While not a noted proponent of long range space exploration (he often stood in its way), President Barack Obama has seen fit to characterise the last days of his US Presidency by strongly advocating a manned mission to orbit Mars to take place by the mid-2030s with a landing to follow thereafter. In a CNN opinion piece, Obama has specifically called for a public-private joint effort to make this mission happen.
“Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way,” said Obama in his piece.
This would presumably involve the likes of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing and Lockheed Martin joining up on a project with NASA providing the public end of the funding and expertise.
Comment by David Todd: Whether this was an attempt to muscle in on some of the excitement which was generated by Elon Musk’s “Kennedy-class” presentation of his Mars plan at the IAC 2016 event in Guadalajara, Mexico, or a genuine attempt to prevent a duplication of effort, is not known. Still, it is the right approach. Take the best of each of the competing plans to get to Mars and join them together.
For example, Elon Musk and his SpaceX team’s plan has surely got it right in proposing a large launch vehicle with a fast turn around to allow quick refuelling flights to avoid boil-off issues. The scale of his 48 first stage engine launch vehicle looks harder to achieve however. The Boeing and Lockheed Martin ideas have a much more realistic scale and timeline. However, they rely on the undersized SLS along with its very low flight rate (surely too low to allow for a Mars flight to be assembled and refuelled in good time?). Meanwhile these plans, which are based on NASA’s own thinking are, to say the least, unadventurous. For example, they remain very vague about when an actual Mars landing will take place. At least Musk commits to making a landing from the off.