When NASA astronauts are accepted as candidates, they undergo extensive media training to ensure that what they say is in-line with the message of the agency and their current goals. With the mission to Mars planned for a 2030s launch, it seems to be the hot topic in NASA news – but how do astronauts really feel about it?
Despite the push for a Mars mission, many astronauts – both NASA and non-NASA – would prefer to conduct a moon mission first in order to test out deep-space habituation systems before journeying even deeper into the solar system to the Red Planet.
Tim Peake, an astronaut who is currently on the International Space Station (ISS), is not a part of NASA, meaning he is not bound by their media rules and free to speak his mind about the potential of establishing a base on the moon.
“It enables us to investigate many of the challenges we’re going to face in terms of radiation exposure and energy production,” he said. “It is a wonderful place to set up a location for research. There’s a huge amount that we’ve still yet to discover about the Moon. It can tell us a lot of things about the origins of our own planet. I hope that we see that as a next destination in itself, and also as a stepping stone to Mars in the future.”
Peake isn’t the only one with these sentiments – Johann-Dietrich Wörner, director general of the European Space Agency, has spoken about a “Moon Village” in the past, which would consist of a lunar base where nations can collaborate on the lunar surface in order to stimulate exploration and develop resources.
In addition, when asked about the best way to prepare for a Mars mission, former NASA astronauts Eileen Collins seemed to agree.
“I certainly would like to see the hardware tested on the Moon’s surface first,” she said. “This is part of a test plan’s build-up approach. Policy leaders are asking astronauts to risk their lives on space journeys, and it is our experience that testing in similar environments will minimize risk.”
Despite the view of many astronauts, the likelihood of going back to the moon prior to a Mars mission doesn’t seem likely. However, NASA is currently in talks about testing exploration systems near the moon, which would leave any surface exploration in the hands of other nations.