NASA Mars Missions

NASA is still wasting time, money, and resources on meaningless programs, instead of investing all that effort into designing, building, and launching the components for a viable, self sufficient settlement on Mars. Example: Collecting samples from Mars and returning them to Earth will be extremely expensive, and pointless.

Currently, none the Mars programs that result in spending time and resources, such as search for life, ancient geological history, micro-analyzing (return to Earth) Regolith samples are necessary to gather data and information relevant to a successful Mars Settlement program. They all function to delay the implementation of the one Critical Mars Mission.
IMO, all that time and effort should be restricted to, and directed at, Mars Settlement.
Aug 8, 2021
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They're a government agency and their fundamental mission is determined (and funded) by the government, so they don't get to change their focus. They are Aeronautics & Space, so, not Mars specifically, if you want your tax spending changed, lobby the politicians. The Aeronautics department (and predecessors) have done a lot to improve planes (& other), maybe it could be dropped from their core mission and isn't required anymore but the big aeronautics companies (the likes of Boeing etc) would lobby hard against that - and making/selling planes require lots of jobs and bring in tax dollars to the USA.

But, don't despair! The pragmatic change is there with NASA changing it's methodology, to enable others to do space stuff instead of doing it all themselves. Innovation done at private expense rather than public, gives incentive to do cheaper and quicker than NASA could manage since the Apollo missions finished plus more radical things can be tested than NASA would be able justify (some things might seem silly, but until you test...). Also, No more building rockets by committee, done by engineers in private companies at private cost instead and enabling universities and others to do science such as Crops, medicine etc in space at the I.S.S. (and other NASA facilities) - the sort of science needed for manned spaceflight - the engineers can only do so much without the science being done. Where it's beyond other agencies, that's where NASA do it, e.g. the James Webb space telescope etc - it's not just about the pretty pictures, it's been massively challenging cosmologists and physicists and has been great for science.

Where NASA would send a manned rocket to Mars in a decade or 3's time, with a tiny living space on board and minimal equipment and supplies, Spacex is so far doing it at private cost and would send a fleet rather than 1 rocket. The pressurised space in Starship will be huge, more akin to a 747 rather than the little broom cupboard that the Apollo astronauts had, a fleet of Starships makes Mars much more viable than the tiny payload NASA would deliver in 1 NASA rocket (at obscene cost).
Not American so I get no vote on what NASA does - and voters won't get a lot of nuanced choices about it there either, but I would see any government agency making major commitments to Mars colonization as outside their responsibility as well a huge waste of time, taxpayer money and resources.

My understanding is the most popular long range goal for NASA amongst Americans is meteor defense and colonizing Mars is quite low on the list (sorry, a quick look couldn't find that survey, but I did see it).

We don't even need a massive study program to know it isn't viable with current and foreseeable technologies - with launch costs just to low Earth orbit above a million$ per ton and (very optimistically) down to the hundreds of thousands$ - it doesn't take much to know it won't add up. And planned economies don't have a great track record, not even amidst great abundance of readily exploitable resources.

We don't even know what mineral resources are available on Mars - and it takes a LOT more than some lava tubes and water ice to make a viable, self reliant colony. I'm not sure there is even a comprehensive list of what minerals would be essential, let alone where they are and what the minimum is needed to exploit them successfully. Maybe most of the good ores are nowhere near the preferred site. Maybe the consumable materials refineries need are nowhere near the mine sites.

To say it is premature to commit to a Mars colony is understatement.
We will conquer space in space, on the surface of space, and not on the surface of Mars. Would be Martian colonies need the conquest of space as a precursor step to a colonization of Mars that will take many decades to a hundred or more years to become viable; every day, every minute, being subject to the vagaries of Earthly politics, conflicts, and whims. Permanency in space will come down to permanent frontier-dynamic occupation of the high ground (at once the high seas) of space first. Mars occupation and settlement has to be a sideshow , , , a long-term secondary goal beyond the immediate, primary, goal of permanency in space itself.