as The Deciderationist, not The Plannerificator.

  3. Matthew 17

    Why go alone?

    If the US has $80bn to play with then why don't they team up with the international community and pool their resources? There's no advantage to the US to try and repeat the space race and go at it alone. Surely a repeat of the team-work that made the ISS a reality could enable a visit to Mars.

    If so the whole endeavour would be much more interesting and noble.

  4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    100 billion USD?

    What do they think they are - a bank?

    Hey, I want to see nuclear-powered fast robots zooming through the solar system with delta-vee to spare and more sensors onboard than a matrixian sentinel. I would say that fits comfortably well within the 80 billion USD - if the manned spaceflight pipedream is dropped and the money is spent fast, fast, fast, i.e. before hyperinflation takes off.

  5. bandor

    mission accomplished

    If it's too expensive to send a fully manned mission to mars, perhaps they could compromise a bit and just send a few pieces, like an arm and a leg.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Boots on Mars

    "Forget about boots on Mars by 2030"

    Gutted, but I'm still holding out for my dream of a Superdrug on Pluto.

    Not to mention the new galactic branch of M&S... Marks on Uranus.

  7. Max 12

    Still waiting

    I was born in 1978. I'd say if given enough stem cells I could avoid the reaper until about 2078. As long as they touch down on red while I'm kicking about I'll be happy.

  8. Adam Foxton

    On the contrary

    It could be done.

    Construct a solar powered, ion-driven microsatellite weighing, say, 10kg. Then build, say, 269 more of them. With that sort of number being built they'd be fairly cheap. You'd have 5x Delta heavy-lift rocket launches (450kg payload capacity), one every 6 months for 3 years. Get them out of earth orbit. Expensive- probably a billion or two- but not un-doable.

    Each one should contain sensors to determine threats to human life- particulate radiation, solar wind, intense EM issues, anything that goes wonky in the Van Allen belt, that sort of thing.

    You've then got a load of data from a huge range of points all along the route to Mars- and at different times. You can see all sorts of seasonal variations and trends.

    Then use the other $78Bn to build a vessel that can survive in the conditions highlighted by your little sensor microsats. It just needs to be able to launch once- doesn't need to re-enter the atmosphere. Hell, take it up in bits. Again, you're talking huge numbers of rockets being built, so the processes for their manufacture can be streamlined.

    So you're talking about a vehicle that doesn't need to go through our atmosphere, doesn't need to go through the Martian atmosphere and could probably be nuclear powered-VASIMR propelled. That's not going to be an overly expensive vehicle.

    You then need an excursion module and that's probably not too much of a problem; mars has quite a thin atmosphere and lower gravity. Plus with all the extra space on the mothership not dedicated to landing you could fit a whole load of sensors and find somewhere safe, strong and flat to land.

    You also have the payoff of making space launches much, much cheaper as you're churning out heavy-lift rockets. Which makes NASA all the more relevant as more people can afford to do "space" stuff. So they'd get funding for a second mission no problem.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Finally... they're honest about it

    I'm tired of NASA trying to "make do" with nothing, and all these missions that are mandated by Congress/the President, but not funded. At least JFK put his money where his mouth was.

    And since nobody's said it yet: "No bucks, no Buck Rogers."

  10. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Two weeks

    How often does someone tell you (or you tell your boss) that "it'll be ready in two weeks". It seems to be the favourite about of delay to report - being close enough to be not worth kicking up a fuss over, yet far enough away to remove the immediate pressure. Of course, in two weeks it'll still need "just another couple of weeks" to finish it off.

    And so to NASA, who keep delaying, postponing, pushing back and rescheduling pretty much everything they are asked, or propose to do.

    Looking back at the Moon landing, one insightful individual commented that as well as being NASA's greatest success, it was also their biggest failure. Until that time, they had a goal: a very prestigious goal, with money no object. After Neil had fluffed his lines .... they had nothing: job done, party over, time to pack up.

    Ever since then, they've been trying to get back to those glory days with some nice big spectaular successes - and if they happen to bring about a small increase in the sum of human knowledge? well, that's nice, too. However they've learned the lesson from 1969. Make the pitch, get the sale, promise the Moon (or Mars), but for God's sake don't deliver - as once you do, you're back to zero again. Far better to fob off the politicians, who want to know when they can hijack the publicity and bask in all the fame-by-association, with the NASA equivalent of "it'll be another couple of weeks" - or in this case "a few more years".

    Just keep 'em on the hook, throw 'em the occasional bone (!), but make sure you never land on the goose that lays the golden eggs.

  11. Nick Oakley

    Who elected NASA anyway?

    I'm sorry, but if NASA can't live up to mankind's hopes of reaching the stars, then someone else should. I don't recall them having a monopoly on my dreams of space exploration and I certainly don't think we should all take their word for it that 80 billion dollars isn't enough to send a tin bucket and a couple of adventurers up to Mars!

    Maybe it'll be poetic justice that the Chinese are the first to lay claim to the Red Planet.

  12. Geoffrey Summerhayes

    Nice to know...

    We're still on track for being a minor footnote in the universe.

    Humanity-Mostly harmless.

    Made it into space, decided they didn't like it. Had digital watches. Planet destroyed for hyperspace bypass. Current Status: EXTINCT

  13. Christoph Silver badge

    And then what?

    Suppose they get a single manned mission to Mars, at enormous cost. What will they do next? It will be far too expensive to send more missions to do the same thing over again. It will be far too expensive to send manned missions anywhere else.

  14. Bod

    In my lifetime?

    I'd be just under 60 by 2030 if I haven't keeled over already with the millions of things I'm supposed to die of because I haven't eaten the right stuff, breathed the right air, etc.

    If it's later than that then it's pushing it. Average lifespan for a bloke and all that... !

    As said, have to depend on stem cells.

  15. Jean-Luc Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Quick - can anyone...

    ... tell me what the ISS has actually achieved after spending $50-100B?

    I do recall an article about their having a top chef preparing food for the astronauts.

    But... my memory fails me in any scientific findings that came out of that white elephant.

    Hopefully we'll see NASA redirect its funds to automated space probes rather than flying women or men to Mars.

  16. Heff


    What the ISS did for its money was establish something like 20 different major structural revisions to its design. When I say major, I mean "fuck this lets start over" everytime a country backed out on the funds it had said it would back the project with. the thing was originally tabled to be something 1.5x the size of a US football field. Add onto that every country involved demanding its own paid gonk on the teams, the obligatory middle management empire building nonsense, and the PHB-mandated obligatory design process where engineers are given modern-day da-vinci problems to solve : this helicopter will work; we just need you to find a man who can turn these pedals with the strength of 1000 men. and he has to be short.

    ISS was pretty cheap for what we got in the end. and whilst you bemoan the massive sum of cash, dont forget it goes into paying scientists, furthering the goals of science as a whole, and on a more real-terms level, pays for the refining of commercial construction process, spurring advancement in manufacturing, and whatnot. the trickle-effect of 'grand works' for a society as a whole is immeasurable.

    frankly, if you're looking for innvation in space, look to china. on the world stage they seem to be the only single country with a solid determination to back its own dreams : the US is schizophrenic; it wants Great Dreams And Hope™ but doesnt want to pay for them, the UK is too busy spying on supermarket parking spaces at 4am looking for phantom pedophiles, THE UN and NATO countries as a whole are too busy stroking their tiny beards and trying to rebuild their economies in the wake of the derivatives trading fiasco. Russia is... Well, whatever happened to Russia? Im sure they'll let us know at some point. Who else is going? Nobody. If not china, Then give it 50 years and it'll be another X-prize.

  17. Bilby


    "If it's too expensive to send a fully manned mission to mars, perhaps they could compromise a bit and just send a few pieces, like an arm and a leg."

    That is the projected cost, not the planned crew profile...

  18. asdf Silver badge

    Re:On the contrary

    Adam you stole that idea from Sid Meyers. Play any of the recent Civilization games and you get to watch yourself send up parts of a mothership and then fly it away in victory (probably if like me because you nuked the earth so bad beating down the pesky aztecs it isn't worth staying on anyway hehe).

  19. LINCARD1000


    Spot on, mate. Although getting disgusting human flesh-bags onto other planets (be it the moon or Mars) might be all romantic and sexy in the public imagination, it is horribly, *horribly* inefficient. Unmanned missions all over the place are a much cheaper, quicker and better proposition.

    Over time while more experience and expertise with robotic missions is gained, technology will advance. At that stage when we have the proper technology and expertise to sustain human life (safely & easily) in those extreme environments, automate the construction of suitable transport and habitation.

    Much better than flinging our pudgy, squidgy, delicate selves out beyond the protection of our planet in the short term. Think of all that payload weight that can be used for scientific packages, new experimental propulsion methods (etc) instead of being wasted on life-support and habitation. Humans may be able to do some things better than machines, but at what cost?

  20. Wortel


    With current technology levels they could have sent a pack of robots up there already some years ago; i'm talking ASIMO and similar. These are small, relatively light (no requirement for suit and oxygen tanks, etc.), and versatile enough to be useful at a distance, and can be packed securely enough to survive transport and landing, just like the little bots on the moon today. They could have helped us discover what it's like up there and build infrastructure in preparation of human followers, but no we're squabbling about budget and lack of experience instead.

  21. Shaun 7

    We should go....

    Get up there, discover the hugely superior technology of the Martian race buried just below the surface, realise they left for other places once they realised how dreadful their neighbours were.....

  22. Lex 1

    re: Quick - can anyone...

    They've learned how to build a large orbiting modular space station, and how to perform on-orbit repairs and maintenance. Pretty essential skills for any serious extra-orbital missions, I'd imagine.

  23. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Carpe Diem .... Tempus Fugit. Don't FUD IT

    ""We think Mars Direct is a mission that we're really not prepared to take on technically or financially, and it would likely not succeed," said committee chairman Norman Augustine yesterday."

    amfM NEUKlearer HyperRadioproActive IT does Guarantee the Virtual Journey with MetaDataBase XSSXXXXPloitations. Methinks Anything and/or Everything Else will End in the Empty Darkness of Fleeting Tales/Empty Promises.

    Are NASA into Virtual TelePortation ProgramMING for Live Operational Virtual Environments or is it still just a Private Pirate Party Trick for CyberIntelAIgent Security Offices?

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Sounds like its going to be 2069 when we first land on Mars, it'll be much sooner - they'll just use the technology that the US Government have mysteriously kept secret for all these years from Roswell - unless of course aliens didnt land there. No, that would be stupid to think that.......

  25. Dan 54

    Won't happen for another hundred years - at least.

    The idea that we could send humans to mars and return them safely to earth by 2030 was completely insane anyway. We are probably still twenty years away from trying a mars sample return mission of a few pounds let alone some kind of exploration vehicle with a life support system that can land and take off from the surface of mars. This is not going to happen for possibly another 100 years. We need decades and decades of manned moon exploration, near earth asteroid, mars moon exploration etc before we could even comtemplate the idea of sending humans to mars and returning them safely. It is an order of magnitude much harder than sending man to the moon and back. The craft that is sent would have to be considerably larger than the apollo command/service/lander stack and the ascent vehicle would need a pretty big rocket. It would cost an absolute fortune.

  26. AlistairJ

    Lets have a real future not a dimwits wet dream

    Send out the robots. Leave out interplanetary meatsack transport its just not worth it.

    And lets spend this century getting the surface of this planet sorted out. Fusion power. Feed everyone and end all suffering. Universal political and economic freedom. Save the environment, animal and plant habitats. Its not impossible.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    If we're not moving next door

    We better look after this place better

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Eggs in one basket

    I honestly can't believe congress' blindness. Not only do we not fund projects enough to take a look at all the rocks out there that can cause serious damage, but we have so little of a space program, all we could do if we knew one was coming is grab our ankles...

    We should not keep all our eggs (people) in one basket (planet).

  29. Stevie Silver badge


    Robots? What's the point of sending robots? The reason for going is because that's what we do. Or did. The race needs a new frontier for crying out loud, something to spark the imagination.

    No-one gets excited by the prospect that you might get to process the output from a bloody robot. Not even scientists who are not exactly banging down the doors to demand them.

  30. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Down

    Mars by 2030

    Not with NASA on the job

    Not with their budget.

    The outfit that lost $587 bn in accountancy errors (from its founding in 1958 onward)

    On of 3 federal agencies (FEMA being another) audiotrs would not sign the accounts for.

    That does not (and has never) liked competitive tendering.

    That created a project (the original J-2S) program to keep the winning team together (who managed to under perform on follow on engine contracts)

    Whose mission plan for Mars had 2 choices. Make the mars launch fuel solely from Martian elements or drag (and land) a large tank of the most volatile, deepest cryogenic fuel in the universe from Earth. Bearing in mind Mars had 1/3 the gravity of Earth and Apollo demonstrrated single stage to orbit at 1/6 g with fairly low performance propellant. Guess which made the selection.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Robots are where it's at

    It's a romatic vs. pragmatic debate.

    Robots can be incrementally improved, humans cannot.

    Unless and until we get better propulsion systems and simpler human maintenance methods, sending humans is a huge waste of resources and time. That is, if our objective is exploring and understanding the universe.

    If, on the other hand, our objective is to con another generation into throwing huge amounts of money into the pot in order to create a TV-ratings spectacular and buzz for the lowest common denominator the, by all means, send humans.

  32. Peter Mc Aulay

    Mars Direct

    Would only be another space race like spectacular, there's little we want from Mars that Luna can't also give us (apart from the likely very costly experience in operating interplanetary manned spacecraft without first doing practice runs). Walk before you try to run, and maybe, just maybe you'll get back there before the Chinese or Japanese do.

    Fail, because you were there, and left it all behind.

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