JPL director: Visiting Mars a ‘question of national will’
August 31st, 2012
04:15 PM ET

JPL director: Visiting Mars a ‘question of national will’

August has been a busy month for Charles Elachi, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The rover Curiosity successfully landed on Mars on August 6, flawlessly executing the improbable acrobatics of touching down on the Red Planet intact. President Obama congratulated Elachi and colleagues on the achievement and complimented them on the coolness of “Mohawk Guy” on August 13. Curiosity also completed its test drive and passed many initial inspections.

This week, Elachi visited Atlanta’s Georgia Institute of Technology, where he signed an agreement with the school that will involve exchanging faculty, inviting students to JPL, and other collaborations.

Elachi sat down with CNN's Elizabeth Landau and Sophia Dengo for a chat about the future of space exploration. Here’s an edited transcript:

CNN: Curiosity’s on Mars now. What’s next?

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Charles Elachi: Clearly Curiosity showed the excitement of the public about doing these kind of things.

That’s one step in a long-term Mars exploration and planetary exploration program, which first would lead to bringing samples back. In a sense we are building the capability step by step.

If you go back 15 years, the first time we landed a rover on Mars it was called Sojourner. And it was about (the size of) a shoe box. So, just in this period, we moved from a shoebox to building a car-sized, one-ton rover landing on Mars, and being effectively a chemistry lab on wheels.

And the objective is to do detailed analyses of rocks on Mars to see if there are any organic materials, the ultimate thing we want to see is: Was Mars ever habitable? Did life evolve on Mars? Why it did or why it did not, and how does that compare to Earth?

In a sense you are doing an experiment of comparing those two planets which formed roughly at the same time… but they ended up going in different ways, and the question is: Why did that happen?

CNN: If Curiosity found life, what would happen?

Elachi: Clearly, that’s not the fundamental objective. We’re doing step by step, looking at the chemistry first. If you recall, (the previous rovers) Spirit and Opportunity’s focus was on geology, which led us to believe – the science community – to conclude that Mars actually had oceans many billions of years ago.

If there were oceans, could life have evolved? Curiosity is looking at the chemistry to see: Did we have the right ingredients?

Now, if we find life, even if we’re not expecting it, even if it’s dead life, that would be a huge kind of event. As of today, we know about life only on this planet. Conceptually we think it exists because of the size of the universe, but we don’t have any proof. That would be the discovery of the century, if we see anything like that.

CNN: Would the public know immediately?

Elachi: Oh sure. Our data is made available almost immediately to everybody. And that’s part of the excitement, is the engagement of the public in what we are doing. So, as you know, on the landing, night of the landing, just on the NASA landing, there were 14 million households watching that landing, even though it was 1:30 in the morning on the East Coast. That’s only on the NASA website. I’m going to guess at least 50 to 60 million people in the U.S. were watching that landing, and the excitement which went with it.

Just the e-mails I got within a few minutes from people even that I don’t know. Almost every e-mail had the word “inspirational” or “uplifting the spirit of what we are doing.” One person said he completely forgot about his debts about the day-to-day problems by watching something really inspirational.

Clearly, there is a lot of public engagement and public interest. The way we do that is to have the public feel like they are part of the exploration, they are with us day in and day out. And we’re doing this on behalf of the general public. That’s why our data, whatever we find out, is made available very quickly.

CNN: What are other targets for finding life?

Elachi: Key targets are the where we know water exists. If you have liquid water, that means the temperature is right – it’s between 0 degrees and 100 degrees centigrade. So the question is: If there are organic materials, could life evolve?

Of the places which have that characteristic, Europa is one of them. We believe there is an ocean below the surface, that there is a layer of ice similar to what you have in the Arctic, but maybe a little bit thicker than it. A key question is: How thick is that ice on the surface and is there life in the ocean below?

We are looking at a mission that probably could go early next decade to actually completely map Europa (a moon of Jupiter). Do a sounding of the ice (analyzing echoes), see how thick it is, and then possibly in the future put a lander which could drill down or melt its way down in the ocean.

Enceladus (a moon of Saturn) is another exciting target because also we believe there are oceans below the surface because we see geysers like at Yellowstone except much bigger. Some people believe Titan (a moon of Saturn) might have an ocean also below the surface.

We think by exploring (these targets), we might be able to put a story about how life evolved in our solar system, and what are the environments that are amenable to life.

Also there is interest in a place like Venus, because Venus is similar to Earth size-wise and in distance to the sun, but it went in a completely different direction. The question is: Why did that happen? Is that because of a runaway greenhouse gas effect which happened which warmed the planet?

I think (exploring these places) would shed light about the past and potentially the future of our own planet. There is a direct connection to our day-to-day life here.

CNN: Do you think a person will visit Mars in your lifetime?

Elachi: I don’t know in my lifetime, maybe in your lifetime, you look younger than me. Yeah, I would say there is possibility in the next 20 or 30 years. There is a possibility of doing it. I think engineering-wise, we know how to do it to some level. We still need a lot of development and a few inventions to do that.

So at the end it would become a question of national will if we want to keep our exploration, expand our vision and expand our exploration in the next 20 to 30 years.

CNN: Tell us about InSight, which is launching in 2016

Elachi: The purpose of the InSight mission is to put a fixed lander, not a rover, which have a very sensitive seismometer. So the idea is to detect quakes on Mars. The reason that’s interesting is not only the quakes themselves, but the quakes because they propagate through the side of the planet, it will allow us to get a picture of the internal structure: the core, crust, and be able to compare it to Earth. Most of our information about the Earth’s internal structure comes from earthquakes, by seeing how earthquakes propagate and so on.

It will be sitting there for two years actually listening (for seismic waves). An internal probe (a drill) will go down five feet and will measure the heat flow, heat coming from the inside of Mars (to the surface).

CNN: Do you think there is life elsewhere?

Elachi: There is no reason why not. You have literally billions of stars, probably billions of planets, there’s going to be a fair number of them which have similar environments and the laws of chemistry and physics and biology are the same.

It would be amazing if we don’t find it, but as scientists we have to prove it, but we have to actually observe it to prove it. And then it would be interesting to see: did it evolve like our life?

CNN: Are you afraid that the United States is going to lose its place in the space race?

Elachi: It’s always a challenge. I say, it’s extremely hard to be No. 1 and to stay No. 1, because then you have to keep running faster than anybody else. It’s easy to be No. 3 and No. 2. But if you are No. 1, you have to really make a strong investment in education, in technology, in being bold in your vision, to stay at No. 1. So, I sure hope that the leadership of our country and the general population see the values that science and technology have brought to our lives.

That’s what made us economically so powerful, because we are by far the best technologically, and space exploration was a trigger in making that happen.

I remember when we did the Apollo landing, that’s what triggered a lot of people to be inspired. So hopefully the mission like this Mars mission or future planetary exploration and astrophysics will inspire young people about wanting to do these kinds of daring things.

Filed under: In Space • Mars • Voices
soundoff (207 Responses)
  1. CP726

    Folks, here's the real lesson here: Don't screw up Earth – There's nowhere else to go.

    September 3, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  2. Langkard

    The cost of getting to Mars and back was reduced significantly by the discovery of perchlorates in the Martian soil by the Phoenix polar mission. That means much of the necessary ingredients necessary for solid rocket fuel (a mix of aluminum powder and ammonium perchlorate) are already there, in abundance. Not having to take a significant portion of their return fuel with them on a manned mission, means smaller payloads or more payload space for other things.

    Send a robotic factory to separate the perchlorates from the rest of the soil. Send the other ingredients needed for the fuel, ammonia and aluminum, with the factory and make the fuel entirely robotically. The return to Earth fuel will be ready and waiting. Additionally, factories could be sent to distill water from the polar ice, distill oxygen from the perchlorates and more.

    Skip the Moon. We don't need to go there. It's an unnecessary step. Mars First! Then the asteroids and the vast wealth of minerals to be found there.

    September 2, 2012 at 5:04 am |
  3. JCal

    Putting a man on Mars is what mankind (should) be/is all about. It was a tremendous achievement walking on the moon – 40 years ago. It's too bad we have done nothing of major substance since. These kind of things made Americans and mankind unique. Now Obama wants to save the money for more and more welfare. Sorry, but the man has no soul!

    September 2, 2012 at 4:56 am |
    • SixDegrees

      "Nothing of major substance"? Seriously? Let's see – we've explored all of the planets except for Pluto at least once, some of them many times, including landings on Mars, a distant moon and a comet. We'll be able to check Pluto off the list in 2015, when the New Horizons probe arrives there for the first close-up look at that system. We've deployed the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the IRAS Infrared Observatory and other telescopes that have provide utterly unprecedented views of the universe both near and very, very far. Most recently, we landed a rover the size of a couple of Humvees on Mars, using a rocket-powered, hovering aerial crane to lower it to the surface completely under the machine's autonomous control, with no human intervention whatsoever to begin a mission planned to last two full years, that will in all likelihood stretch nearer to a full decade. And those are just the highlights. I'd call any one of those "major substance". Taken together, it's an astonishing record of achievement.

      September 2, 2012 at 5:18 am |
  4. Bubba Rydel

    My government spends my tax dollars on these space programs and then blacks out "sensitive" information from me – for my own welfare. I would prefer that the government spend this money to study the origin of the Mayan pyramids. Locate and determine who created Atlantis. Prove or disprove the Nephilm – the ancient giants that once roamed Earth. Investigate the pyramids of Alaska. These pyramids are said to be twice as large as the ones in Egypt. Study why the Basque people of Europe have been isolated and mistreated for centuries. They are the oldest race of people in Europe. They have their own language, customs, foods, music and religions. The claim to have their origins from the stars. There are tons of mysteries right here on earth.

    September 2, 2012 at 4:47 am |
  5. kaneda

    That's why they said 20 years..

    September 2, 2012 at 3:33 am |
  6. rocinante

    Money better spent doing real science, not just sending some bodies to Mars for the sake of sending bodies to Mars.

    September 2, 2012 at 2:49 am |
  7. dewymaster

    I see a lot of posts about how this is impossible for various reasons. Check out this video, it chronicles a man who has come up with a plan that he's been pitching to nasa for years to send man to mars, and it addresses most of the issues people are bickering about here. Its a pretty good show and poses interesting solutions to cost, feasability, etc if nothing more...

    September 2, 2012 at 1:59 am |
  8. Burt Way

    An interesting, cogent question: If no one is going to go there, why do we need robots to create increasingly detailed maps, analysis of minerals, perform measuremetns of environemntal conditions, etc? We have already done this many times before.

    September 2, 2012 at 1:22 am |
  9. RJ

    We are on mars. With robots. People complained about the several billion it cost to send the latest rover... add a couple of zeroes trying to send a human. Other than planting a flag and doing the next iteration of the 'one small step' speech... what is there to be gained? What a potential waste of money.

    September 2, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • rocinante

      Besides what would be the point? If we solve the technical problems required to live in space for the 3+ year round trip, we could just start building a very large space colony without bothering to go to a particular planet.

      September 2, 2012 at 3:02 am |
    • Craig

      While there's no guarantee, it's more likely than not that the technology developed to make such a trip would have significant implications for life here on Earth. The "space program" has already resulted in tremendous advances in everything from electronics (and not just handy gadgets) to medicine to agriculture and weather forecasting. Many of the things we take for granted wouldn't exist if it weren't for the spin-off effects of NASA's development programs. It's impossible to predict what engineering such a trip would create for the rest of us.

      September 2, 2012 at 3:57 am |
      • Valerie

        Amen! If the general public was aware of the many advances in medicine, cell phone technology, gps, and a host of other things they now take for granted that came out of space R&D, they would be clamoring for congress to triple NASA's budget. Sending humans to Mars would be great, but the real value may be in the process of getting there.

        September 21, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • David F Pawlowski

      Preach it. Mars is a dead world on arrival with at the most primitive anerobic life forms underground. Going to Mars is another example of oligarchs and big science cashing in. It is nothing more than a rehash of the propaganda contest between the Soviets and US in the moon race. Getting to Mars will cost another fortune for a nation already bankrupt and living on running the mint printing presses (QE3 coming up). Start worrying about the doubling of the human population on earth in the next 50 years and Betelgeuse going supernova. 'Nuf said.

      September 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  10. Chicken Paradox

    Mars may very well be the Garden of Eden, and this would explain so much concerning the actual ark. Picture the planet Mars being mostly water. And that water being transferred to this Earth. And Noah and his people, traveled here in a space Ark. Now picture me doing your wife while ya at work. What does this has to do with one another? Exactly my point! Live long and party.

    September 2, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  11. Garden_Salsa

    Instead of putting a man on mars, lets put mankind back on earth...

    September 1, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • Burt Way

      First I would have to leave. ???

      September 2, 2012 at 1:18 am |
  12. Reality101

    Manned exploration of our solar system is wasteful and inefficient. Sure, there has been technology that has benefited mankind as a result of manned space flight, but if we are talking strictly about scientific knowledge as it relates to space, robotic missions are safer, cheaper, and provide a quick and efficient way of gathering that knowledge. As computer AI improves, the benefits just stated will increase as robotic explorers send us back great volumes of information regarding our solar system. Manned missions are nothing more than a macho, nationalistic ego booster and a huge waste of time and money.

    September 1, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • duy

      you don't think that if our species is to survive, we will need to figure out how to survive outside the earth? it has to start sometime. that may be a long long long way off, but it has to start somewhere, at some time.

      September 2, 2012 at 3:05 am |
  13. Jerry

    I'm 47. I'll go on a one-way trip to Mars, even solo if necessary.

    September 1, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • rocinante

      We can send you to Mars, but not with enough food, water, and air to make it there alive. Good luck.

      September 2, 2012 at 3:04 am |
  14. nowya

    "But if you are No. 1, you have to really make a strong investment in education, in technology" So as long as there is the GOP than NO

    September 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  15. Mark

    I thought Val Kilmer already went in 2000?

    September 1, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
  16. Kmac499

    NOT ON A REPUBLICAN BALANCED BUDGET. No more safe private retirement funds, no more NASA, no more economy. Government and everyone else will go broke but the very rich and we all will be slaves to the corps. Same policy as Mellon/Harding/Collidge- people will live in Romneyvilles not Hoovervilles

    September 1, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  17. blog mediator

    Why don't we fo to the moon first?

    September 1, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Moon Fan

      Ah....been there. Done that already....

      September 1, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  18. packerfans

    why not as soon at mars!!! bulding Mother Ship technical reactor speed tp Mars few hours!! What is wrong our enginner mind rocket! cost billions dollar waste!!

    September 1, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  19. packerfans

    20 to 30 year wait????? Why not as soon!! Need Reactor speed get mars in hours. Today Technical advance can be reactor speeds the ship mother simple!!

    September 1, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  20. FactChecker

    If the past is any indication (we want to learn from experience, right) many people would die in any manned Mars effort, just like Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia, and several training jet crashes. And, just like those, each would cause a required delay, redesign and redirection of the program. The manned Mars program would never survive. Robots would get the job done first. We even prefer remotely piloted drones now in a lot of war missions. Does anyone really think a Mars flight would be safer?

    September 1, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Bob Knippel

      Maybe for you just sitting in your recliner and letting machines do the dirty work is good enough, but for a lot of people, me included, living life isn't simply about being safe. Sometimes, climbing the mountain just because it is there is reason enough.

      September 1, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
      • StarChaser

        Sorry, but not on my tax-paying nickel. Robotic missions are safer, cheaper, and provide a quick and efficient way of gathering scientific knowledge. As computer AI improves, the benefits just stated will increase as robotic explorers send us back great volumes of information regarding our solar system. Manned missions are nothing more than a macho, nationalistic ego booster and a huge waste of time and money.

        September 1, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  21. w l jones

    Mars and Earth have the same make up why not some form of life still in it soil. Other planet look similar to our except large ocean but the people on them look the same as we do here on Earth From what I know they use small canoe ware similar clothe such as long and short pants.

    September 1, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  22. Brett

    if history has taught us one clear lesson, it is that when great nations cease being explorers, they cease being great nations.

    September 1, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • rocinante

      There remains plenty of real science to be explored and mastered. Sending chunks of meat to a planet is not good science.

      September 2, 2012 at 3:07 am |
  23. Jack

    Europe tried with the Soviet Manned moon project, but they could not get their 30 engine N1 booster to work. And actually once again you're blaming Obama for killing NASA when it was actually under Bush that the Space Shuttle program was to end in 2010. They are simply pushing for more privatization of Space flight. Ie Virgin Galactic, Space X etc....

    September 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  24. RS

    I am betting on Elon Musk for will.

    The progressives have done a pretty good job in eliminating national will to anything.

    September 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • FactChecker

      What Musk and SpaceX did was impressive for a company (although $1.6B NASA funding helps, don't you think?). But comparing it to what JPL and NASA have done is just ridiculous. It's like comparing a child on a tricycle to Mario Andretti in a Formula One car.

      September 1, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  25. Goodthinker

    How could a manned mission to Mars possbily be worth the costs and risks? What is there to learn about Mars or do on Mars that cannot be accomplished via lower cost, robotic missions? I haven't seen any reasonable case for proceeding with plans at this point.

    September 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • jkflipflop

      If you can't see the obvious benefits of space exploration, then you shouldn't be using that username.

      September 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
      • Jack

        There are obvious benefits to getting things right here on Earth before messing up other regions of the solar system. One of the species on this planet is over-populating at an alarming rate and space exploration has proven that it is going to be very difficult and expensive to migrate that species any place else outside the Earth. So the issues here on Earth have to be solved first. Shows like Star Trek and Star Wars etc.. make space travel look too easy.

        September 1, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
      • FactChecker

        If robots can go where we want to go, see what we want to see, and test what we want to test, that is science. Robots have already operated on Mars for years with no risk to life and little cost. The manned missions are just for bragging, not for science.

        September 1, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
      • StarChaser

        To jkflipflop: You can see a heck of a lot more benefit from robotic missions than from manned missions in terms of knowledge gained about our solar system. Sure, there has been technology that has benefited mankind as an offshoot of manned space flight, but if we are talking strictly about scientific knowledge as it relates to space, robotic missions are safer, cheaper, and provide a quick and efficient way of gathering that knowledge. As computer AI improves, the benefits just stated will increase as robotic explorers send us back great volumes of information regarding our solar system. Manned missions are nothing more than a macho, nationalistic ego booster and a huge waste of time and money.

        September 1, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Duh!

      I don't know about you, but I would love to be the first person to step foot on Mars. And if not me, then I would love to see someone, anyone, actually step foot on the planet. The problem with this country is that everyone has lost their sense of adventure and the hell with cost!

      September 2, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  26. Tom

    This would be trivial to achieve. Just declare Mars a tax free zone, and investment bankers will take care of the rest.

    September 1, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  27. Everyman

    You can blame Congress for that.

    September 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  28. cyg

    I would initially say no because GOP still believes world is flat – but when told of the environmental damage they could do somewhere else, they were crazed with bloodlust, and into space they went...

    September 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  29. Yang Xi Gua

    Europe is broke. I think you meant China.

    September 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  30. Jack

    In the 1960's, there was a Air Force project called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) that was being prepared to launch Astronauts in space to spy on the Soviets and others from Space. That program never got off the ground because it was canceled when cheaper unmanned satellites had been designed that could fulfill the same role. The same thing would happen to any human Mars exploration. By the time a reasonable human mission to Mars is developed, the robotic technologies will have advanced to the point to be able to do the job without the need for humans on the surface. For example, advancements in computer artificial intelligence would allow the robotic machines to explore with the real-time advantages human exploration could offer. Sample return missions would be so much cheaper since only the samples would need to be returned without the extra weight of humans and their necessary supplies like food, water, and oxygen. In addition, the physical and psychological challenges for any human wishing to travel to Mars and back would be enormous.

    Human exploration of Mars might be possible if the bugs in the development of any "Transporter" like device could be worked out so Scotty Jr can beam Astronauts to Mars, let them explore for the day, and have them home in time for supper.

    Curiosity is a perfect example of how Mars is being explored already at a much cheaper cost.

    September 1, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Yang Xi Gua

      AI research has been a most embarrassingly failure over the last 100 years. If you need to get 'er done, you got to send in a person.

      September 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
      • Jack

        Siri has a ways to go before catching up with HAL but sooner or later she will.

        September 1, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
      • FactChecker

        Independent AI is not necessary. JPL controls the Mars robots with periodic updates. The two-way communication loop takes 6 to 41 minutes, depending on the relative positions of Earth and Mars. It would be nice to develop enough smarts on the robot to handle short-term tasks between updates. We would all get incredable, every-day benefits from improved AI technology. We would not all benefit from space travel technology.

        September 1, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • StarChaser

      To Jack: Totally agree. Robotic missions are safer, cheaper, and provide a quick and efficient way of gathering scientific knowledge. As computer AI improves, the benefits just stated will increase as robotic explorers send us back great volumes of information regarding our solar system, not just Mars. Manned missions are nothing more than a macho, nationalistic ego booster and a huge waste of time and money.

      September 1, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  31. eroteme

    Man on Mars in two decades? How about woman?

    September 1, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • peterr

      'Man' is an abbreviation for 'mankind'. Forget about playing with your computer, and go back to school.

      September 1, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • man_on_mars

      You do realize that "man" is not limited to men, right? Ever pick up a biology book?

      September 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Jack

      "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids" – Elton John

      September 1, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  32. C Smythe

    If all you geniuses would reveal your science on how to prevent vision degradation, bone loss and the effects of radiation, NASA needs to know before they condem any man to a one way trip to Mars! It is only in movies they have artificial gravity and effective radiation shielding. Our explorers would be too sick to do anything once they get there. If any of you have solutions contact NASA . . .

    September 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Robocop4000

      says someone who is not educated in physics or biology.

      September 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
      • C Smythe

        I am intrigued. What are your solutions? How do you propose to prevent bone loss? Vision degradation? Radiation sickness? I thought so . . .

        September 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
      • Robocop4000

        Russian cosmonauts have already discovered how to maintain bone loss in space and that was decades ago. Radiation shielding is already adequate enough to reach Mars without dying. The solution is to only send people with excellent cancer resistant genes. It may even be necessary to alter astronauts DNA for this trip.

        September 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • man_on_mars

      You are right. Your reply makes me feel safe- I was wrong for wanting humans to take risks and attempt to evolve.

      September 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  33. Robocop4000

    No it will never happen. The money will always be given to welfare so long as a liberal is in charge. Liberals hate science.

    September 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • C Smythe

      The amount of money spent on welfare is what compared to military spending or the losses of crooked banks? You, sir, are ignorant . . .

      September 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
      • Robocop4000

        You have no idea what the figures are. Don't act like you know what you are talking about.

        September 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
      • Robocop4000

        Also you don't stay on top with a military fighting with broom sticks painted black. Funding needs to be in the military. You need to keep the army equipped and happy. You sir, are ignorant.

        September 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • AU

      Part of the "liberal" program is to make the US debt in balance so that it's not paying billions of dollars in interest to other countries, but rather, investing it in its own programs. The result of the past 30 years has shown that Bill Clinton has been the only president to actually absolve our international debt and build a surplus. The following president took that surplus, built up the military and gave a large amount back to the people to "revitalize" the economy (which was already booming). Instead, as you mentioned previously, that money was invested in what Elachi describes as "if you are No. 1, you have to really make a strong investment in education, in technology, in being bold in your vision, to stay at No. 1."

      I propose giving a Democratic president the chance to use the surplus that s/he strives for rather than assuming that they'll "always give it to welfare". I think you might be surprised to find a huge expansion of the space program and perhaps, a (wo)man on Mars.

      September 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  34. sharky

    Awesome, another planet humans can completely mess up. Rock on.

    September 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  35. C Smythe

    No one is going to Mars any time soon. The debilitating effects of zero gravity (vision and bone loss) and a lack of effective radiation shielding mean the astronauts could be quite ill by the time they get there. Until more powerful and efficient means of locomotion are available it would be fool hardy to even think of going there. Doesn't anyone pay attention to what happens around here?

    September 1, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • man_on_mars

      Locomotion? Troll.

      September 1, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  36. us_1776

    Orion killed itself.

    It was a massive over-bloated pork-barrel project that accomplished very little in relation to the huge costs of the thing.

    It was stupid old technology repackaged in a shiny new box.


    September 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Romney

      Like Bary's economics- old outdated socialism repacked in a shiny new box.

      September 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  37. Darkguardian1314

    I heard this kind of rhetoric in the 70s after the moon landings.

    "By the year 2000, [BLANK]"

    If I want to see it happen than I'll need to either start a program or join up with a society to gain funding to make it happen.
    Waiting for "someone" will only leave to disappointment.
    Unless someone is building an interplanetary manned ship for Mars right now, don't believe them kids.

    September 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  38. us_1776

    I'd settle for landing an intelligent man in politics anywhere on Earth.


    September 1, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  39. clinky

    Elachi: "Clearly, that's not the fundamental objective." Oh come off it! Of course looking for life is the underlying reason why. You wouldn't have half the buzz and funding if that weren't the prime motivation. This guy Elachi straight-up lied on his first three questions.

    September 1, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • truthtoliars

      Maybe his last name is Romney or Ryan.

      September 1, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Doug

      Fortunately we have experts like you on hand to correct NASA JPL Director on all the things he doesn't know about NASA's programs. Tell us more!

      September 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • David

      He is managing expectations. If they say that the whole mission is about finding life and then don't find it the media will label the mission a failure. If they say they are there to study organic chemistry and then they happen to find life then that's a bonus, that's doing better than expected. Elachi thought carefully before speaking, a good idea for all of us.

      September 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
      • johnbarson

        Better chance of finding life on Mars than weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Maybe that's the ticket...Iran is hiding WMD on Mars. There's yer incentive. Or better yet...start a rumor that a new satellite has discovered oil on Mars. Either one of those scenarios and the Republicans with throw billions at the space program.

        September 1, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • StarChaser

      More like NASA is scared of offending the far religious right:
      CNN: Would the public know immediately?
      Elachi: Oh sure. Our data is made available almost immediately to everybody

      Note the word "almost". I would not be a bit surprised that if Curiosity dug up a Martian seashell, that "almost" would become "never". As a hypothetical alien might say, "Earthers, at this time, cannot handle finding out they are not alone. Maybe in a hundred years, if they are not extinct by then."

      September 1, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  40. Harvey

    I am all for a manned mission to Mars; but for right now I would like to see several hundred unmanned probes sent to all corners of the solar system and then shift focus to manned trips. I believe you would get much more immediate science for the buck in the near term and in the long term. The unmanned flights would find the interesting places where we could focus our attention for manned flights.

    September 1, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      I agree. Also, we haven't yet decided whether Mars currently supports its own life or not, and manned exploration would inevitably introduce microbes that could forever muddy that search. My own view is that Mars is sterile, but that's just a hunch; I'd like to see something approaching reasonable proof before we start contaminating the place.

      September 1, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • StarChaser

      To Harvey: Totally agree. Robotic missions are safer, cheaper, and provide a quick and efficient way of gathering scientific knowledge. As computer AI improves, the benefits just stated will increase as robotic explorers send us back great volumes of information regarding our solar system, not just Mars.

      September 1, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  41. one who knows

    I support sending people to Mars as an International endeavor. Sell corporate sponsorship positions to raise capital. A little advertising on the side of the spaceship would really let the rest of the universe know that we are serious about doing business in space.

    September 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • StarChaser

      Not a bad idea; that would at least help provide funds to research manned missions – but keep the main focus (and tax money) on robotic missions. Robotic missions are safer, cheaper, and provide a quick and efficient way of gathering scientific knowledge. As computer AI improves, the benefits just stated will increase as robotic explorers send us back great volumes of information regarding our solar system, not just Mars.

      September 1, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  42. JeffinIL

    The Chinese Space program, doing the jobs Americans don't want to.

    September 1, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • x

      The Chinese are not starting from zero. We give them our technology and findings. They use it and keep it for themselves.

      September 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  43. Pete

    Things are always "20 years away." It's like a contractor on a never-ending money pit telling you they'll be done in two weeks. Two weeks later, "two more weeks!"

    September 1, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  44. Doh

    Instead of selling their thousands of patents for only a couple grand as they have in the past, maybe NASA should try selling them for a couple million. After all, their buyers are all big names in aerospace, agriculture, medical, defense, automotive, and electronics that have gone on to make millions and billions with them.

    September 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  45. davedave2

    let's hope our nation has the WILL not to do somthing stupid like going to Mars

    September 1, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Martin the Martian

      Going to Mars is stupid? You must live a terribly boring, non-consequential life.....good luck with that

      September 1, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
      • C Smythe

        it is stupid if it takes so long the guys are too sick to do anything when they get there . . .

        September 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Josh

      The technology to go to Mars, and keep doing it, is at least 50 to 100 years away.

      We went to the Moon as a "sprint", and the Apollo program quickly died of exhaustion, We need to pace ourselves, more like a "marathon", so that once we go there, we can keep doing such for the long haul.

      September 1, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Reality101

      Gaining knowledge about our solar system is not st upid; however, going about it in a way that is wasteful and inefficient IS stu pid. Manned exploration of our solar system fits the bill for stupi d. Sure, there has been technology that has benefited mankind as an offshoot of manned space flight, but if we are talking strictly about scientific knowledge as it relates to space, robotic missions are safer, cheaper, and provide a quick and efficient way of gathering that knowledge. As computer AI improves, the benefits just stated will increase as robotic explorers send us back great volumes of information regarding our solar system. Manned missions are nothing more than a macho, nationalistic ego booster and a huge waste of time and money.

      September 1, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  46. Keel Hauler

    We should've been there already by now! Too many short-sighted fools in the way of important progress for our race. I guess many don't care since they won't be around to see some of those advances, like inter-stellar spaceflight. Some of us are broad-minded enough to realize that this over-populated planet can't sustain us forever. Even getting ready for such exploration results in the development of new products and technologies that benefit all. A Waste? Not in any way. Space exploration is a necesarry and continuous venture. You could spend every cent of the money used for space exploration on global socio-economic problems and it wouldn't make the slightest difference. I advise those oposed to space exploration to go home, have Mommy wipe your noses, and let the big boys prepare for a future that will inlude famine,disease and death on a scale unlike anything we see today if these population-fueled problems aren't addressed now by seeking alternative locations of habitats and resources.

    September 1, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • C Smythe

      short-sighted fools – Nasa is well aware of the threat of vision degredation, bone loss and radiation, are you? What are YOUR solutions? Nasa needs to know . . .

      September 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • jeff

      Really Keel?!? Why not do something about THE POPULATION GROWTH instead of expending so much energy on finding more real estate and resources to scrounge. Honestly, you don't think this earth is big enough?!?!? I am constantly amazed that so many people, regarding so many subjects, are so caught up in the symptoms that they can't see the cause. Jeese!

      September 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  47. davedave2

    when astronauts come back from a month at the space station they can barely stand. their hearts are damages. 2 or 3 years in zero gravity exposed to full solar radiation would kill astronauts Trip to Mars is suicde, for what? b/c it is there?

    September 1, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • David Also

      I remember reading somewhere that it only takes right around 9 months to get to Mars, depending on where the planets are in comparison to each other in the system. At one point there was a couple of guys who tried to argue that rocket fuel could be easily manufactured on Mars using a conversion of the atmosphere capture method and chemical conversion.

      September 1, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      That's one reason why it will take a couple of decades to embark on such a journey. There are significant problems that need to be solved first, although none appear to be insuperable.

      September 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • RS

      I think this is why virtually every plan for Mars involves spinning the spacecraft on tethers for artificial gravity.

      Next unsolvable issue?

      September 1, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  48. Keel Hauler

    We should've been there already by now! Too many short-sighted idiots in the way of important progress for our race. I guess many don't care since they won't be around to see some of those advances, like inter-stellar spaceflight. Some of us are broad-minded enough to realize that this over-populated planet can't sustain us forever. Even getting ready for such exploration results in the development of new products and technologies that benefit all. A Waste? Not in any way. Space exploration is a necesarry and continuous venture. You could spend every cent of the money used for space exploration on global socio-economic problems and it wouldn't make the slightest difference. I advise those oposed to space exploration to go home, have Mommy wipe your noses, and let the big boys prepare for a future that will inlude famine,disease and death on a scale unlike anything we see today if these population-fueled problems aren't addressed now by seeking alternative locations of habitats and resources.

    September 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  49. Chris R Grau

    I volunteer!

    September 1, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  50. illuminated Genius

    I feel overall somewhat disappointed in my generation. All we have done is build a space station next to the earth and send some robots to Mars. It is a overall shame that humanities stupidity in all these wars and wasted money could have been used for the progress of science and the future of humanity. We don't know what is out there in the stars and the planets, it is the next frontier. Maybe dinosaurs could be alive in some distant star along with Aliens. The best thing our generation could do to honor Neil Armstrong the first human being on the moon is the continue his spirit and missions of exploring the stars and beyond. For humanity to be successful we must build some international space stations in between space, one preferably in the moon so the astronauts can refuel for resources and are able to make contact with NASA incase of emergencies. By building a international space station super high way from here on earth to the moon, from there humans can finally go and explore MARS in a human mission. The last major exploration by human beings outside of the earth was in the 1960's and after that we have not done anything meaningful. It is time to send humans to explore MARS, it is way overdue and it is time for humanity to go pioneer into the unknown and explore other worlds. It would be the ultimate honor to continue Neil Armstrong's legacy along with the other astronauts by making a human mission to MARS. It would be the first time human beings would visit a 2nd planet outside the mother earth.

    September 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  51. Ja-Coffalotte

    Sure hope so, since 99% of life on Earth will be destroyed by the asteroid Aphis in 2029.

    September 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • clint

      It's called "Apophis" and it will pass by Earth in 2029. If it hits a "gravitational keyhole" (highly unlikely) in 2029 then it has less than a 1% chance to hit Earth the next time it swings around in 2036. NASA is on to it. We have plenty of time to study it. Worry about the asteroid(s) that we haven't detected yet.

      September 1, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  52. Seyedibar

    Sending a human to Mars is a colossal waste of money. For a fraction of that cost, we could be sending telepresent robots that we can manipulate and pilot from home. There's no good reason to risk life and limb to make it there and back when a bucket of bolts will do the trick.

    September 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Martin the Martian

      You scared, bro?

      September 1, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  53. jim

    We already have a monkey from mars,that's enough!!!

    September 1, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  54. crappygovernment

    They are incapable of inventing anything since gunpowder. They are using stolen/copycatted NASA crap anyway. They won't be going anywhere either.

    September 1, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  55. paul

    We should send some folks to Mars and have them stay there like pioneers. Instead of spending money on an ERV we should send a few supply shipments before/after we send a few guys there and set up a permanent camp! Surely we can hit the same target landing zone on Mars more than once. Send up a habitat, Food, Air, and other supplies before our team lands. They'd have all they need to survive for months. If the people down at the Antartic can do our astronauts can. And if need be... we could send an ERV unmanned later-on that the team could use to get back. (just like in that flick Mission to Mars:)

    September 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  56. bugmetoo

    Stop government waste and we can go.

    September 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  57. Yang Xi Gua

    People must become cyborgs before a person can be sent to Mars and back.

    September 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  58. glaird

    There is no doubt that this country could muster the intellectual and material resources to put humans on Mars. But, there is a critical fact of science, which most ignorant Americans are not aware, that NASA conveniently never mentions; space beyond a few hundred miles above the Earth is saturated with lethal radiation.
    It was a miracle that the Moon astronauts transited during periods of relative solar quiet. Had a single burp, erupted from the Sun, Buzz Aldrin would have arrived back on Earth as fried bacon. So too, would any living thing that attempted the months long journey, between the two planets. Unless of course, the capsules were lead lined. Then there would be no amount of fuel to push them to their goal, due to weight. (Does anyone ever ask why the space station orbits just 200+ miles above the Earth? Inside the magnetosphere.)
    Next, what NASA conveniently never mentions, in their enthusiastic intellectual honesty, is that Mars, without a meaningful atmosphere and NO magnetic field, unlike Earth, is continually bathed in Solar and cosmic radiation. Life can not and could never exist on that planet. Because all life, including human beings, would soon take on the same characteristics of Buzz Aldrin above, during a typical Solar day; fried bacon.
    Since science is one of those subjects we do not require of our high school graduates, it makes for a gullible electorate. Which in turn allows us to fund pie in the sky psuedo-scientific ventures, to the tune of $Billions.
    Stick with robots and probes.

    September 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • rocketgrrl

      the facts that you state are true enough. you insinuate that nasa is hiding these facts from the public to further its funding efforts, which is totally untrue. anyone who cares to explore nasa's web sites and do a little reading in wikipedia can learn exactly the same things you stated. these problems can be mitigated by the proper use of science as a tool of exploration.

      if one is willing to do a bit more reading, the mars society website has a great deal of information on manned missions to mars requiring only a six month transit time instead of two years.

      the prime problem of manned lunar or martian exploration/exploitation is that of tons in earth orbit. nasa's usual answer to that problem is "more power!", meaning build a bigger rocket. using the ISS as a base from which to assemble moon- and mars-bound spacecraft from loads lofted to earth orbit by currently available boosters is a much better way to go. using this technique, very little new technology would have to be developed to construct and launch very large and well-supplied expeditions to the moon and to mars.

      September 1, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
      • Rick Shultz

        It's refreshing to see some one post who bothers to educate herself. If enough people had done this then this forum would not be chock full of nonsense, but might contain some thoughtful discussion. Instead I have waded through tons of uneducated crap from hydrocephalic gorillas who know nothing about radiation physics or anything else that really matters, but who insist on belching out their uneducated foolishness. Sometimes I think the first amendment was not the best idea our founding fathers ever had. Congratulations to Rocketgrrl on one of the very few literate posts I've seen so far.

        September 1, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • american113

      Ignorant Americans? So let me get this straight 300 million people who live in American and most of them are ignorant to you? Unfortunately when you come across like that it clouds anything intelligent you are trying to say. Stop the hate.

      September 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  59. Yang Xi Gua

    Before we can send a person to Mars and back, a space launch facility must be constructed by remote controlled robots sent onto Mars. In addition, rockets MUCH bigger than SLS need to be developed that can fly between Mars and Earth within days regardless of the distance between these two planets. In other words, we must be wait years between flights between Mars and Earth like we do now.

    September 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  60. Jim S

    I don't think its a question of "National Will", but money. The right approach is to form a "World Space Oganization", and share the costs, rather we go as Americans, or not is not the issue, but for all humankind!

    September 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Zenalien

      or we could just stick with convention and call it Starfleet.

      September 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  61. Yang Xi Gua

    Currently we do not possess the technology to get a person to Mars and back within a week. The journey there takes close to a year, then have to wait a couple of years for Mars and Earth to reach their minimal distance from each other, then it takes close to a year for the journey back, assuming the return vehicle is the same as the launch vehicle. The SLS is Saturn V sized and scheduled for first launch towards the ends of this decade, clearly insufficient even for the TO trip. I believe if humanity work together NOW, we can put a person to Mars and back by the end of this century.

    September 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  62. Spencer

    If we used the money Bush wasted during his presidency we could be on pluto right now if the effort was focused on space rather than oil.....

    September 1, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Ken

      That would be what Clinton wasted BTW.

      September 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  63. M.E.

    How's about we stop fighting stupid, pointless wars and use all the money we save to do something for the good of mankind? Instead of killing each other, we can develop new technology (Imagine if Lockheed Martin, Ratheon etc were all forced to develop aerospace tech because the military tech side stopped making money, the boffins would make some amazing stuff!) and explore new worlds. This is why my husband and I intend to raise our children nerdy, so they can be of use to mankind.

    September 1, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • duckforcover

      Just why should I want to pay for someone to go stand around on Mars, hit a golf ball, drive a dunebuggy and come home. I'm all for scientific progress; don't get me wrong. But there are still 22,000 hungry children dieing every day here on Earth. Priorities people-priorities!

      September 1, 2012 at 11:53 am |
      • rocketgrrl

        using space funding for feeding the hungry won't change the situation for the world's starving in the least. at best, it will improve the bank balances of the warlords who govern the areas hardest hit by starvation. just look at the last 30 years of african aid from america.

        September 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  64. Major Tom

    5 days worth of spending by the Pentagon (= $12 billion) will easily finance a manned mission to Mars. How is that for putting things in perspective?

    Think they'll agree to not pig out for 5 days in the interest of exploration, discovery and advancing America beyond any nation on the planet?

    September 1, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  65. FedUpwithLA

    Why wait this long? Put someone up there now! We can begin with Bill Nye and Obama. They can get married up there.

    September 1, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • mocomment

      Would've been better if we did it 4 years ago if George 'dumber-than-ya' Bush hadn't destroyed the economy.

      September 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  66. rocketgrrl

    if we explored earth the way we're exploring space, we'd still be trying to get automated rowboats from portugal to the east coast of north america in hopes of finding land. science is great as a tool of exploration, but science is a horrible roadmap FOR exploration.

    September 1, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  67. Roto

    Why in hell do we need to send people to Mars. It would be horrendously expensive and pay virtually no dividends. Look what happened on the moon. After I believe it was 6 manned flights and so many hundreds of pounds of rocks brought back there was virtually nothing exciting worth talking about after that first step. Step done; stay home. Send robots. They can do everything that matters, especially since robots are becoming more and more human in actions and even in "thought".

    September 1, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • The Loon

      Unite the world in a common goal, inspire countless generations of American youth to get back into mathematics and science, the next generation of technology being invented just to make the mission a success, the eventual trickle down to the public of that new technology just like during the 60s and 70s...etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc...also a trained pair of human eyes is better than any robotic tool...and how about just for the sense of adventure and the fact that mankind should always be striving to push the boundaries

      September 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • bugmetoo

      There has got to be something good up there somewhere worth looking for. One moon out of
      billions of worlds with nothing proves nothing. we may find dilithium on one of Saturn's moons.

      September 1, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  68. Ben

    It would be great but I highly doubt it will happen that soon, if at all for the US. The next super power that arises out of this global recession will probably get their sooner, and first.

    September 1, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • JoseVHK

      NOBODY is getting there.
      Even China is hitting its wall (as it is slowing down now). On pure trade, no country can rise forever on the backs of bankrupt clients!

      September 1, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  69. hoapres

    What should of happened after the Apollo space program but didn't. NASA is a SPACE TRANSPORTATION AGENCY and the science should have stayed with the NSF. 1. You expanded on an orbital space station such as skylab by building a 2nd and 3rd generation orbital space station with ever increasing number of residents for longer and longer periods of time. You eventually develop an environment such that private industry can use zero gravity labs 2. You build ONE first generation space shuttle as an experimental test vehicle. After a couple of years then you build ONE second generation space shuttle, etc. After about 10 to 20 years of experimentation then you know enough to build a RELIABLE transportation vehicle. In 2012, then you would probably have a working community of a 1,000 or so in space at the point of having an orbital space facility such that you could start looking at the prospect of assembling a space vehicle leaving from earth orbit to the planets.

    September 1, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  70. Mr G

    Sounds exciting, and expensive. Why don't we pay off our national debt first. What we'd save each year in interest, we can have a free trip. It's like a typical american family over spending their monthly income. Just because someone is willing to keep lending us money, we don't have to take it. Thats how this current economic mess started. Mars probably will be around for a while.

    September 1, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • hoapres

      We are never paying the national debt back.

      September 1, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  71. schaz

    Dr. Elachi is correct, it is a matter of political will. A will that we have not had since the 1960s.

    President Kennedy proposed going to the moon, and we went there, even though we had a two changes of administration along the way, including one change of political party in the White House.

    President Bush, (41) proposed going to Mars and when President Carter became president, he immediately canceled work on the proposal.

    President Bush (43) proposed going back to the Moon then to Mars and when President Obama took office, he canceled that program.

    Maybe in 20 or 30 years Elon Musk and SpaceX will go there as a private venture, but I don't see us doing it as a nation. We can't build the needed national consensus, and no president has any interest in allowing a predecessor to get historical credit for starting a project like that.

    September 1, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  72. Roland C. Smith

    I enjoyed the interview & I would wish to live long enough to see the first explorers on Mars. The ultimate goal should be survival and colonialism. Basically, no planet lasts forever and eventually we will be forced to find other places to live. Humanity will eventually die out when Mother Earth can no longer support life. You state that we have millions of years before such a concern? Think again. You cannot be sure that something would suddenly wipe us out. Therefore, staying on our home planet is putting all the eggs in one basket. I should state that NASA is therefore far more important than the skeptic would realize. As a human being, I want my species to survive – as all others would agree if they meditated on it. Therefore, the sooner we create our first habitation on another planet the better.

    September 1, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • JoseVHK

      Agree ... vast majorities of peoples agree.
      Unfortunately we peaked as an industrial and technological, and financial, super power when Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon and Nixon was in the White House (no politics please!), and at the frightening rate we humans are depleting the planet's resources and despoiling its habitat then regardless whether the U.S., China, Europe, or any combination of nations you could muster the window of opportunity for colonizing, let alone landing, on Mars will close and be gone forever.

      September 1, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  73. Alex

    We were supposed to have men on Mars in the 1980s. I've personally given up ever seeing humans on the moon again in my remaining lifetime (I'm in my 40s) never mind Mars. It will happen, I'm certain of it, but fear of death has to be conquered (I have nothing but sympathy for the crews of Columbia and Challenger but NASA shouldn't have crawled into a hole for 2 years each time – exploration requires fatalities; guess how many people died during Columbus' missions and he never turned around.). And it needs to be a worldwide effort, because a single country can't handle it alone and all you need is a Congress deciding it no longer wants to fund the program and everything goes to pot.

    September 1, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  74. JoseVHK

    Man on Mars? ... by ourselves, very doubtfull given how indebted we are.
    Forty years ago our combined private and public debt was roughly $5 Trillion ... now, $55 Trillion.
    We missed our window for an American manned mission to Mars.
    We only have a reasonable chance (and just reasonable at that) with wide colloboration with other countries.

    September 1, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  75. calvin

    WHY would we even think about sending someone to Mars these days ? What a waste of billions of $$$ that could be put to much better use on planet earth. Use it for health care, or something that benefits the American people directly. So, we send a man to Mars. He'll got off the spaceship, say "Oh, what a pretty red planet", and that'll be it.

    September 1, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • 808

      I hear these kind of comments ad nauseam. (even from my own family) Do you seriously think money not, forced to be, spent on science will automatically go to some better cause? No. It will get spent on other issues. If the government really wanted to cure the things you mention, they could. There is no political will to do so.

      September 1, 2012 at 10:52 am |
      • Alex

        Plus the "spend the money here" crowd don't seem capable of understanding the big picture. One way of solving problems like overpopulation, etc. is to get more people off the planet. Yes, at first it'll be 3-4 people at a time, but the ultimate goal is to establish colonies off the planet. Just like the Europeans could not just stay in Europe and so expanded out to the "New World" so too must humans expand to "new worlds" as well – realistically, the moon and Mars. All they need are certain resources to make it possible – liquid water, for example, which has been found on both. One reason Curiosity and other rovers are out there is to find out what resources are potentially available. As noted, it's a matter of political will, not whether we should do it or not. Mark my words, if Curiosity strikes oil, or gold, we'll have men on Mars within 5 years if not sooner. (And yes I know what finding oil would also imply!)

        September 1, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  76. Kay

    "Man" on Mars? They're not going to send any women?

    If so, use more modern language like "People on Mars", or "We'll be on Mars?" ..."Humans on Mars?" .......

    Using "Man" for "Humanity" is already passe. Get with with it writers!!!!

    September 1, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • rickirs

      Peoplity instead of humanity ?

      September 1, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  77. James

    The intelligent and educated work at NASA and similar places. The uneducated or self-educated (same thing) and ignorant comment in forums about the "truths" of the world.

    September 1, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Phillip W

      Ditto to most, but as an educator I can vouch for the fact that ALL education is self-education ... who else do you think does it? What good schools and good teachers provide is, to use the immortal words of Donald Rumsfeld, a taste of the unknown unknowns. Larger point: Clearly then, space exploration is part of the education of the human race as a whole, and willingly to turn our backs on it is a symptom of the profoundest ignorance. Socrates: "The only thing I know is the extent of my ignorance." Simplicissimus: "I don't know and I don't care."

      September 1, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  78. SenseofHumor

    As with the landing on the moon scenario – if you can put one man up there, why can't we put them ALL up there?

    September 1, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  79. john

    Someone at CNN with nothing much to do is blocking selected comments.

    September 1, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Wayne

      This is true. It happened to one of my comments.

      September 1, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Tin Foil Hats, Ltd.

      I like how crappygovernment can post youtubes but I can never post a link of any kind.

      Is it the censor, or am I operator-erroring?

      September 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Rick Shultz

      I tried to reply and my reply to you was blocked. CNN apparently doesn't like people who expose their lies about not pre-screening comments. I doubt this one will post either but I will try anyway.

      September 1, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  80. Truther

    How about fixing the problems on this planet before we consider messing up another one?

    September 1, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Nope

      Not in our nature friends. Humans are animals and animals go where the resources are and where we can most benefit ourselves.

      September 1, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Wayne

      If you want to wait until every problem is fixed before exploring space we will die on this planet just like the dinosaurs. At some point, you have to start looking up.

      September 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  81. Phillip W

    Re the old, boring argument about not exploring space, waste of money, etc., doesn't it all boil down to the age-old quest for perfection, and exactly what it is we seek to perfect? It seems easy and high-minded to prefer feeding the hungry to exploring space. But rather than accept the imperfection of doing both, imperfectly, we must only work to create the perfect world where no one goes hungry, then, and only then, think about exploring space. But as we've seen whenever ideologues take power, for ideologues are those who profess a perfect goal to which all must be subordinated, the result is actually small-mindedness, stagnation, and, at the extremes of ideologies like fascism and communism, atrocity. In an imperfect world where nothing physical is ever perfected, it seems to me at least that the only perfect thing "visible" is knowledge, in all its shapes and flavors. This includes knowledge of self, of course, but also of one's reality. Somehow evolution, God, fate, whatever, has make the human species capable of not only asking but of answering big questions about this reality. We did not become the human race by staying in Africa, and we won't survive by turning our backs on reality. While feeding the hungry, let's remember that perfection is for the after-life, and use our minds and hands to their fullest, including, of course, the exploration of the cosmos.

    September 1, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  82. john

    Like censorship ?

    September 1, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  83. Felix El Gato

    What a waste of resources.

    September 1, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • pozin

      It really is a waste. IF I could see where this country would net income out of such a venture then I would be all for it. But so far all our billions have got us is Tang and Teflon.

      September 1, 2012 at 10:05 am |
      • george1911

        You forgot better computers, networks, phones, communications, new metals, new materials, problem management, science, electronics and more....adventures like this results in more invention, that's why China is doing this too. The problem is if we are going to do it and risk so much we had better go and stay. It must pay for itself with some sort of return that can be used back on Earth.

        September 1, 2012 at 10:19 am |
      • Mike

        What about preserving the human race. At the pace the human race is growing there won't be enough resources to sustain every generation into the next millennium. What if they could actually terraform Mars into a planet that humans could live on?

        September 1, 2012 at 10:26 am |
      • 808

        That's a sad commentary on modern society. "why do anything if it isn't going to make money".

        September 1, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  84. Keyser

    I will settle for intelligent life on this planet if they can find it.

    September 1, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • mocomment

      Woody Allen once wrote: "I believe there is intelligent life in the universe, with the exception of certain parts of New Jersey". I used to live there and can vouch for that.

      September 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  85. Mordac

    We'll see a man on Mars, but he'll be speaking Red Chinese. The USA will still be buying rides on Russian rockets for the foreseeable future.

    September 1, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • Dan, TX

      I don't know what you mean by 'red' Chinese. It is Mandarin. And I support a society and culture that understands and appreciate Science. If it is China, I respect Chinese society. If it is not the US, then the society of the US is inferior to Chinese society. China is deeply flawed with corruption, decentralized government where provinces have more power than the central government promotes that corruption. Nonetheless, the central government does set the agenda and national goals, like space exploration.

      September 1, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  86. Sarah

    It's 2012. Can we not say a "human" on Mars or a "person" on Mars? Ugh. Sally Ride died this summer, all of y'all talking about a "man" on Mars can bite me.

    September 1, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • CT Stewart

      This man agrees with Sarah. The bigger question is why go at all when we dont have the money for basic human services.

      September 1, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • pozin

      Whether you like it or not a woman is of the family of "man". It is already an all inclusive term. Get over yourself.

      September 1, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  87. LILBIT

    That would be so cool to send a human to Mars...hope I'm alive to see that

    September 1, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  88. Russ

    I thought he said, that he "Saw a Man on Mars". I wondered why they sent Curiosity if he was already there!!! LOL

    September 1, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • LILBIT

      Lol I thought the same thing too

      September 1, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  89. buckshot

    Welllll, they ssid man would never be on the moon either or live in space stations or reach other galaxcies. I really don't care if man does go to mars, I won't be one of them.

    September 1, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Phil in Oregon

      Getting to Mars we can do. LEAVING is a whole different story. Mars gravity is way more than the moon, so the return vehicle would have to be huge. With guys like Obama around we will never have that much money to spend.

      September 1, 2012 at 9:21 am |
      • Johnson

        I think you've got the Obama and money spending thing a little backwards. Besides, what does Obama have to do with going to Mars story anyway?

        September 1, 2012 at 9:29 am |
      • Rick Shultz

        Actually Mars' gravity is about 1/3 G which is considerably less than earth. The return vehicle would actually not have to be very big at all to get up to Mars' escape velocity which is a little less than 3mi/sec rather than 7 as it is here. Getting off Mars is actually quite a bit easier than getting off earth. Yes it WOULD have to be considerably larger than was the LM but it's completely do-able.

        September 1, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  90. ryan378

    We need to stop hearing the opinions of those who have everything to gain from pushing an agenda.

    The simple fact is that you can toss all the money in the world at something like plasma drive rocket engines and it wont speed up the process. It is about scientific discovery and advancement. And they already have more than they need.

    In fact the biggest advancements are being made in partnership with NASA – with NASA not having to bear all the financial responsibility. Same with commercial space flight. It simply makes sense in an age where the next big steps into space are not yet feasible.

    Stop crying about politicians who do not understand what you think you do. You don't. And stop listening to people who's job it is to push for more funding.

    September 1, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  91. David Murray

    I hear so many people say that space exploration is a waste of money. The most common line is something about "we should spend that money to feed the starving people here on earth." My response is this. We've BEEN feeding the starving children for decades and what has that gotten us? The answer is it has gotten us a whole new generation of starving children to feed. Feeding those people does not solve the problem no matter how much money you send them.

    So I say spend the money on space exploration, it will make a much more profound difference for mankind.

    September 1, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • Me

      Agree! Space exploration is (hu)man's greatest achievement... we should continue with vigor... after all we will find life or never find it, and either outcome will be profound.

      September 1, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • okiejoe

      Every dime spent "on space" is spent right here on Earth. Nothing is spent on any other planet.

      September 1, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  92. StayinAlive

    If man ever does land on Mars, it will be a woman. Men lose their eye sight in space fairly quickly. For some mysterious reason, women do not.

    September 1, 2012 at 6:15 am |
    • 2olddude

      First, please supply a scientific study that proves you statement. Second, within the next 20 years it would seem that more advanced propulsion systems (plasma), will cut the travel time to weeks instead of months.

      September 1, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • Rick Shultz

      Please educate yourself. This is complete nonsense. NO ONE loses their eyesight in space men OR women.

      September 1, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Moncada

      That's the same as saying that a 50 ton object can crash on a man and kill him but it will not kill a woman. Total nonsense.

      September 1, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  93. Tim Brown

    The saddest part is, our national will has eroded to the point where we dont have the strength to even plan such a mission. Each succeeding president seems to cut more and more funding from the space program. In a few decades I dont even see us exploring space anymore. We're so wrapped up in mundane matters that we've forgotten to dream and reach for the stars collectively as a nation.

    September 1, 2012 at 6:07 am |
    • Quattrone

      Mundane matters yes, but we are in a pretty deep financial hole. Maybe you don't realize our viability as a nation is at stake here. No NASA doesn't cost very much in the grand scheme of things, but on a priority level as far as our attention to issues goes, its like thinking about taking a family trip to Disneyland when the bank has foreclosed on your home after you've lost your job. You can do it probably, but it seems like a waste of resources when you really have to address how you're going to survive.

      September 1, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • tommariner

      Tim is right! We elect Presidents based on how much they give our little group and how much they take away from rival little groups.

      Neil Armstrong's second best line was "One small step ..." - his best was when he yelled at the President for the disaster of turning NASA into a cheap "outreach" toy.

      Yeah, here comes the "as long as there is one child hungry" junk when the space leadership 40 years ago actually caused our economic leadership that provides food for kids. Oh wait, there was Tang.

      September 1, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • Dan, TX

      A little more optimism is in order. We will balance the budget and we will pay off the national debt. But the double punch of running up the debt and deficit during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars while cutting taxes for everyone instead of asking everyone to sacrifice AND a huge real estate bubble that is just hitting bottom now is a big hole to climb out of. PLUS we have more than half of Americans who truly do not respect education, don't value teachers, and don't believe in science as the best way humans have ever invented for knowing things. We are in scary place, where half of Americans don't even believe in evolution! How will we go to Mars? It will take decades to get back to a respect for science and balanced budgets that will be necessary to go to Mars.

      September 1, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  94. Brad76

    Hopefully soon!

    September 1, 2012 at 6:05 am |
  95. Jim ONeill

    I appreciate all that the space program has accomplished but I do not agree with the idea that the United States has to be # 1 in accomplishing these things. During the Cold War, the space race was also a proxy for fighting the Soviet Union and each tried to out do the other. The Cold War is over and perhaps the space race should be over too.

    As Charles Elachi admitted, everything they discover is released to the public as they find it. There is no lag time between discovery and puplic information. So anything discovered is provided, free of charge, to any nation.

    So I ask, why go it alone? Why can't nations, who are interested in space exploration, join together and work it out? Why not split the cost of development and the cost of the missions and then share what is learned with the world? Is it really that important to be first? Can a nation with a $16 trillion national debt really afford to be first?

    I support space exploration but I do not believe that it is necessary for the U.S. to do it alone.

    September 1, 2012 at 5:57 am |
  96. edward

    I think that there was life in mars, something happen millions of years

    September 1, 2012 at 5:27 am |
    • Mop


      I think that there was life in mars, something happen millions of years

      They moved here.

      September 1, 2012 at 10:00 am |
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