"To continue on the present course... is to invite failure, disillusionment and the loss of the longstanding international perception that human spaceflight is something
It promised to "thoroughly review the report and all of its recommendations" but insisted that it was worthwhile to set a goal of walking on Mars to set the bar high for other, parallel projects.
"The horizon goal for human space exploration is Mars. All long-range space programmes, by all potential partners, for human space exploration converge on this goal," it said in a statement.
"A sustainable program of human deep space exploration must have an ultimate, 'horizon' goal that provides a long-term focus that is less likely to be disrupted by major technological failures and accidents along the way and the vagaries of the political process and economic scene."
To date the world's space agencies have only managed to send unmanned robotic rovers to Mars, the latest being
The US space agency's older Opportunity rover has been in operation for more than 10 years.
But advancing human exploration into the outer reaches of space will require decades of work, hundreds of billions of dollars of funding and "significant risk to human life," according to the NRC report.
That, the report said, makes it impossible for
Current federal law bars
"Given the rapid development of
The report's authors said that returning to the moon would foster better international cooperation given the interest about the destination in other countries, and such a mission would help develop technology to land and eventually live on Mars.
The Obama administration is opposed to another moon landing, saying such a mission would be too costly. It wants instead to focus on capturing an asteroid and placing it into the Moon's orbit for future exploration.
The NRC highlighted three potential pathways to Mars, two of which include a return to the moon. The third is along the lines of the Obama administration's asteroid mission. "It's probably the frankest assessment that there is no public demand for space exploration, that we really don't have a goal clearly stated and that the program that is being carried out won't get us anywhere," said expert
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