National Research Council Admits We'll Probably Never Live on Mars

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Everyone wants to live on Mars in the future, but today the National Research Council politely points out we'll never, ever make it to Mars if we don't invest in space funding. Otherwise, we're stuck on this old garbage Earth forever. 

The 286-page National Research Council report — mandated by Congress, prepared  by the Committee on Human Spaceflight over the last 18 months and funded for $3.2 million by NASA — concludes that continuing to fund space flight at current levels “is to invite failure, disillusionment, and the loss of the longstanding international perception that human spaceflight is something the United States does best,” according to report from the Washington Post. (Yikes. Tell us how you really feel, NRC.) 

For some reason humans are obsessed with one day leaving our garbage planet behind and inhabiting (and eventually ruining) another garbage planet, and for a while everyone wanted that planet to be Mars, because it's close, and red is flattering on everyone. (Something about Mars "possibly being inhabitable," too, probably, according to my high school science textbook.) But now the National Research Council has effectively taken that idea behind the shed and put a fancy space bullet through its head, admitting we'll never make it to Mars at our current space research funding levels. We're stuck here. Mars has a cover charge, and humans have left our collective wallets at home. “Absent a very fundamental change in the nation’s way of doing business, it is not realistic to believe that we can achieve the consensus goal of reaching Mars,” committee co-chair and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told the Post

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So, that's a bummer. The committee did conclude that space travel, like international travel here on Earth, is unreasonably expensive but probably a necessary evil. Or as the Post puts it: "that the purely practical, economic benefits of human spaceflight do not justify the costs involved, but said that the aspirational nature of the endeavor may make it worth the effort."

The report isn't a total downer — it makes sure to outline reasonable steps NASA can take in the future to hopefully, someday make Mars inhabitance a reality, something the report called a "horizon goal" without determining how long it may take to reach that horizon. The report did not delve that far into the philosophical implications of space travel. Here, the report's suggestions: 

  • Teaming up with the Chinese, currently seen as NASA's rivals instead of a potential teammate. (What is this, a Bad News Bears sequel?)
  • Establishing an inhabitable lunar base on the moon before proceeding to Mars so NASA can draw reasonable conclusions and develop necessary technologies before slingshotting humans to Mars. 
  • The NRC acknowledged the Obama administration's current Armageddon-inspired plan to land on asteroid and then travel to Mars, could happen, theoretically. The NRC also acknowledged it's a terrible idea. 

Congress is still reviewing NASA's 2015 budget proposal, so all is not lost. Maybe Congress will increase spending and fund NASA at an appropriate level to make space travel an attainable goal. (Unfortunately, the odds of that happening and me learning to fly are about the same.) But hey, NASA, perk up: maybe your super cool deep space parachute that you're forced to test on earth will actually work. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.