When John F. Kennedy, Jr., announced rather ambitiously that the US would put a man on the moon within only a matter of years, the reactions were part awed, part derisive. Some saw it as the limitless ability of the best minds coming together, others laughed at the ludicrous idea that a human could walk on the moon…and live to tell about it.
Now, the concept of space travel–even within the fairly small limits that we’ve actually achieved–has become commonplace to a generation of people who’ve never been alive when the space program wasn’t a reality. That could be why so little attention among popular news has been granted to NASA’s attempts–very, very expensive attempts–at sending humans to Mars.
As part of its deep-space exploration project, the concept of human space travel has to be completely redesigned. Yes, Mars is simply that far away, and the orbital patterns that the planets adhere to means the closest proximity between Earth and Mars only happens every two years, and even then only for a narrow window of time. Everything NASA has used to safely send and retrieve astronauts had to be redesigned, down to the software that would make it all happen.
That software is proving to be quite problematic, too. Already 77% more than initial cost estimates predicted, the final bill for the software that will launch and control an SLS rocket and Orion capsule is expected to come in at a little over $200 million. Even more upsetting is the timeline: instead of having a finished version this summer, engineers are now saying it will be closer to fall of next year before there’s a working version.
Unfortunately, an internal audit of the status of this software once again proved something that has long plagued the organization, and that’s an unwillingness to bend. The audit, conducted by none other than NASA’s inspector general, concluded that the administration is essentially shooting itself in the foot with its own optimism, while commercial software would have been a much better option than writing the software from the ground up by splicing together previous NASA code.