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Surprising Science

Why NASA Should Abandon a Manned Mission to Mars

Brent Sherwood of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory wants the agency to take a hard look at its plans to send humans to Mars, perhaps concentrating on colonizing the Moon instead. 

What’s the Latest Development?

With NASA’s latest and most powerful rover, Curiosity, now safely on the surface of Mars, Brent Sherwood of the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory says a manned mission to the Red Planet is not worth the costs. “Sherwood thinks the agency should re-examine its human spaceflight program, because pushing for the Red Planet in the next three decades or so may not constitute the best use of NASA’s limited resources.” Costs of a manned Mars mission are estimated to run about $100 billion and it is questionable whether humans could perform scientific experiments of greater value than the ones Curiosity plans to carry out.

What’s the Big Idea?

Sherwood proposes several convincing alternatives to sinking NASA’s budget into a manned flight to Mars. One is colonizing the moon, which could extend the reach of our species beyond Earth and teach us how to use space-based resources. “Sherwood said a focus on lunar settlement could conceivably result in 100 or so people living on Earth’s nearest neighbor by 2050.” Another option for NASA is to encourage civilian space travel, which could mean thousands of people visiting orbital hotels by mid-century. Finally, Sherwood advocates making space-based solar power a reality, helping to secure “a clean-energy future for the planet and give our species a foothold in Earth orbit.”

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