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Mission to Mars still a long shot for NASA

| Monday, May 6, 2013, 8:51 p.m.

Is NASA going to send astronauts to Mars?

That's the agency's stated goal, though there's no mission yet, no program per se, certainly no budget and, at the moment, NASA doesn't have the technology to land astronauts safely and then bring them back to Earth. So humans-to-Mars is aspirational, with the tough logistical and political issues yet to be resolved.

Amplification of NASA's long-term Mars strategy arrived on Monday at the outset of a three-day conference at George Washington University called the “Humans to Mars Summit,” or H2M. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden served as the keynoter, and he was soon followed by senior agency officials who have Mars on the mind.

All expressed cautious optimism that the agency is on the right path to get to Mars eventually, though some members of the audience were openly impatient and more than a little dismissive of NASA's current plan to send astronauts on a mission to inspect a lassoed asteroid.

As the panelists were preparing to leave the stage, they received a nudge from the stage itself, when Artemis Westenberg, the president of Explore Mars — the nonprofit organization that staged the conference — announced that her organization had surveyed Americans and found that only 14 percent favor a visit to an asteroid.

She quoted favorably a line from one of the asteroid-mission skeptics: “Why stand on a rock when you can walk on a world?”

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