Space geeks had a field day on Friday, as representatives from the Planetary Society and NASA answered questions about the feasibility of getting humans into orbit around Mars by 2033.

The Planetary Society is a non-governmental organization for space advocacy that was founded by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman in 1980. Bill Nye is the current CEO.

The National Academies Press released a report last year that said a human Mars mission would be unlikely until 2046 without a serious funding boost to NASA.

Bill Nye and the The Planetary Society were having none of that. They sat down and crunched the numbers to come up with a scenario that could see NASA send humans to Mars’ Phobos moon by 2033, and to the surface of Mars in 2039. This would require NASA funding to only keep up with inflation.

An illustration of what Mars would look like from Phobos.

Part of the deal is that NASA would gradually defund the International Space Station beginning in 2024 or 2028. It likely would be handed over to some sort of commercial operation.

This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky dream. NASA’s own team has reviewed it and found it to be feasible.

The Planetary Society hosted a two-day workshop earlier this year to bring together experts from NASA, government, and industry to evaluate the plan and push it forward.

The biggest technical challenge ahead to make this dream a reality is coming up with a feasible life-support system for the nearly three-year mission to Phobos, says NASA’s Humphrey “Hoppy” Price, who participated in the Reddit AMA on Friday.

Won’t SpaceX get there first? Some Redditors suggested the answer is maybe, but how will they pay for it, and who cares? But perhaps collaboration is the most likely scenario.

“Historically, industry has always had a critical relationship with NASA in all of its spaceflight efforts. I think everyone expects major roles for SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed, etc.,” writes Casey Dreier, director of advocacy for the Planetary Society.

Perhaps the most heartwarming part of the AMA were the number of young space nerds who wanted to know how to best prepare themselves to be a part of future extra-planetary exploration.

“Do you have any recommendations on what I should study in graduate school (my primary academic background is in Neuroscience, GIS/remote sensing, Geography/Atmospheric Science, and Chemistry), that would make me suitable to help out NASA (and the Planetary Society) with helping to get Earth to Mars in the next 20 (ish) years?” asked spacegurl07.

“What is the best way to get involved with a career at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory?” asked Pmang6.

Price, who works at JPL, offers this advice: “Get a degree in math, science, engineering, or physics. Work experience as an intern or coop in aerospace is good. Then apply!”


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