NASA Passed on Mars Flyby Mission in 1990s

NASA has become too risk-averse, critics say.

Researchers practice collecting rocks outside the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah.
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[READ: Fossil Older Than Oxygen on Earth Found in Australia]

NASA says it will "continue discussions with Inspiration Mars to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually-beneficial activities that could complement NASA's human spaceflight, space technology and Mars exploration plans," but has no plans to do a Mars flyby mission of its own anytime soon.

In 2010, President Obama said he hopes that "by the mid 2030s," NASA will "send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth."

A representative with NASA said he could not confirm whether or not Zubrin had met with Goldin to discuss Athena, but that Zubrin is "a highly respected scientist."

Wiens says NASA "would not get anything from a simple human flyby mission except to prove we can go there," to which Zubrin says, "exactly."

"Conceivably, a person can say 'What's the point of a flyby mission,' and the point is to say 'Follow me, this can be done,'" Zubrin says. "It's fear holding NASA back. These are risky missions. If you want to be safe, stay on the ground."

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