We Were Supposed to Be on Mars by Now! Why Aren’t We?

Humanity’s advancement into space has not progressed quite as predicted. In the 1960s and 1970s, futurists, as well as science fiction movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey or the old campy television show, Space 1999, took it for granted that regular passenger flights, moon bases, interplanetary exploration, and other extraordinary advancements in space would be a reality before the end of the 20th Century. We have obviously fallen well short of that vision, but as fantastical as that speculation may seem today, it wasn’t entirely based on wishful thinking or flights of fancy.

After the United States successfully landed humans on the moon, there were high level discussions at NASA and elsewhere that advocated for sending humans to Mars by the mid-1980s. In view of the truly remarkable speed in which America achieved the Moon landings, Mars by the 1980s didn’t seem all that far-fetched at the time. Unfortunately, political reality interceded. After convincingly beating the Soviets to the moon and after only a few successful landings, funding for the Apollo Program was canceled, and instead the focus of the space program was shifted in a direction that would leave us circling in Low Earth Orbit for 45 years. Which brings us to the present day. Sending crewed missions to Mars by the mid-2030s is now an integral part of official U.S. space policy. Public discourse has swelled on this topic since the successful test of the Orion capsule this past December as well as the discovery of organics, nitrogen, and evidence of an ancient ocean on Mars. But, is this objective realistic or is this truly a case of wishful thinking?

Several factors have recently materialized that could finally set us on a course to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system. The first and —> Read More