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NASA’s Mars Journey Faces Uncertainties with 2016 Elections

Aug 25, 2016 04:37 AM EDT
Space Shuttle Endeavour's Mission To The International Space Station
The outcome of the 2016 presidential elections could make or break NASA, as the agency’s entire spaceflight program is at the mercy of the incoming president.
(Photo : NASA via Getty Images)

The 2016 elections could mean two things for NASA: Will the new president alter the course of the agency or will he/she pursue the same path?

While NASA faces uncertainties with the transition, it is likely that the agency will be seeing major changes very soon.

During the Obama administration, NASA has seen the demise of the Space Shuttle program. But it bounced back with a new goal: to send humans to Mars by 2030. While the "Journey to Mars" program was received with much excitement, Congress thought the project was lacking in terms of a defined plan and achievable milestones.

In a report by The Verge last May, Congress had repeatedly questioned the feasibility of NASA's plan to get to Mars. Representatives expressed their concerns in terms of finances and some even implied that the agency should redirect their efforts instead towards protecting the Earth from the threat of asteroid impact.

An audit review from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also fueled the doubts over NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion capsule, saying that the vehicle will exceed the intended budget.

But what are the candidates' views about the space agency in general?

Donald Trump had once stated that he is hoping to see more joint projects between NASA and private space companies such as SpaceX.

"I love NASA... Space is terrific... Right now, we have bigger problems - you understand that? We've got to fix our potholes," he said at a campaign event last year.

Hillary Clinton shared her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut during an interview last year. She stressed the importance of tracking asteroids to protect humanity.

Other than these statements, the presidential candidates had given little insight about their plans for NASA and space policy in general.

"What I do know is both of them are going to confront the same reality if they're elected," Jim Muncy, founder of space policy consulting agency PoliSpace, said in an interview with The Verge.

"And the same reality is that the program of record doesn't fit inside any reasonably projected long-term budget."

While Senate and Congress gave a rather lukewarm attention to NASA's Mars program, many of them seem to be in favor of returning to the Moon instead. A lunar mission, however, had been impossible during the Obama administration, as the president once said during a speech that the U.S. had already "been there before."

The transition could mean anything, from a possible part two of a lunar mission or the much-anticipated Mars journey. NASA will continue making its "Journey to Mars" a reality until November, when a new president assumes office.

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