Republican Congress Are Not Impressed With NASA's First Steps Toward Human Exploration on Mars

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USAToday reported today that Texas Republican Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science Space and Technology Committee, called NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval Mission, “uninspiring… unjustified and “just a time-wasting distraction.”

NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval Mission is a stepping stone to NASA’s plan for human exploration. The organization plans to use the mission to advance technology and spaceflight experience needed for a human mission to Mars in the 2030’s. The purpose of the mission is to collect a boulder from a large multi-ton asteroid near Earth and redirect it into a stable orbit around the moon. NASA will then explore the orbiting asteroid, and return to Earth with samples in the 2020s.

Congressional Republicans believe that NASA should focus on the moon as a stepping stone to Mars exploration rather than the asteroid.

Senior Scientist Paul Spudis from the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston is also critical of NASAs Asteroid Retrieval Mission. He told the House committee, “The (Asteroid Retrieval Mission) offers no unique benefits beyond providing a place for Orion to visit.”

He also criticized the mission’s usefulness, “In terms of scientific and operational importance, it is barren of real accomplishment and irrelevant to future human deep space missions.”

NASA maintains that the mission will be useful by allowing the agency to test their current technology, and improve their space travel technology while providing scientists insight on how to deflect asteroids that may head toward Earth.

NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval Mission will cost an estimated $1.25 billion. Whereas, establishing a lunar base would cost significantly more. Given the Republican house’s recent budget cuts on space exploration, NASA’s decision for the Asteroid Retrieval Mission is most likely calculated to take into account future budget cuts that may come with a change in presidential administration as Obama leaves office in 2016.