Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Could the United Arab Emirates Help NASA Reach Mars?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Could the United Arab Emirates Help NASA Reach Mars?

Article excerpt

In its efforts to reach Mars by the 2030s, NASA has enlisted the help of one of the world's newest space agencies, signing an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to collaborate on space exploration.

The agreement the US space agency signed Sunday in Abu Dhabi has made "the exploration of Mars" its first priority. The two countries have also agreed to share research, scientific instruments, and possibly spacecraft.

For NASA, the agreement comes amid a debate simmering in Congress about how much a journey to the Red Planet will cost, and broader questions about whether human exploration of Mars should be the agency's first priority.

"There are a lot of things we could be doing in space," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) of California said at a hearing last month, mentioning the clean-up of space debris and a system to protect Earth from an asteroid impact. "I hope that we make sure that we don't waste dollars on things that we don't accomplish anything with," he added.

A 2014 review by the National Research Council found that it would take NASA 20 to 40 years to send humans to Mars' surface, costing nearly $500 billion, John Sommerer, the panel's chairman, told lawmakers in February.

While NASA officials have often avoided directly discussing the cost of a Mars mission, ArsTechnica reports, the amount available for space exploration comes to only about $180 billion over the next 20 years. Putting that money toward a Mars mission could also require abandoning the International Space Station, which NASA is unlikely to do.

"While sending humans to Mars, and returning them safely to the Earth, may be technically feasible, it is an extraordinarily challenging goal, from physiological, technical, and programmatic standpoints," Dr. Sommerer, a space scientist who headed the technical panel, told lawmakers. "It is only with unprecedented cumulative investment, and, frankly, unprecedented discipline in development, testing, execution, and leadership, that this enterprise is likely to be successful."

Other countries have also joined the fray. While officials from India's space agency have been loath to declare their own mission to Mars part of a "space race" with other nations, their effort comes with a much more affordable price tag. …

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