When I was a young boy, in the nineties, I used to read a scientific divulgation magazine which over the years reported various NASA announcements about a manned mission to the red planet. In that period it was scheduled, if I remember correctly, for 2005 and I was really looking toward such historical event. Then, a couple of years before the due date, a new announcement postponed it in 2014.
As I grew up, and the great appointment was delayed again and again, I gradually lost faith in those proclamations, up to the point that today I see them as mere propaganda. Last announcement I heard set the date for 2030 and, honestly, I didn’t believe it anymore.
It turned out I was right: on July 13th, NASA’s chief of human spaceflight William H. Gerstenmaier announced that the agency can’t afford to get humans to Mars.
NASA, Gerstenmaier says, prefers to focus its budget on Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket, which already costed a lot to the space agency. Therefore a manned mission to Mars is out of question for the moment (but, I add, this moment has been lasting for decades). Even worse the mission vehicles, from spacecraft to lander and surface rovers, haven’t been designed yet!
So even if NASA was granted with unlimited funds tomorrow morning, it would take many years to finally see the astronauts departing from Earth.
Then he stated that NASA is going to focus on an extended lunar exploration mission, hopefully with the aid of Deep Space Gateway, a small outpost in Moon orbit aimed to support future manned exploration missions in the solar system.
Although it sounds interesting it seems to me that NASA has just given a sop to its audience: “see? we can’t make it with Mars but we can go back on the Moon!”
Science Alert then puts its hopes into private companies like Elon Musk’s Space X and Boeing. Ok, probably private entrepreneurs can outrun NASA because they are not dependent from governments who prefer to spend money in more urgent questions (rightly), but let’s not forget that Virgin Galactic first space flight was in 2004 and founder Richard Branson right after the event announced that commercial flights would have started in 2008: as we know it never happened but, in 2014, their spaceplane crashed during a test flight killing the copilot and severely injuring the pilot. This unfortunate accident slowed down the already snail-speed advancements and today their space tourism service is still in deep sea.
Unfortunately space flight technology is, in its current state, extremely difficult, dangerous and expensive to master, mainly due to its key component: the chemical propulsion rocket. That’s why at this point I’m convinced that all those amazing proclamations ,whether they come from public space agencies or from private companies, are for a tomorrow that will never come.