Olivia Falcigno / NPR
Over the past year, scientists have discovered more evidence of liquid water beneath the surface of Mars. They have found complex organic compounds – the building blocks of life. And they have found that the methane levels in the Martian atmosphere vary with the seasons.
"Each of these things suggests that the likelihood of finding life in a world that is not our own is increasing," says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "And Mars, in my opinion, is the best opportunity in our own solar system to find life on another world."
Former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma became head of NASA in April 2018. Since then, he has been busy preparing for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's moon landing, but he ensures that the agency continues to look forward to its next mission: a manned mission to Mars.
But before humans can get to Mars, they have to return to the moon.
"It's just that the moon is a testing ground so we can go to the moon and learn to live and work in another world," says Bridenstine. "How do we take the risk? Prove the technology and bring it all to Mars."
Bridenstine sat down with NPR at NASA headquarters in downtown Washington, DC, to talk about the timetable for transporting people to Mars and why The return to the moon is so for a new era of space exploration crucial.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Why do humans have to fly to Mars? They could send robots. Artificial intelligence has been added and could explore the possibility of life on Mars.
There are a number of reasons, but # 1, I think the important thing is that you can do much more science, much faster with people than with robots.
For example, the Mars Curiosity Rover, an amazing scientific tool, has traveled about 20 kilometers in its life on Mars. With a person who is there for 30 to 90 days, we can do a lot more discoveries, much faster, much more accurately. We can return samples.
The other thing is that we have this innate sense in ourselves, that we want to go further and explore it with people and want to discover and do. I mean, that's what we are as a country, that's what humanity wants. So we came to the New World, so we went west when we came to the New World. And of course, we're extending that to the Moon and Mars.
How much time do you have to get to the Moon and Mars?
2024 to get to the moon and the moon? Mars until the mid-2030s.
Why does it take four years to get to the moon when the US was there 50 years ago?
That's a wonderful question. The reason is that we did not have a program to go to the moon. We have no lander that can take a man to the moon. It does not exist. So we start from scratch and we actually start this month.
Why? Is that because the budget is finally online so you can plan?
Right. In the past, we put together plans as an agency, but politics never materialized. The budget has been cut. Changed administrations. If you like, we can escape the political risk by accelerating the program. We do not want to leave in 15 years, we want to go faster.
To do that, I told the President and the Vice President that we would need extra funding. We need an additional $ 1.6 billion by 2020. And they were very friendly and said, "Okay, we'll do it."
But how do you block that? Because, as you said, the administrations are changing, and they will – whether 2020 or 2024.
That is why we need strong support from both parties in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. I'm from the House of Representatives myself. We are working very hard to continue bipartisan support, and this may be an all-America program that ultimately spans multiple administrations in the future. That is the goal.
What do you think of the fact that most Americans claim that they do not care to return to the moon? or to Mars? A poll by The Associated Press in June revealed that most Americans say that this should not be a priority. Americans say Priority # 1 should be to investigate meteors and make sure the earth is not hit.
These missions are not separated. In fact, the rocket we use to get to the moon is exactly the rocket we would use if we had a meteor that would hit Earth, and we would have to do some kind of intervention.
Do you want to develop this rocket specifically for meteors now or do you want to use it for a purpose in the meantime? You do not want to use it for the first time for a meteor that could hit Earth. I'll tell you that in every poll you look at, Americans want the United States to be a leader in space exploration. This is the way to do it. And I think this is an important mission for our country.
Take the case: With so many pressing issues, from national security to roads that need repairing, why should we spend money to get to Mars as land?
Let's say it like this. People said the same thing when we tried to go to the moon in the 1960s. It was not the most popular program in the United States government and here we are. What do we do? 50 years later we celebrate the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
If you look at how people are listening to this, some may hear XM radio, and some will bring it to the Internet via Internet broadband. All of these features were developed by this small agency called NASA while we called Apollo. And now everything has been commercialized and privatized. We are talking about a multi-billion dollar industry. And that's just communication. But look at the navigation. They talk about GPS and other technologies developed by NASA in our era of space travel.
They argue that what the Americans have done in space has a significant impact on life here on Earth.  Our legacy is the uplifting and transformation of the human condition in ways that most people do not even think about in everyday life.
The other important thing is that we want to carry out missions that look backwards 50 years after the day the mission is fulfilled. Anyone alive when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon knows exactly where they were when that day passed. I was not alive then. I do not have this memory. My generation does not have this memory. What we remember is the explosion of the Challenger with Christa McAuliffe on board.
Space Shuttle is an amazing program. The International Space Station built by the Space Shuttles is an amazing program. But we do not have this monumental, very historical achievement in a positive sense, where people remember exactly where they were. That's what we have to do. And when we do that, all of these transformative technologies emerge just as they did after Apollo.