NASA’s ambitious Journey to Mars is facing “multiple cost and technical challenges,” the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) warned in a new audit report. Moreover, the report also raised doubts over the feasibility of NASA’s plans to send crewed mission to Mars in the 2030s or early 2040s, calling for a more detailed operational plan beyond 2021’s Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2).

“If the Agency is to reach its goal of sending humans to the vicinity of Mars in the 2030s, significant development work on key systems such as a deep space habitat, in-space transportation, and Mars landing and ascent vehicles must be undertaken in the 2020s, and the Agency will need to make these and many other decisions in the next 5 years or so for that to happen,” the OIG wrote in its report, published Thursday. “In addition, to position itself to make wise investment decisions, NASA will need to begin developing more detailed cost estimates for its Mars exploration program after EM-2.”

NASA’s planned missions to the red planet rest on two legs — the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is a successor to the agency’s now-defunct Space Shuttle program, and the Orion deep-space capsule. Under the space agency’s current plans, the first uncrewed integrated flight of Orion and SLS — Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) — is slated to take place no later than November 2018, and the first crewed launch would follow in 2021.

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