NASA’s recently released (or hacked) plan for placing a human on Mars sometime in the 2030s is a complete joke. At an estimated cost of $400 billion (multiply this by ten and you might be close to the real cost), it simply will never happen. Emphasis: IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN and NASA knows it.
It won’t happen in the 2030s. It won’t happen in the 2050s. NEVER!
So what is really going on?
Answer: Politics as usual. This is not a space program. It is a jobs and corporation welfare program. It has more to do with where the hardware is being developed (i.e. which Congressional district) than any desire or intention to reach Mars. With the expendisure of vast funds, NASA reaching lunar orbit by 2025 is possible but forget Mars.
The problem is the use of expendible rockets. This is simply not sustainable or even rational. Nasa’s plan forsees launching their big booster at a rate of one every two or three years because that is what is affordable under the current and reasonably forseeable NASA budgets. The absurdity of this “plan” is mind boggling.
The hope for a viable Mars progam if there is one ( I have become rather pestimistic that it will happen in this century at all) lies in three areas:
1) Private companies such as Space X who have rational plans but limited financial resources,
3) technological breakthrough (i.e fusion, Q Thruster or some other unanticipated development that is a game changer).
Congressional moves for an “Independent” investigation of Space Xs recent booster failure make it clear that the politicians will never permit a private program to succeed. I am sad to say that Musk needs to consider relocating his efforts to a more hospitable environment if he is serious about his Mars program).
Technological breakthoughs will happen at some point but anticipating them within such a brief window is probably unrealistic.
I’m putting my money on China even though their technology currently is largely derivitive of Russia’s. ( estimated Mars arrival date for Chinese program: sometime in 2040s if we are lucky although the 2050s is probably more realistic).
Question: What are the single most important items Americans will need to return to the Moon or to reach Mars?
Answer: A passport and a Chinese visa.