Scientists urge global help on manned Mars mission

MENLO PARK, California Fri Feb 15, 2008 9:24am EST

Materials and morphologies are shown in the region south of Mawrth Vallis on Mars, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, in this October 1, 2006 handout file photo. REUTERS/NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona

Materials and morphologies are shown in the region south of Mawrth Vallis on Mars, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, in this October 1, 2006 handout file photo.

Credit: Reuters/NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona

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MENLO PARK, California (Reuters) - The United States must collaborate with other countries to achieve its goal of putting humans on Mars or it may fall short of its aims, scientists and former space officials said on Thursday.

President George W. Bush wants the U.S. space agency, NASA, to focus on getting people to the moon and to Mars. NASA officials say a Mars mission is unlikely before the 2030s.

"The requirements the agency put on the human exploration was that the U.S. would build out all of the infrastructure, do all the work, pave the roads, get everything in place and the Europeans or the other internationals might come and do an off-ramp," said Scott Hubbard, former director of NASA Ames Research Center and of the Mars program.

"We are urging the next administration to revisit that requirement to see if there is some broader international collaboration that will add this capability without putting the entire price tag on the back of the U.S," said Hubbard, now professor at Stanford University south of San Francisco.

Hubbard and others spoke after a two-day conference of about 50 astronauts, public interest advocates, aerospace industry executives and scientists at Stanford University to discuss how best to further the goal of a manned Mars mission.

Their findings backing greater international cooperation followed a call earlier this week by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who proposed a global program to explore Mars that would unite European states and more established space powers such as the United States and Russia.

Officials say because of Mars' orbit, a manned mission would involve a stay of either just seven to 10 days in a total mission of a year or year and a half, or a three-year odyssey with more than a year on the planet.

Scientists at the conference said NASA would need about $3 billion more in funding each year to prepare for such a mission. Its current budget is $17.3 billion, including $3.3 billion for space shuttles, $4.7 billion for science and $3.1 billion for exploration missions including a return to the moon by 2020.

(Reporting by Clare Baldwin; Writing by Adam Tanner; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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