For years, Nasa has been planning for an ambitious manned Mars mission. The space agency believes current unmanned missions like the Orion probe will further its chances of putting humans on the Red Planet.
However, Nasa has now reportedly acknowledged that the agency doesn't have enough funding to make the possibility of a manned Mars mission a reality, at least not in the near future.
"I can't put a date on humans on Mars, and the reason really is the other piece is, at the budget levels we described, this roughly 2 percent increase, we don't have the surface systems available for Mars," Nasa's chief of human spaceflight, William H. Gerstenmaier, said during a propulsion meeting of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics on Wednesday.
"And that entry, descent, and landing is a huge challenge for us for Mars."
Gerstenmaier's statements indicate that now, more than ever, the future of Mars colonisation may rest in the hands of private and commercial space companies.
Nasa appears to be aware of this, as indicated by Gerstenmaier's comments that one of the space agency's primary roles now is to act as an "orchestrator" in the commercial space industry to successfully realise deep space missions.
"Nasa doesn't have to do everything," Gerstenmaier said, highlighting the fact that the space agency already depends on private space companies like SpaceX to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).
Although the US Congress has so far been reluctant to expand Nasa's partnership with commercial space companies for deep space exploration, according to ArsTechnica's report, this may change in the future.
US Vice President Mike Pence, who recently visited Nasa, has reportedly intimated about the possibility of increasing Nasa's partnership with the private space exploration industry.
Even though Nasa currently doesn't have the budget required for extensive manned missions to Mars, according to Gerstenmaier, the Moon may be a much more affordable target, ArsTechnica reported.
"If we find out there's water on the Moon, and we want to do more extensive operations on the Moon to go explore that, we have the ability with Deep Space Gateway to support an extensive Moon surface program," he said. "If we want to stay focused more toward Mars, we can keep that."