The US Government Has Issued NASA a Demand – Get Humans to Mars by 2033

Keeping up with the space race.

Both chambers of Congress just passed the NASA Authorisation Act of 2017. With this transformative development, the space agency got a lot more than just $19.508 billion in funding. They also got a very clear mandate: Get humanity to Mars.

To be clear, Mars has been in the works for some time; however, the 2017 Act places a strong emphasis on this goal, making it the focal point of NASA’s long-term plans. In the document, congress asserts that the space agency is to get humans “near or on the surface of Mars in the 2030s”.

 Opposition to the bill from the administration isn’t expected, so it’s more than likely to be passed into law by the presidency.

In order to get to Mars by the 2030s, Congress is asking NASA to develop “an initial human exploration roadmap” that must be submitted before 1 December 2017.

The bill outlines the necessity of this roadmap, stating:

“It is the sense of Congress that expanding human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and advancing toward human missions to Mars in the 2030s requires early strategic planning and timely decisions to be made in the near-term on the necessary courses of action for commitments to achieve short-term and long-term goals and objectives.”

To that end, the 2017 Act states that this plan should outline clear goals that are a bit closer to home, instead of just making a grand leap to the Red Planet all at once.

The document states, “A human exploration roadmap should begin with low-Earth orbit, then address in greater detail progress beyond low-Earth orbit to cis-lunar space, and then address future missions aimed at human arrival and activities near and then on the surface of Mars.”

 Speaking of the planned stages, NASA already has a basic outline:

“The human exploration of Mars crosses three thresholds, each with increasing challenges as humans move farther from Earth: Earth Reliant [now until the mid-2020s], the Proving Ground [2018-2030], and Earth Independent [now to 2030s and beyond].”

You can see a full breakdown of each of these stages at this link, and a very basic breakdown of the stages in the NASA image below:

With these planned phases, NASA should be able to easily provide Congress with the roadmap that it’s asking for.

Through this new NASA Authorisation Act, Congress affirms that “Mars is the appropriate long-term goal for the human space flight program,” and it is likely that the Moon will be a stop over in 2020, if the current administration’s plans push forward.

NASA’s Mars Missions

Recently, much of the news covering missions to Mars involved private space companies, most notably, SpaceX and foreign space agencies – including China and the UAE.

According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the company will create a permanent Martian settlement.

To that end, Musk’s plan includes the launch of the unmanned Red Dragon spacecraft by 2018, then sending a new and reusable rocket by 2022 (which will be powered by the just recently tested Raptor rocket), and eventually launching humans to Mars after that-hopefully landing by 2025. However, much of the details still need to be fleshed out.

Regardless, Musk has made it clear that he thinks such a colonisation project will ultimately save the human race. And as this directive by congress reveals, the US government agrees. See SpaceX’s plans in this video:

To say, however, that NASA has been sitting idly by would be inaccurate. The space agency has been “on a journey to Mars” for some time.

So, what has NASA been up to in relation to the Red Planet? The agency already has a host of rovers currently on Mars.

One, the Curiosity rover, has made much headway in helping us better understand how much water did (and maybe still does) exist on Mars.

Another rover is planned for 2020. This Mars 2020 rover will gather and study data on the availability of resources, such as oxygen, on Mars.

In this respect, Sending rovers is one of the first steps in getting people to Mars.

Ultimately, in the end, getting humans to Mars isn’t some empty obsession. It’s a worthwhile endeavor-one that has the potential to inspire generations in the same manner that the Apollo missions (and Moon landing) did.

For many, getting to Mars would be the highest point of human exploration they would ever witness. Think of what New Horizon’s arrival at Pluto felt like, and now multiply that by about 100.

Already, Mars rover missions are accelerating innovation and research exponentially, so think of all the things that we could learn once we’re actually there.

It is a bold new era in the final frontier.

Sending humans to Mars could uncover a disturbing truth about one of life’s greatest mysteries

Where did life on Earth come from?

If humankind successfully lands people on the surface of Mars, we could discover an important clue about the origins of life on Earth – one of the greatest scientific mysteries in human history. A theory called panspermia, which dates back to the 5th century BC, posits that certain life forms can hop between planets, and even star systems, to fertilise them with life.

Following this theory, some scientists suspect that the first life on Earth never formed on our planet at all, but instead, hitched a ride inside planetary fragments from Mars that were flung into space after a powerful impact and eventually fell to Earth.

While some write the theory off as outrageous, others think it could harbour some potential. If true, it could deeply impact how we identify ourselves as a species.

By studying the planet’s geography, atmosphere, and soil composition, planetary scientists know that billions of years ago, Mars was once a warm, wet world with conditions ideal for life.

Why a manned mission to Mars is necessary

None of the landers or satellites we’ve sent to the Red Planet thus far have uncovered evidence of past or present life of any kind.

MartianThe Martian/20th Century Fox

It’s possible that a robot simply cannot dig deep enough or collect enough of the right kind of sample. In the end, it might take a human to explore what robotic rovers cannot.

Plus, what it takes NASA’s best Mars rovers a week to do, a well-equipped human could complete in 15 minutes, according to mechanical engineer and popular science communicator Bill Nye in his latest book Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World. “If we found microbes on Mars that are clearly related to those on Earth, such a discovery would change the course of human history … everyone everywhere would soon come to feel differently about what it means to be a living thing in the cosmos,” Nye writes.

It won’t be a surprise

This kind of discovery, however, won’t come suddenly, according to Linda Billings, the consultant to NASA’s Astrobiology and Near Earth Object Programs.

“As is the case with most scientific discoveries, the discovery of extraterrestrial life will likely be a prolonged process,” Billings told Business Insider. “Claims of evidence of extraterrestrial life will be subjected to peer review, and other scientists will continue to look for further evidence.”

One example of this prolonged process took place in the mid-90’s when a team of scientists announced that they found convincing evidence for extraterrestrial life inside of a Martian meteorite – a rock that formed on Mars, were ejected into space after a powerful impact by an asteroid or comet, and eventually landed on Earth. To date, scientists have identified 132 Martian meteorites.

MartianMeteorCourtesy of Heritage Auctions

In 1996, the NASA-led team published a paper in the prestigious journal Science that they’d identified grooves and organic compounds in the ‘ALH8400’ Martian meteorite, discovered in Antarctica, that could be fossilised evidence for extraterrestrial nanobacteria.

“The astrobiology community spent months into years investigating those claims,” Billings said. “Eventually a consensus emerged in the science community that the original claim of fossil evidence of martian life did not stand up to scrutiny.”

If astrobiologists do eventually discover that life came from Mars, NASA will be ready for what happens next.

NASA explores the repercussions

In 2011, NASA and the Library of Congress established the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Astrobiology Program, which explores the philosophical, religious, ethical, legal, and cultural impact related to the possible discovery of extraterrestrial life.

The current chair of the program, Nathani Comfort, who is also a scientific historian and professor at the Institute of the History of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University, shared his thoughts with Business Insider about what the notion that we all have a little Martian in us might mean:

“It wouldn’t alter the views of those who hold literal interpretations of Scripture. And the rest of evolution would follow as before,” Comfort said. “The tabloids would have a field day of course. But once the headlines faded and the conferences ended, I think life would continue on much as before.”

As for the people who dedicate their lives to the scientific process, Comfort said: “Academics would debate questions of human identity afresh … in short, it might throw an existential monkey wrench into the works, but the principles of moral behaviour would remain the same.”

The probability of panspermia

The idea that life came from Mars is a highly-debated topic. Both Comfort and Billings agree that the possibility is unlikely. “It seems to me extremely unlikely that life on Earth came from Mars (or anywhere else),” Comfort said. “The logic and data I find most persuasive dismisses the idea of life coming from a ‘seed’ at all, whether terrestrial or not.”

Yet, other scientists, like Steven Benner – who’s a chemist and one of the world’s leading experts on the origins of life – argue otherwise. In 2013, Benner said during a talk at the Goldschmidt conference for geochemists that Mars might have been a better place for life to begin than Earth. That’s because ancient Martian meteorites contain more boron and molybdenum – important precursors to the formation of RNA – than early Earth.

Moreover, Christopher Adcock and Elizabeth Hausrath, both researchers at the University of Nevada in 2013, discovered that phosphates – another important chemical in the formation of RNA, DNA, and essential proteins – in Martian meteorites are more water-soluble than those on early Earth. And since life is suspected to have begun in the presence of water, their research suggests that Mars could have formed life more readily than Earth.

However, studying Martian meteorites for signs of life has been ongoing for over two decades without success. Perhaps the only way to know for sure if we are the true aliens is to head to Mars ourselves and dig up the potential proof.

Why We Can’t Send Humans to Mars Yet (And How We’ll Fix That).


While humans have dreamed about going to Mars practically since it was discovered, an actual mission in the foreseeable future is finally starting to feel like a real possibility.

But how real is it?

NASA says it’s serious about one day doing a manned mission while private companies are jockeying to present ever-more audacious plans to get there. And equally important, public enthusiasm for the Red Planet is riding high after the Curiosity rover’s spectacular landing and photo-rich mission.

Earlier this month, scientists, NASA officials, private space company representatives and other members of the spaceflight community gathered in Washington D.C. for three days to discuss all the challenges at the Humans to Mars (H2M) conference, hosted by the spaceflight advocacy group Explore Mars, which has called for a mission that would send astronauts in the 2030s.

But the Martian dust devil is in the details, and there is still one big problem: We currently lack the technology to get people to Mars and back. An interplanetary mission of that scale would likely be one of the most expensive and difficult engineering challenges of the 21st century.

“Mars is pretty far away,” NASA’s director of the International Space Station, Sam Scimemi said during the H2M conference. “It’s six orders of magnitude further than the space station. We would need to develop new ways to live away from the Earth and that’s never been done before. Ever.”

There are some pretty serious gaps in our abilities, including the fact that we can’t properly store the necessary fuel long enough for a Mars trip, we don’t yet have a vehicle capable of landing people on the Martian surface, and we aren’t entirely sure what it will take to keep them alive once there. A large part of the H2M summit involved panelists discussing the various obstacles to a manned Mars mission.

“I’ve said repeatedly I’ll know when we’re serious about sending humans to the Mars surface when they start making significant technology investments in particular areas,” engineer Bobby Braun, former NASA chief technologist, told Wired.

The good news is that there’s nothing technologically impossible about a manned Mars mission. It’s just a matter of deciding it’s a priority and putting the time and money into developing the necessary tools. Right now NASA, other space agencies, and private companies are working to bring Mars in reach.

Here, Wired presents the most challenging obstacles we’ll have to overcome to get to Mars and how to fix them.