Science | July 14, 2017 11:13 am

NASA Says It Can’t Afford to Put Humans on Mars

Private companies now control the fate of Mars colonization.

NASA Can't Afford Mars Mission
The Orion spacecraft, launched by the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, was part of NASA's plan for a manned Mars mission. (NASA)

Mars was always a reach, but it has turned out to be more of a fiscal moonshot than some expected.

NASA announced Wednesday that it wouldn’t be able to send humans to the surface of Mars because of budgetary constraints. Originally aiming to launch in the next decade, that timeline now seems uncertain.

William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s chief of space exploration, said the agency doesn’t have enough money to propel a spacecraft to Mars, let alone land on the surface and return, Newsweek reports. “At the budget levels we’ve described—it’s roughly a 2 percent increase—we don’t have the surface systems available for Mars. That entry, descent, and landing is a huge challenge for us for Mars,” Gerstenmaier said.

According to Newsweek, NASA has been allocated $19.5 billion for 2017. The SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, developed for the Mars mission, cost more than anticipated. As result, NASA hasn’t started designing vehicles capable of landing or traveling on the surface of Mars because it just doesn’t have the money.

The best prospects for a manned mission to the red planet lie in private companies. SpaceX, Boeing, and Blue Origin all have plans to visit Mars in the new decade or two.