By Alok Jha: Science Correspondent
Getting humans onto Mars is key to the survival of the human species, says Nasa administrator Charles Bolden.
“A species like humanity has this insatiable appetite to go farther and faster and learn more and we need to be able to survive off this planet as much as on it,” he told me.
Mars’ formation and evolution are comparable to Earth’s and we know that at one time Mars had conditions suitable for life, Bolden told an audience at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London today.
Nasa has been on the path to Mars for several decades with earlier Mars rovers and orbiters but President Obama made the challenge explicit in 2010 when he said Nasa should send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s.
There is a lot of technology to develop and test before humans can get to (and from) Mars safely. Nasa’s plan is to test its technology on the Moon.
Bolden is under no illusions about the challenge laid down by Obama. “Mars is really, really hard. It's a distant planet. There is a risk from radiation to the crew - not on the way there and back but on the long-term impact on the life of a crew. Technologically we don't have everything we need yet."
Fortunately for us, he wants Britons involved in the grand plan. “Many of the learned astronomers we study came from right here, much of the earlier work in aeronautics was done right here in the UK,” he told me after his lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society.
“You have always been among the leaders when it came to taking things from the unknown and making team known and I think the UK is a perfect partner to venture into the farther reaches of the solar system with.”
The one hiccup he forsees in Nasa’s plans is the availability of a suitably-trained workforce to carry out the generations-long challenge.
His message to children who might one day want to be among the first astronauts on Mars is simple.