As a hospitality management major, I may someday be involved with party and event planning. I never, however, considered the prospect of planning a party on Mars, but maybe I should. President Obama recently wrote an op-ed and delivered a speech where he encouraged the United States to send people to Mars by the 2030’s. This prompted people to ask whether this was even possible. Most believe that it is, but not without help from the private sector.
Let’s begin by taking a look at some of the history of the space program in the United States and why we haven’t accomplished this trip to Mars already. For the most part, it comes down to money. Everyone remembers growing up watching the various moon trips and landings. In fact, President Obama was always touched by a memory of watching astronauts returning to his childhood home in Hawaii. Not long after the Apollo trips, it was believed that a Mars landing may not be far off in the distant future. But then President Nixon cut back funding for NASA, leaving only the space shuttle in operation. President George Bush indicated a desire to send astronauts back to the moon and hopefully to Mars, but was discouraged and the project was eventually halted due to the unbelievably high cost of the plan. The combination of political forces and access to money led to the decline in the space program. The portion of the federal budget allocated to NASA has dropped from 4.4 percent in the 1960’s to 0.5 percent today.
So this is where the private sector now comes into play. NASA realizes that it will need the help of commercial partners if it wants to succeed in its mission to Mars. NASA recently developed the Next STEP program – Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships. NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden , recently discussed how the Next STEP program is reaching out to private companies to design various space habitats. He is also looking for creative ideas and ways to use the existing International Space Station . The United States is committed to funding the Space Station through 2024, so it makes sense to try to find ways to utilize its laboratory functions. After 2024, the United States can then use that money and those ideas to move forward on its Mars exploration.
There are also American companies that believe it is their technology that will eventually take the astronauts into space and on to Mars. Boeing’s CEO has been quoted as saying that he believes the first astronauts to land on Mars will arrive their on a Boeing rocket . Elon Musk, the CEO of Space X, believes that his company will be able to take people to Mars by the year 2025. William Gerstenmaier, a NASA administrator, is not quite as optimistic. He believes that it will take until the 2030’s for a mission to orbit Mars, and until the 2040’s for a Mars landing.
What remains to be seen is whether the next administration will be as excited as President Obama about the future of our space program , and whether they will be willing to fight for the funding necessary to see it happen. It goes without saying that the space program inspired many young people in the past to focus their studies on many fields involving math and science. With the addition of many private companies and commercial ventures into the space market, one can assume that the demand for scientists and engineers will grow in leaps and bounds. Presumably , this will encourage children to once again focus their studies in the direction of science and math. With the pool of resources and knowledge present and growing in the United States, I’m certain that someday I will be planning a Super Sweet 16 on Mars!
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