New moon mission will not distract from effort to reach Mars، Nasa boss says
Thursday 10/May/2018 - 10:07 AM
The US effort to return to the moon will not undermine its mission to be the first country to put a human on Mars، the new head of Nasa insisted on Wednesday، according to "The Guardian" newspaper.
In December، Donald Trump signed a policy directive instructing Nasa to send astronauts back to the moon، half a century after Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot there. Last week، Nasa issued a draft request for a proposal encouraging the US commercial space industry to help it deliver payloads to the moon.
But in one of his first major speeches as Nasa administrator، Jim Bridenstine sought to reassure Mars enthusiasts that the red planet is still on the agenda.
“If some of you are concerned that our focus in the coming years is the moon، don’t be،” he told the annual Humans to Mars summit in Washington. “The president’s vision has emphasised that our exploration campaign will establish American leadership in the human exploration of Mars. We are doing both the moon and Mars in tandem and the missions are supportive of each other.” Bridenstine added: “In fact، our return to the surface of the moon will allow us to prove and advance technologies that will feed forward to Mars: precision landing systems، methane engines، orbital habitation، surface habitation، surface mobility، long duration life support operations and much more that will enable us to land the first Americans on the red planet.”
Short-term plans include the Mars 2020 rover، a car-sized vehicle that will look for signs of habitable conditions on Mars. Planned for launch in July or August 2020، the rover can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils and set them aside with a view to a future mission potentially returning them to earth. The three-day summit، where the year 2033 features prominently as a target date for a manned mission to Earth’s neighbour، boasts virtual reality demonstrations and 111 speakers including Vera Mulyani، who has been dubbed a “Marschitect”. Her company، Mars City Design، explores ideas of sustainable urban planning on the planet including homes where residents can “live and love”. Its website displays proposals for an “extreme greenhouse habitat”، “terraforming of Mars” and self-cleaning Martian clothes – made from a fabric of pulverised starch polymer with “a bacteria colony” that can absorb sweat.
Despite growing geopolitical rivalry with China and Russia، the US does not face an urgent space race as it once did with the Soviet Union. Even so، some politicians stress the importance of the US reaching Mars first. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas، chairman of the space subcommittee of the Senate commerce committee، told the summit: “The first foot that sets foot on Mars will be an American foot، and an American explorer. That’s leadership that I think this country needs and values. Restoring America’s leadership in space I think is incredibly important.”
The nomination of Bridenstine، a Republican congressman from Oklahoma، was controversial among Democrats، but Cruz suggested that space was one of the few areas where the parties still worked together.
Noting the bipartisan passage of legislation in 2015 and 2017، Cruz added: “This is a partisan، polarised time in Washington. That is lost on nobody. D’s and R’s، it seems، fight like cats and dogs over just about everything. But here’s a bit of good news. One of the very few exceptions concerns space... Every Democrat and every Republican on the same page saying man will go to Mars.”
Cruz also reflected on his state’s deep involvement in space programmes. “As a Texan I take particular joy that the first word spoken on the moon was ‘Houston’. You win a lot of trivial contests with that. ‘Houston، the Eagle has landed.’ As a Houstonian، that makes me very happy.”
(Similar claims have been made in the past by Texas politicians and found to be false by the Politifact website، which noted that the first words spoken after the lunar module touched down were “contact light”، “shutdown” and other language from a technical checklist.)