Skip to Content

Congress Says NASA’s Mars Initiative Needs a Better Plan

NASA's Orion Spacecraft Launches Unmanned Test FlightNASA's Orion Spacecraft Launches Unmanned Test Flight
The United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft takes off from its launchpad on December 5, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photograph by Joe Raedle via Getty Images

NASA’s Journey to Mars mission isn’t getting Congress as excited as the agency may have hoped. It lacks a defined plan to support its stated mission and doesn’t have clear milestones to track its progress, according to lawmakers.

At a special hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the program was characterized as little more than a very expensive stunt, reported the Verge. One expert’s estimate put the total cost at upwards of half a trillion dollars to reach Mars.

“This is a misguided mission without a mission, without a launch date, and without ties to exploration goals,” said Rep. Lamar Smith. “It’s just a time-wasting distraction.”

To get the much-needed funds, the committee said NASA would need to come up with a clear plan of approach that would outline the costs as well as scientific and engineering milestones to make a Mars landing possible. NASA is currently building a rocket and a crew capsule called Orion, which are intended to take humans to Mars. However, the space agency still needs to solve some major technical issues before that’s possible, like landing systems, return launch systems, and habitat setups.

Some experts recommended that without a clear strategy, NASA would be better off ditching its plans for the Red Planet and use the resources for a Moon landing instead.

“The moon is reachable, it’s close, it’s interesting, and it’s useful,” said Paul Spudis, a senior scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

Spudis concluded that the Moon is still an exciting prospect and a much more achievable goal. Though, as history proves, it wasn’t always such an easy feat. It took a “moonshot” after all, requiring the inspiration of President John F. Kennedy and nearly $190 billion in 2015 dollars to make it happen.