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Editorial: Mars mission needs NASA support

In a twist on Cold War backlash, Russia announced Friday its plan to forge an international alliance to travel to Mars by 2015. While the proposed mission may cost upwards of tens of billions of dollars, it is a mission that United States, and NASA, must take part in. The proposed, manned mission will be a technological breakthrough, and whatever country isn’t involved will be the laughing stock of the science world.

The trip to Mars, which would last 440 days one-way, is an exploration opportunity that the world has never before been able to imagine, let alone envision. With Russia’s offer, the United States, and other countries around the globe, would be able to be part of history and would long be remembered for paving the way into space.

NASA has been an instrumental part of the international space station but has not had a significant adventure into space since it sponsored the lunar landing in 1969. While Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was unprecedented, NASA has not returned since 1972, and another trip, to the moon or Mars, is a long time coming.

Also, NASA’s experience with space travel could help the Russian program find its legs. Russian attempts to explore the red planet have met with failure, while NASA’s unmanned Mars Odyssey spacecraft entered the planet’s orbit early in the year and began mapping the surface. Such geographic information would be invaluable to the team planning to land on the surface.

As reported in an Associated Press article Friday, NASA will not support any such project until a formal proposal is submitted. However, no country alone can raise the funds to follow through with such a groundbreaking project. It would be in NASA’s best interest to get on board in the beginning and show support early. The United States is in one of the best positions to offer a lot of funding, information and technical support.

The United States won the first space race in 1969. It would be unimaginable to think NASA and the United States wouldn’t be involved in the second.