An anonymous reader shares a report: Entrepreneur Elon Musk's announcement late last month accelerating plans for manned flights to Mars ratchets up political and public relations pressure on NASA's efforts to reach the same goal. With Musk publicly laying out a much faster schedule than NASA -- while contending his vision is less expensive and could be financed primarily with private funds -- a debate unlike any before is shaping up over the direction of U.S. space policy. Industry officials and space experts consider the proposal by Musk's Space Exploration to land people on the red planet around the middle of the next decade extremely optimistic. Some supporters concede the deadline appears ambitious even for reaching the moon, while Musk himself acknowledged some of his projected dates are merely "aspirational." But the National Aeronautics and Space Administration doesn't envision getting astronauts to Mars until at least a decade later, a timeline NASA is finding increasingly hard to defend in the face of criticism that it is too slow.