Humans on Mars in 8 years? From any other president it would be lunacy, but with Trump at the helm it just might work

Last month US President Donald Trump signed a bill into law that further focused NASA’s continuing goal of sending humans to Mars by the 2030s. Laying out in detail the steps the agency will take to reach this goal, it was welcomed by those at NASA, who have been itching to visit the Red Planet as quickly as possible.

“We’re all very much looking forward, as directed by your new NASA bill, we’re excited about the missions to Mars in the 2030s,” the brilliant Commander Peggy Whitson, who yesterday broke the US cumulative space record, told Trump in a live streamed video call from the International Space Station. “We are absolutely ready to go to Mars. It’s going to be a fantastic journey getting up there and very exciting times. All of us would be happy to go.”

But yesterday during the conversation with Whitson, Trump made comments that suggest he’s hoping to move that target forward significantly. First, he asked the Commander how quickly she thought humans would get to Mars, to which she reiterated the 2030s goal and explained some of the challenges associated with getting to Earth’s nearest planetary neighbour.

“Well we want to do it during my first term,” Trump then responded, to laughs from his daughter Ivanka, who also was in attendance, “or at worst during my second term, so we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, okay?”

This, naturally, was jumped on by the left-wing press as the latest way to lambast Trump, but is it possible that it could be achievable?

Well, if we’re talking about first term – no, unfortunately not. NASA is still in the process of building its Space Launch System, the rocket that will be capable of manned missions to Mars, and the first test flight is not due until next year. There are also a huge number of issues that remain unresolved – not least that unless a solution to the vast amounts of radiation the astronauts would be exposed to is developed, there’s a good chance they could arrive at Mars with little clue about why they were there.

Add the fact that a flight to Mars would take between 150 and 300 days depending on planetary alignment and fuel usage, and a goal of just three years and nine months to arrive is simply not achievable.

Seven years and nine months – ie at the end of Trump’s second term – however is considerably more plausible, albeit still very ambitious. But Trump is nothing if not ambitious, and if he’s prepared to provide the support to make it happen, it really could be pulled off.

Mars by 2025?

If Trump were to formally move forward the Mars goal, he’d likely be looking at right at the end of his third term, so 2025. Conversely, his NASA bill has a tentative date of 2033: eight years later, meaning he’d effectively be halving the time left before humans landed on the Red Planet.

But there’s a lot to do. Only so much can be determined in low-Earth orbit – phase one of NASA’s work toward the Red Planet – and from next year NASA plans to embark on phase two of its Journey to Mars, using cis-Lunar space to test humans’ ability to live without reliance on Earth. That would have to be sped up – meaning more missions more quickly – in order to move to the third and final phase, and ultimately a manned trip to Mars.

NASA’s Journey to Mars. Image courtesy of NASA. Above: President Trump on call to Commander Peggy Whitson and NASA’s Jack Fischer. Image courtesy of NASA TV

However, even on the longer target of 2033, the mission is going to require vast funds and international support, as Whitson explained during her video stream.

“Unfortunately spaceflight takes a lot of time and money, so getting there will require some international cooperation to get it to be a planet-wide approach in order to make it successful, just because it is a very expensive endeavour,” she said. “But it is so worthwhile doing.”

The funding, in particular, is going to be a serious challenge. Trump’s 2018 budget proposal sees NASA escaping the gouging cuts faced by many other departments, but it is set to lose 1% of its budget. However, its remit will be more tightly focused on the Mars mission, with education and Earth observation taking the damage.

But while that is relatively promising for fans of a manned Mars mission, if Trump is going to follow in John F Kennedy’s footsteps and make a short-term, big-goal space project a central morale booster, he’s going to have to follow Kennedy’s approach to funding the space agency. And that means adding far more money to NASA’s pot – potentially at least at the levels of Kennedy’s NASA, which would be equivalent to more than twice the current NASA budget.

In real terms, NASA’s current budget is slightly under half its peak during the run up to the Moon landing

For some the answer may lie in the commercial space industry, which is seeing dramatic growth, and is set to be dominated by US companies. And Trump’s NASA bill continues this support, showing there is certainly a strong business case to be had in transitioning low-Earth orbit activities to private companies. But while the commercial space industry is undoubtedly going to provide massive incomes in the future, in general it is not currently a profitable field, and so is unlikely to be a major source of financial gain for NASA within the time Trump would need.

Whatever you think of Trump, it’s clear that he’s a fan of space, and as part of the generation that watched the Moon landing live on black and white televisions, it’s no surprise. Now he’s at the helm, it seems he wants to ensure that next great moment in US space-faring is under his command. I probably would too if I were president.

But no matter how enthusiastic he is about the space agency and its plans, if he wants to make it happen, he’s going to need to put a lot more money behind NASA. Will alone will not speed up the journey to Mars, so if Trump is serious we should see a big uptick in the NASA budget next time around.

What’s left to get excited about with wearable technology? Find out in issue 35 of Factor magazine. Out now!

We think it’s fair to say wearable technology is not what it once was. Over the past year, multiple players have gone out of business, with Pebble, darlings of the smartwatch world, collapsing and being broken down for parts by Fitbit.

Even the fitness tracker giant itself hasn’t fared well, with a year that saw its stock steadily tumble as the public decided that they didn’t need another fitness tracker, thank you very much.

So in April’s issue of Factor, we scrape through the debris of the wearable technology industry to try and determine if there is anything left to be excited about, and what really does lie ahead on the horizon.

You have to read Factor to find that out, but right now we can tell you one thing about the future of the wearable tech industry: it’s not going to be saved by another smart payment ring or fitness tracking watch.

But we understand the smartwatch is the standard bearer for wearable tech, so we’re taking a look at the sorry state of the tech and ask where the likes of Apple and co can go to make their smartwatch offerings appealing, as well as charting the rise and fall of some of the industry’s major wearable tech players.

To write this month’s mag we took a trip to the 2017 Wearable Technology Show and found the fashion industry picking through wearable tech’s creaking remains, which suggests there is hope for things yet, even if it’s in a form that is totally unrecognisable from what’s available today. We look at how the fashion industry is making wearables wearable, and look at some of the avant-garde projects that are injecting creativity into proceedings.

It’s fair to say there’s a fair bit of pessimism around wearable tech at the moment, but don’t be deceived, the whole industry isn’t desperately trying to cling to former glories.

One area where promise still remains is hearables, and with tech such as Amazon’s Echo proving a hit, there is promise for audio-based wearable technology yet. We consider the likelihood of hearables following in the footsteps of smartphones to become “the fourth platform”, and look at how concerns around listening tech are adding fuel to the burning inferno that is the privacy debate.

Despite the industry’s failures, there are products that could truly be a hit if their manufacturers manage to get them right. We look at promise behind the emerging category of pollution-targeted wearables , consider the sleep-helping wearable that has actually been backed up by clinical trials and detail our wearables wish list of devices we’d like to see developed.

Plus, if you’d like a break from all things wearable technology, we also look at how the Trump administration is taking a political axe to the open and fair internet playing field, and consider the peculiar and largely forgotten history of Penny Arcade Adventures:  On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.

As well as this there’s all the latest news and we take a look at Bang & Olufsen’s BeoSound 2 in issue 35 of Factor magazine – out now on iPad and online.