NASA’s Office of Inspector General has released its final report on human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and it’s not great news for the Journey to Mars mission.
According to the report, which is the culmination of nine months of audits, the first two missions of the Orion deep-space capsule will probably be delayed. The Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), currently scheduled for November 2018, will see the capsule, with no crew on board, remotely flown around the moon and back to Earth.
The second exploration mission (EM-2), currently slotted for the early 2020s, will see a crew perform a flyby of a captured asteroid in lunar orbit. Both missions are critical steps in testing the technology for the Mars mission that's expected to be launched during the 2030s.
“NASA’s initial exploration missions on its Journey to Mars – EM-1 and EM-2 – face multiple cost and technical challenges that likely will affect their planned launch dates,” the report stated.
The report is not overly critical of the mission, it simply highlights the complexity of what NASA is trying to achieve. Two decades might seem like a long time for us, but it might not be enough to deliver the required technologies for interplanetary exploration.
“If the Agency is to reach its goal of sending humans to the vicinity of Mars in the 2030s, significant development work on key systems such as a deep space habitat, in-space transportation, and Mars landing and ascent vehicles must be undertaken in the 2020s, and the Agency will need to make these and many other decisions in the next 5 years or so for that to happen,” the report continued.
And as always, the schedule and tech are dependent on the budget. Going to Mars is not going to be cheap and the report recommends a more detailed plan for it. The report highlights the cost saving strategies already undertaken by the agency and what else can be done to make this momentous enterprise more affordable.
The agency is already collaborating with private industries and the report suggests drafting a strategy for working with international space agencies as a way to reduce costs and to make Mars a little bit closer.
A draft of the report was submitted to NASA management, which mostly agreed with the conclusions and corrective actions to undertake. And while the exploration mission might be delayed, hopefully this will deliver a better, safer, and cheaper interplanetary mission.