A manned mission to Mars will take place in the next 20 years, according to NASA and industry experts. At the Humans to Mars (H2M) summit at George Washington University this week, NASA staffers, researchers, private space agencies, and others are exploring the practicalities of sending astronauts to Mars by the 2030s.
“A human mission to Mars is a priority” NASA chief Charles Bolden said Monday, though he admitted the agency can't do it alone. Budgetary limitations, he argued, mean private and government agencies will have to effectively pool resources.
Bolden admitted a manned mission faces "tough logistical and political issues," reports The Washington Post. “NASA doesn’t have the capability to do that right now. But we’re on a path to be able to do it in the 2030s," he said, warning that without commercial funding "we will not get to Mars in our lifetimes."
His strategy is to leave escaping Earth’s gravity well to private contractors, suggesting that modules like SpaceX's Dragon could be used for getting to low-orbit from Earth. From there, NASA would work on taking the eventual crew the rest of the way to Mars.
H2M, run by the non-profit Explore Mars, Inc., is co-sponsored by aerospace companies including Boeing and Lockheed Martin. No one knows just how much a human mission to Mars would cost, but the logistics of landing humans on Mars -- and potentially also landing a return rocket and fuel should they want to leave -- will certainly necessitate additional private investment.
Chris Carberry, executive director of Explore Mars says that if given the resources, NASA could pull off a manned Mars mission. "The question is whether we have the political will to do it. It’s more of a policy issue.”