NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover has been on the surface of the red planet for four years, but if a government audit of the space agency is correct it will be a lot longer before a manned mission makes it there.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report saying NASA probably won't complete its Space Launch System (SLS) or Orion crew capsule on time or on budget, audit leader Cristina Chaplain told the Christian Science Monitor.
"Ideally, if these programs go forward, NASA would be taking actions to reduce the risks we see now, which are being caused by management issues. They're going to face the technical issues no matter what. But they're exacerbating them with management concerns, like not having accurate cost estimates."The SLS, the huge new expendable rocket NASA is building, and its Orion crew capsule are primary features in the space agency's plan to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
The first step to putting boots on the red planet's surface is an asteroid redirect mission, with step two being a Mars mission, but first NASA must test its space exploration vehicles.
The space agency has already launched a test version of the Orion and has scheduled another launch, for the SLS in Sept., 2018. A follow-up test launch will include both the SLS and Orion to be eventually followed by a manned mission that will send astronauts in orbit around the moon in 2023, but the GAO says that schedule isn't likely to happen.
That's probably because the space program is underfunded, USC astronautics professor Mike Gruntman told the International Business Times.
"The main problem is that we do not have a clear long-term goal for the national human spaceflight program. Being rudderless does not help in bringing public excitement and support."[gallery ids="3391216,3391217,3391218,3391219,3391223"]
This isn't the first time NASA's SLS and Orion crew capsule have gone under scrutiny. Earlier this year, a Congressional committee noted the space agency's issues completing their manned mission to Mars on time and on budget. The shifting timelines and different missions imposed on the space agency by changing administrations make it difficult for NASA to carry through as planned, Chaplain told The Verge.
"All the programs are working with very low management reserves in terms of dollars and time. It makes it very difficult to manage a program under those circumstances. It puts them in a position of deferring work to later stages, where it could be more costly and time consuming to address."Last year, NASA asked for $11.3 billion to prepare for the Orion launch, but in February of this year the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology said the space agency lacked direction.
The Apollo missions that saw America land a man on the moon were much more clearly defined than they are now largely because of the space race with the USSR during the Cold War.Today, Congress and the president change NASA's mission every few decades. In addition to sending astronauts to Mars, Congress has also asked the space agency to make it back to the moon and send a probe to Jupiter's moon, Europa.
There are many Americans who argue against spending billions of tax dollars on NASA when there are plenty of problems to solve here on Earth.
NASA's Journey to Mars mission has generated a ton of excitement in the private and commercial sector and administrator, and astronaut, Charles Bolden, denies his space agency is in danger of missing its deadlines. He remain optimistic NASA will complete its goal of a manned Mars mission in the 2030s.
[Photo credit to NASA]