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NASA chief engineer says he’d love to see the space agency crowdfunded

Above: NASA chief engineer Brian Muirhead

Image Credit: Meghan Kelly/VentureBeat
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LAS VEGAS — NASA chief engineer Brian Muirhead says he’d love public support but that Congress still stands in the way of that funding.

After being asked at the Black Hat security conference if he’d like to see NASA supported through crowdfunding, Muirhead responded:

“God, I’d love it. The problem with my new study … is funding. Unfortunately, these missions are pretty expensive. We’d love to have the public involved, the public support. The problem is we still have to work through Congress.”

He explained that the group has a number of projects, such as building out ways to land heavier objects on Mars’ surface (think humans and the equipment to keep them alive), that simply can’t be worked on because the funding doesn’t exist. At this point, Congress is still the main supporter of NASA.

Projects like these could push us forward to that ultimate goal of putting a person on the red planet, but Muirhead is skeptical of programs like that of Netherlands-based Mars One Foundation, which hopes to do it by 2023. Mars One hopes to get enough funding together by that time to send a colony out to Mars to live in pods.

“That is way beyond our capability to do today,” he said of Mars One.

In order to land its Mars Rover Curiosity on the planet, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had to come up with a number of intricate landing sequences, which have become better known as the “Seven Minutes of Terror.” In this time, parachutes, rockets, extendable arms, and other equipment all work together to safely deposit a rover the size of a car onto the surface.

How to do that with humans, the spacecraft they travel in, and all the equipment they need to survive is still unknown, though Muirhead says NASA has some ideas. He went on to point out that it’s difficult enough trying to keep people alive on the Space Station. Those on Mars would likely have to be self-sufficient.

Unless there’s a change in Congress, we’re likely not going to see these innovations, nor a Kickstarter page for JPL.


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