UI professor says sending humans to moon, Mars 'too expensive'

The Mars Express display in Van Allen Hall shows off efforts at the University of Iowa to explore the red planet.

A day after President Trump expressed desire to send astronauts to the moon and Mars, one University of Iowa scientist is expressing skepticism about those plans.

Steven Spangler, a professor of physics and astronomy, said there are no advantages to sending humans over instruments such as rovers or probes, and one glaring disadvantage, illuminated by the most recent human lunar landing 45 years ago.

"The Apollo landings on the moon had a very big scientific payoff, but it was very expensive," said Spangler. "If you would have sent little rovers there and even rovers that brought rock samples back, you could have done it much more cheaply."

The program cost $25 billion, or roughly $160 billion in 2017.

Spangler is skeptical the cost would remain that low for a lunar mission, and that's before factoring in costs to explore Mars.

Further, the scientist said the majority of knowledge attained about space has been done with unmanned spacecrafts, many of which have instruments on-board developed at the University of Iowa.

Trump isn't the first president in recent years to make such a declaration, either.

"A number of previous presidents have made similar announcements," said Spangler. "In the cold, gray light of dawn, when the accountants started looking at this, it never came about. It's just too expensive."

While human exploration of Mars is incredibly unlikely in the near future according to Spangler, the University of Iowa has been instrumental in the red planet's exploration with automated technology.

Part of the university's mission is to pave the way for future manned missions to Mars, although a timeline has yet to be established.

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