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Space experts say sending humans to Mars worth the risk

Summit takes stock of hurdles, technologies, support needed to reach Red Planet by 2030s

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12:00pm, May 24, 2016
Simulated image of Mars

MISSION TO MARS  By the 2030s, NASA and the aerospace industry want to send a crew to explore Mars, seen in this simulated image based on data from the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter.

WASHINGTON — There’s a long-standing joke that NASA is always 20 years from putting astronauts on Mars. Mission details shared at a recent summit shows that the space agency is right on schedule. A to-do list from 2015 looks remarkably similar to one compiled in 1990. One difference: NASA is now building a rocket and test-driving technologies needed to get a crew to Mars. But the specifics for the longest road trip in history — and what astronauts will do once they arrive — remain an open question.

“Are we going to just send them there to explore and do things that we could do robotically though slower, or can we raise the bar?” asked planetary scientist Jim Bell during the Humans to Mars summit. “We need to make sure that what these folks are being asked to do is worthy of the risk to their lives,” said Bell, of Arizona State University in Tempe.

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