Real Reason NASA Hasn’t Sent Humans To Mars

– [Man] We could’ve been
on Mars 30 years ago. At the peak of the Apollo
era in the early-’70s, NASA was already planning its
next step into the unknown. Its plans included building
multiple space stations, continued trips to the Moon, and its first crude mission
to Mars by the 1980s. Can you imagine watching
astronauts walk on Mars the same time the Walkman came out? But of course, NASA never sent
humans to Mars in the ’80s. And here we are, 30 years later, still dreaming of the possibility. But the reason isn’t necessarily a matter of technology or innovation. It actually comes down to politics. As a government agency, NASA’s goals are determined
by the executive branch. Since its inception, NASA has
served under 12 presidents. And it was clear near the start that not every president
would support NASA equally. By the end of the Nixon
Administration in 1974, NASA’s budget had plummeted
from 4% of the federal budget to less than 1%. Fully funded Apollo missions
18 and 19 were abandoned, along with Apollo 20. At the same time, Nixon
pulled NASA’s focus away from the Moon and Mars and instead towards low-Earth orbit. His parting gift was to sign into effect what would eventually become
NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, but this was just the beginning. – So, what’s happened
throughout all of space history after the Apollo program was over was we had this
start-stop-start-stop-cancel. So, a president comes in,
like President Bush comes in and says we’re gonna go
to the Moon, back to Mars, and then the next president
comes in and cancels that. And the next president
sets their objective, and the next president
comes in and cancels that. The agency’s unable to
sustain consistent funding long enough to do anything. – [Man] It wasn’t until
the Space Shuttle Program was nearing its end that
a crude mission to Mars was finally considered and
funded by a US president. George W. Bush, in 2004, announced– – We will give NASA a new focus and vision for future exploration. We will build new ships
to carry man forward into the universe, to gain
a new foothold on the Moon. – [Man] As a result, NASA’s
Constellation program was born. Never heard of it? That’s because it was
canceled a few years later. It aimed to send a crude
mission to the Moon in 2020 and land the first humans
on Mars by the 2030s. By the time Obama was sworn in, the Constellation program was behind schedule and over-budget. One year later, Obama canceled 100% of the program’s funding. – All that has to change. And with the strategy I’m
outlining today, it will. – [Man] Obama shifted NASA’s focus from sending people to the Moon and Mars to ultimately just Mars. In the process, Obama asked Congress to increase NASA’s budget by $6 billion over the next five years. As a result, NASA launched
its Journey to Mars initiative in 2010, with a goal to
send humans into orbit around Mars by the early-2030s. And until recently, NASA, for
the most part, was on track. But then, this happened. – President Trump has relaunched
the National Space Council and at the council’s
inaugural meeting in October, we unanimously approved a recommendation to instruct NASA to return
American astronauts to the Moon, and from there to lay a
foundation for a mission to Mars. – [Man] Oddly enough, the space policy under Trump and Obama
look nearly identical, except for 63 words. In those 63 words, Trump’s administration has
shifted the focus once again to a Moon-first, Mars-later initiative. NASA isn’t new to this. It’s learned to recycle old
projects to fit new missions. For instance, the Orion capsule was first developed for Constellation and has since been redesigned
for a journey to Mars. But even that can’t prevent
the unavoidable changes NASA programs now face
under the new president. – As such, we’re also gonna realign the organizational structure to best meet this new exploration focus. I’ve asked Steve Jurczyk, the current head of Space Technology Mission Directorate, to lead an effort to design a
new organizational approach. – [Man] As NASA pushes on, a new possibility has
grown on the horizon. Privately-owned space
companies like SpaceX have also set their
sights on the Red Planet. – The scientists and
engineers at NASA are amazing and they’ve done extraordinary things, but there’s still a risk
aversion that doesn’t allow us to do things that are new
and novel and on the edge. It’s these entrepreneurs
willing to take risks and put everything on the line. – [Man] The race for Mars is on. While NASA has closely
partnered with SpaceX and other privately-owned space
companies in recent years, ultimately it might not be NASA who writes the next chapter
in human space exploration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *