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Colonisation of Mars not possible by 2030s, admits Nasa

The chief of Nasa’s programme on human exploration of space said that with its current budget, the agency cannot afford the cost of propelling a manned spacecraft to Mars.

world Updated: Jul 15, 2017 22:17 IST
Kartikeya Ramanathan
Photo released by Isro on June 19, 2017,  taken by the Mars Colour Camera (MCC) onboard India’s Mars Orbiter Spacecraft.
Photo released by Isro on June 19, 2017, taken by the Mars Colour Camera (MCC) onboard India’s Mars Orbiter Spacecraft. (PTI)

The colonisation of Mars has long been a dream, and Nasa has openly spoken of its desire to send humans to the red planet by the 2030s.

However, these celestial plans have had a very earthly spanner thrown in its works — money.

The chief of Nasa’s programme on human exploration of space, William Gerstenmaier, was quoted by Newsweek as saying that with its current budget, the agency cannot afford the cost of propelling a manned spacecraft to Mars.

“Through this horizon, through the 2030s, I can’t put a date on humans on Mars,” Gerstenmaier said on Wednesday.

Nasa has made the project a “high priority” of its exploration programme and is already studying potential exploration zones which would provide resources that potential inhabitants could use.

The Curiosity rover on the red planet. (Twitter)

The agency has landed several unmanned exploratory vehicles on Mars, with the most recent one — the Curiosity rover, which landed in August 2012 —costing an estimated $2.5 billion. According to Gerstenmaier, a manned mission to Mars would weigh 20 times what the rover weighed, meaning a 20-fold increase in costs.

The US has allocated Nasa a $19.5 billion budget for the 2017 fiscal, but Gerstenmaier said, “At the budget levels we’ve described—it’s roughly a 2% increase—we don’t have the surface systems available for Mars. That entry, descent and landing is a huge challenge for us for Mars.”

However, Nasa has not produced a specific figure of the cost of a manned mission to Mars, with figures varying from $100 billion over a period of 30 years to as high as $1 trillion over 25 years.

Private organisations working on their own missions to Mars have been more conservative with estimates — Mars One, a Dutch-Swiss organisation, aims to send four people to Mars at a cost of $6 billion, while SpaceX founder Elon Musk put the cost at $10 billion per person in 2016.

Photo released by Nasa on December 9, 2013 by the Curiosity rover shows a series of sedimentary deposits in the Glenelg area of Gale Crater on the red planet. (AFP)