Mission to Mars

(April 21, 2014)

(Launchspace Staff)

In recent news reports the discussion of sending astronauts to Mars has been a hot topic. Certain private individuals and companies have indicated interest in a variety of missions designed to take people from Earth to Mars. One company wants to send a couple on a free-return close-fly-by of the Red Planet. Others want to land a crew on the surface of the planet. Still others have suggested that a colony be formed on Mars. Just last week, NASA’s advisors suggested that a human expeditions to Mars remains unachievable in the near term due to a lack of needed technologies and the high price tag.

All this begs the question: “Why is a Mars mission so difficult?” Certainly, a successful expedition would be a phenomenal achievement for mankind and extremely prestigious for the national and team that reached this goal. Most of the people interested in spaceflight would agree that this could be the next big space event, topping even Apollo 11’s successful manned lunar landing in 1969. Although no one has visited the moon since 1972, there appears to be little doubt that one day the Moon will be colonized. It is also logical that Mars will be colonized one day.

Let’s project ahead and speculate about such a colonization. NASA has been conceptualizing a typical exploration mission that would take a crew of astronauts on a round trip to Mars. However, in order to colonize the planet, one or more astronauts would have to make such a journey “one-way.” In other words, one or more explorers would have to occupy a colony on a permanent or rotating basis. In the case of the ISS, there is a continuous crew presence onboard to maintain the station and to carry out research and engineering feats. As we already know the cost of rotating a crew, typically every 90 days, is extremely high. A similar scenario for a staffed Mars ground station would be orders of magnitude higher in cost and complexity. 

In view of the lack of technology for low-cost crew rotations on Mars, it appears obvious that early colonization would require the crew to stay on the planet. This scenario presents obvious technical and cost advantages. There are also obvious disadvantages such as spending the rest of their lives on a distant, hostile planet, where a simple phone call to home requires a seven-minute voice delay each way. Nevertheless, recent surveys indicate that hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers are ready to commit to such a trip. Of course, not all of these people would be willing to follow through. However, there surely are a few who would make up a small Mars expeditionary crew. Once a selection is made, each astronaut would be put through a required several-year training program. Such a program would include being isolated for long periods in small groups, developing expertise and work experience in areas such as mechanical and electrical equipment repairs, cultivating crops in confined spaces and addressing a variety of medical issues.

The typical flight to Mars takes between seven and eight months, depending on the selected launch window, which opens every 26 months. The astronauts would likely have to use a spacecraft that is sufficiently large to endure the trip, i.e., much larger than Orion. Life support would be provided in the form of freeze-dried and canned food and water, and recycled air. Daily routines would include several hours of exercise in order to maintain muscle mass. In addition, since interplanetary space is exposed to attack by solar storms, the crew require a designated solar-shelter within the spacecraft for protection.

Upon arrival at Mars, the spacecraft will have to provide a means of making a soft landing on the planet’s surface. Immediately upon landing, the astronauts would begin development of living quarters that are probably inflatable structures capable of holding a breathable atmosphere for the crew. Any outside activities require the use of Mars-type EVA pressure suits. Surface rovers could be used for travel and exploration. It is possible that some structures would have been sent ahead of the crew and robotically assembled. Additional equipment could be sent after the crew arrives.

Sometime after the first crew has settled, a second crew could be sent, then a third, and so on. Eventually, a small community would evolve and reach a size sufficient for continuous self-contained sustainment.

Launchspace is in the process of creating a series of short courses on human exploration engineering in anticipation of future missions to Mars and other destinations. Stay tuned and contact Launchspace for more information.

Past Editorials

Print Friendly

Comments are closed.