NASA wants to put a large space station in orbit above Mars by 2028, according to plans outlined by Lockheed Martin.
Astronauts will live aboard this “Mars Base Camp” for about a year to collect information in preparation for the first manned landing, according to the NASA contractors from Lockheed Martin and Deep Space Systems Inc.
“Before we send people to the surface of Mars, we owe it to that crew, to ourselves, to understand if there’s life on the planet and if there’s anything that’s toxic to humans,” Steve Bailey, the chief engineer of Deep Space Systems Inc, told Space.com. “This mission will do those two very fundamental things.”
Lockheed Martin’s plan will construct a 132-ton space station around Mars capable of hosting six astronauts for a year. In comparison, the International Space Station weighs about 440 tons. The astronauts would remotely operate rovers, analyze samples off dirt and rock and even make short trips to Mars’s two moons.
Such a mission would be relatively affordable. The station could be repeatedly reused, according to Lockheed Martin, but the company did not include any cost estimates for the program.
NASA’s rocket, which is intended to take American astronauts to Mars in 2030, passed its final full-scale tests in late June. They were the rocket’s last test before its first crewless flight into space in 2018. Astronauts won’t ride the rocket into orbit until at least 2021.
NASA’s plans to carry astronauts to Mars has been repeatedly sabotaged by the Obama administration, which was accused of leaking information to the press about missions, and has threatened to veto the projects. The space agency’s budget includes more than $2 billion for its Earth Science Mission Directorate for global warming science, which is specifically allocated to improve climate modeling, weather prediction and natural hazard mitigation. In comparison, NASA’s other functions, such as astrophysics and space technology, are only getting $781.5 and $826.7 million, respectively.
America is currently better prepared to visit Mars than it was to visit the Moon in the 1960s, according to a study by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The total costs of current plans to send Americans to Mars come out to roughly $35 billion spent by 2025 to arrive at the Red Planet in 2030.
Former President George H.W. Bush’s Space Exploration Initiative was projected to cost $400 billion in 1989 over 20 to 30 years, but the program never got off the ground. It would have been the single costliest government undertaking since World War II. Former President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration would have cost $230 billion in 2004. In comparison, the Apollo program, which landed astronauts on the Moon, would have cost roughly $170 billion in 2005 dollars, making cost estimates for current plans appear inexpensive in comparison.
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