Future Tense

NASA May Aim for Manned Mission to Mars by 2033

Orlando Figueroa, head of the Mars Program Planning Group

Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Elon Musk isn’t the only one planning to take humans to Mars in the next 20 years or so.

Yesterday, the head of a NASA study group examining the feasibility of a mission to Mars said that the agency has set a working goal of a 2033 landing. Nature News Blog’s Eric Hand calls it “the first articulation I’ve seen of a specific, shared date for the key goal of both the human and robotic sides.”

Hand reports that the working group’s Orlando Figueroa shared the goal with the new National Academies committee on astrobiology and planetary research. But “Some of the committee members weren’t too thrilled to be wedded to the human program,” he says. The skeptics pointed to cost and technological challenges as reasons to focus on robots instead.

Astronaut and astrophysicist John Grunsfeld, the associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, also specified 2033 for a potential manned trip to Mars in a recent radio interview. He told Science Friday’s Ira Flatow, “2033 is a good year to launch to Mars just because of orbital mechanics.”

A 2033 mission jibes with Obama’s stated desire for humans to land on Mars by the 2030s.  (According to one of the more entertaining conspiracy theories to percolate recently, Obama himself was twice teleported to the red planet in the early 1980s as part of a DARPA project. It’s only natural to encourage others to visit a place you love, right?) But as Flatow and Grunsfeld discussed, that will require the support of multiple presidential administrations.

Earlier this month, Aviation Week reported that NASA may not be able to afford to send another rover to Mars until 2020.

Read more on Nature News Blog.