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We could have been on Mars 30 years ago. At the peak of the Apollo era in the early '70s, NASA was already planning its next step into the unknown.
Its plans included building multiple space stations, continued trips to the Moon, and the first crewed mission to Mars by the 1980s. Can you imagine watching astronauts walk on Mars the same time the walkmen came out?
NASA - Humans - Mars - '80s - Years
But NASA never sent humans to Mars in the '80s. And here we are 30 years later, still dreaming of the possibility. But the reason isn't necessarily a matter of technology or innovation. It actually comes down to politics.
As a government agency, NASA's goals are determined by the Executive Branch. Since its inception, NASA has served under 12 presidents. And it was clear near the start that not every president would support NASA equally.
End - Nixon - Administration - NASA - Budget
By the end of Nixon's administration in 1974, NASA's budget had plummeted from 4% of the federal budget to less than 1%. Fully-funded Apollo missions 18 and 19 were abandoned along with Apollo 20.
At the same time, Nixon pulled NASA's focus away from the Moon and Mars and instead toward low-Earth orbit. His parting gift was to sign into effect what would eventually become NASA's Space Shuttle program.
Peter - Diamandis - Space - History - Apollo
Peter Diamandis: "So what's happened throughout all of space history after the Apollo program was over was to start, stop, start, stop, cancel. President comes in like Bush comes in to go to the Moon, back to Mars and next president comes in and cancels that. The agency is unable to sustain consistent funding to do anything."
It wasn't until the Space Shuttle Program was nearing retirement that a crewed mission to Mars was finally considered and funded by a US president.
George - W - Bush
George W. Bush, in 2004, announced:
"We will give NASA new focus and vision for future...
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