Bolden: NASA to Foster Entrepreneurial Space, Human Mars Missions Irresponsible

Charles F. Bolden Official Portrait

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden commented on dramatic changes in store for the American human space program, Mars exploration and killer asteroids during a visit to Israel.

Bolden gave a strong defense of the Obama Administration’s embrace of commercial space companies for human missions. He said that the space agency has always used commercial assets to go to space, noting that the space shuttles were built by private companies, and that launch operations have been privatized. However, a different approach to human spaceflight is necessary as the space shuttle program ends.

“What we’re going to focus on, what NASA will focus on, is facilitating the success of, I like to use the term, entrepreneurial interests…. What’s going to change, I think, is that instead of NASA buying a vehicle and then taking over its primary operation, we will buy a service. We will go out and whoever charges the best price for a trip to the International Space Station and says, ‘We can take an Israeli and an American and, you know, an Armenia and somebody else and all these other things.’ OK, we’re going to sign on with you. And they’ll provide the vehicle to get us to the International Space Station or somewhere else. We’re going to have to adapt to change.”

The NASA Administrator believes that as the space shuttle ends, there will be debate within the United States over whether to continue the human spaceflight program. “I can just see it coming. I wish it were not going to come up, but it will come up,” he said.

Bolden said that future human missions to the moon and Mars will be international in nature. A key goal of the Obama Administration is to increase cooperation with other nations in both human spaceflight and other areas of space exploration and utilization, he said.

However, NASA’s leader believes it would be irresponsible to send anyone to the Red Planet given our current level of technology.

“My dream is to go to Mars. I won’t make it, probably. I don’t know. Maybe Israeli astronauts will….

We’ve got a lot of work to do before we can responsibly send humans to Mars. The biggest thing, the biggest challenge right now, there are two big challenges, one is propulsion and propulsion is a challenge because of the biggest challenge, which is radiation. We don’t completely understand the radiation environment between here and Mars but we know it’s bad. And we suspect, based on past experience and the limited data that we have, that if we put humans into a normal spacecraft now and have them embark on an 8-month one-way mission to Mars they’re going to die unless we spend a lot of money and a lot of metal on tremendous shielding for the vehicle. We know that.

“So, we cannot responsibly put humans in a spacecraft and say next year we’re going to send them to Mars. Can we conquer that? can we overcome that? Yes we can. I don’t know how long it is going to take.”

Bolden also commented on NASA’s efforts at protecting the Earth from potentially dangerous asteroids and comets.

“We have not done a very good job of that in the past decades because we just didn’t just pay very much attention to it….I think you will see us devote a little bit more time, I can’t state definitely right now how much money or how much more time or anything, but you’re going to see one of the things that we’ll do is devote more time and energy to understanding near Earth objects and things that threaten the planet from outside.”

View of video of his full comments.