Why NASA received stern warning over Mars mission from scientist Bill Nye: ‘Focus!’

On October 8, 2015, NASA published its strategy for human exploration and colonisation of Mars. The concept operates through three distinct phases leading up to fully sustained civilisation on the Red Planet. The first stage, already underway, is the “Earth Reliant” phase. This will continue to use the International Space Station until 2024, validating deep space technologies and studying the effects of long-duration space missions on the human body. The second stage, “Proving Ground,” moves away from Earth reliance and ventures into cislunar space for most of its tasks, to test deep space habitation facilities, and validate capabilities required for human exploration of Mars.

Finally, phase three, the “Earth Independent” stage includes long-term missions on the lunar surface with surface habitats that only require routine maintenance, and the harvesting of Martian resources for fuel, water, and building materials.

NASA hopes to complete all three sometime in the 2030s, but Bill Nye is not impressed with the ambiguity of the space agency.

Speaking to BigThink in 2017, the popular science communicator said: “Well, I’m the CEO of The Planetary Society so what I have encouraged the staff to do is focus on our mission.

“Our mission is exploring the planets, to know the cosmos and our place within it, empowering citizens of the world to be space explorers.

Stay focused on getting to Mars by setting a date

Bill Nye

“So by focusing on your core mission I think it will enable us to work together to make the world better.

“Now when it comes to NASA, we are very hopeful that we will acknowledge that NASA is a fantastic brand for the United States.

“People everywhere no matter how they feel about the United States respect what NASA is able to accomplish.”

Dr Nye went on to explain why he hopes the space agency will set a date for their future endeavours. 

He added: “First of all when it comes to exploring Mars, which is what we all want to do, everybody talks about it all the time, let’s not have a reset, let’s not cancel existing programmes for the sake of some imagined or proposed new programme, let’s finish all the projects.

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“Let’s do everything all at once in the human spaceflight and stay focused on getting to Mars by setting a date.

“One of my favourite blues songs is ‘Set A Date,’ and he’s talking about getting married, but if we set a date for when we would be on Mars we would be much more likely to achieve it than to continually suggest decades from now.

“And as you may know the Planetary Society did an analysis that shows we could be in orbit around Mars, which would be analogous to the Apollo 8 orbit of the moon in 2033, without changing anything about the NASA budget just adjusting it for inflation.

“But if people got excited and wanted to go a couple of orbits early in 2028 that would be fantastic.”

Dr Nye continued his point, applying it to other areas of space exploration.

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He continued: “The other thing that we at the Planetary Society very much want NASA to stay focused on are these extraordinary planetary missions.

“We have Juno in orbit around Jupiter and we have many spacecraft in orbit around Mars.

“We have New Horizons data is still coming back from I guess it just finished bringing data back from Pluto and now it’s onto the next destination in deep the space in 2019.

“Keep those missions going because that’s where new things happen, where these innovations happen in technology.

“So acknowledge that NASA is a great international brand as well as a source of national pride and technological achievement.”

In November 2015, Administrator Bolden of NASA reaffirmed the goal of sending humans to Mars.

He laid out 2030 as the date of a crewed surface landing, and noted that planned 2020 Mars rover would support the human mission.

However,  in March 2019, Vice President Mike Pence declared “American Astronauts will walk on the Moon again before the end of 2024, “by any means necessary”.

This reportedly pushed back Mars plans, instead of prompting NASA to accelerate their plans to return to the Moon’s surface by 2024.

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