Mars by 2030? Nope. Moon by 2020? Unlikely.

Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI
A full-size mockup of NASA's Orion crew exploration vehicle, targeted to begin carrying humans to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015, is displayed on the National Mall in Washington on March 30, 2009. The Orion will ride the Ares I rocket into space and is part of the Constellation Program which is intended to carry humans to the moon, mars, ISS and beyond. The Washington Monument is seen in the distance.

Sending people to Mars and the Moon is too daunting a task to consider accomplishing within the next few decades, says a panel gathered by President Obama to help chart the future of American space missions. The costs and technical challenges are simply too great, the panel agreed during its six-hour public meeting Wednesday.

NASA doesn't currently have the budget to return humans to the Moon, it warned. And the 10-member panel completely crossed off human flights to Mars from its list of near-term recommendations.

"We think Mars Direct [as the journey to the red planet is called] is a mission that we're really not prepared to take on technically or financially, and it would likely not succeed," committee chairman Norman Augustine, a former Lockheed Martin CEO, told after the meeting. "I really want to emphasize that we're not giving up on Mars at all."

Mars remains as NASA's long-term goal, but the agency must cover a lot of ground to reach this dream, he said.

This is the same panel whose members previously argued that NASA spends too much money ferrying astronauts to and from space, and that it’s time for the agency to hand off shuttle trips to private firms.

Human space missions currently burn through half of NASA’s annual budget – some $18 billion. Better to outsource such work to companies and allow NASA to focus on grander goals, such as reaching deeper into outer space, said one of the panel’s members.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.