Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who is currently serving as president of Purdue University, will testify before Congress Wednesday on whether or not the United States can and should send astronauts to Mars. Presiding over the alma mater of 23 U.S. astronauts does not make Mitch Daniels an expert on space exploration; however, he does seem to have the experience to testify as to whether or not a manned Mars expedition makes fiscal sense.
Mitch Daniels is one of a handful of individuals mandated by Congress to review NASA’s human space exploration program. He and the rest of the Committee on Human Spaceflight, appointed by the National Research Council, have spent the last 18 months studying NASA’s human space exploration program.
Committee Members range from politicians to scientists to University professors. The Committee also solicited input from the public in the form of white paper submissions and discussions during scheduled times via Twitter.
Mr. Daniels will be testifying primarily on whether or not human exploration of Mars is possible for the United States, given the Nation’s current fiscal situation. Technical Panel members and Public and Stakeholder Panel members will also be providing their input.
The report published by the Committee, while holding out hope for Mars exploration, states that the country is just not in a financial position to ensure the safety of astronauts on Mars and to preserve the image of the U.S. as a leader in space exploration.
The Committee’s report does advocate a return to the moon as a possible path to Mars. Establishing a human habitat and further lunar exploration could become a stepping stone in developing technology that would make a manned trip to Mars more feasible.
Offering further hope for a human landing on Mars, the Committee recognized that, while the United States stands to save $73 billion over the next 13 years if it simply eliminates human space exploration, the awe-inspiring aspiration of such missions is more worthy than the lack of economic gain through such programs.