The nation’s space agency is gearing up to put humans on Mars within the next two decades. NASA is testing a supersonic lander that can carry heavy loads, and just signed a 20-year lease on a launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center.
Mike Gazarik is associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and he tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that going to Mars is part of Americans’ pioneering spirit, and will also have benefits for life on Earth.
Interview Highlights: Mike Gazarik
On the unknown cost of getting to Mars
“If you look at the history of NASA, a way to get there is a stepping stone approach. We’re going to develop the capabilities and the technologies as we can, as we can afford. … Given the budget environment and trying to be responsible, really, and be efficient with the taxpayers money, I think the approach we have now is to go as much as we can. Use the international space station. Then go out into the lunar orbit space and then work our way to Mars.”
On why it’s important to get to Mars
“Part of it is kind of philosophical, I think in a way. It’s the pride, it’s the destiny that a lot of us feel — a lot of Americans feel — to explore, to pioneer. But there’s also a practical aspect. A lot of the technologies and capabilities we need to get to Mars benefit life right here on Earth. So as we get there and as we do that exploration, there are direct benefits to us living on this planet.”
On the risks of sending humans into space for several months
“So when we’re in that space environment, what we don’t have unfortunately is the protection that Earth provides with its magnetic shield. So radiation — those cosmic rays, those solar flares that we see — all have detrimental impact on the crew. So we gotta figure out how to protect the crew as we get all the way to Mars. Once we get to Mars, then the challenge also begins. You’re coming in very fast to Mars, often over 7 kilometers a second, and you have just a couple minutes to fly through the Martian atmosphere, which is very thin, and then land safely on the planet.”