Humanity has always been fascinated by space: the vast void untouched and, in the past, out of reach. We once thought we would never set foot on the moon; it was simply beyond our grasp, and the very thought of landing on Mars was ludicrous.
Since the USSR’s first contact with the Moon in 1959 and NASA’s Apollo 8 mission in 1968, humanity’s appetite for space adventure has grown. We’ve sent craft far out into our solar system, landed on planets once unreachable, and we have viewed interstellar objects billions of light years away.
To do this we had to push our technological and physical capabilities to the limit; we needednew inventions and new initiatives to keep humanity on the cutting edge, to keep exploring, and to keep expanding our knowledge of the universe. What we consider to be the future keeps getting closer to becoming the present.
THE NEXT MANNED MISSIONS
In April 2013, Netherlands-based organization Mars One searched for willing applicants who would embark on a dangerous mission: a one-way trip to the Red Planet. With over 200,000 volunteers, it is needless to say they found enough participants for the excursion.
The expedition would leave Earth in 2018 and arrive at Mars around 500 days later; the goal of this mission is to establish a colony by 2025. Some of Mars Ones’ partners are Lockheed Martin, Surry Satellite Technology Ltd., SpaceX, as well as others. They were given contracts to develop a Mars lander, data link satellite, and to provide a means of getting there and establishing a colony.
Several rockets will be needed to take the payloads into orbit and then to Mars;these payloads include satellites, rovers, cargo and, of course, people. The plan is to use SpaceXs’ Falcon Heavy rocket for the mission.
The Mars transit vehicle will be composed of two stages, a landing module, and a transit habitat. The landing capsule in consideration for the mission is a variant of the Dragon capsule, again of SpaceX design. The lander will carry life support units to generate energy, water, and breathable air for the inhabitants. It will also house the supply units with food, solar panels, spare parts, other various components, inflatable living units, and people.
There are two rovers that will be sent in ahead of the crew.One will explore the Martian surface to search for a place to settle, transport large hardware, and assist in general assembly. The second rover will carry a trailer for transport of the landing capsule. To combat the extreme temperature, thin, non-breathable atmosphere, and solar radiation on the surface, the settlers will use Mars suits when walking on the surface.
NASA also has a plan to set foot on the Red Planet, but their mission is scheduled for around 2030. They plan on sending a group of sixty individuals of people representing over 30 government bodies, industries, academic institutions, and other organizations.
The feasibility of this mission requires international and private industry support. Chris Carberry, Executive Director of the Mars Society, told Space.com: “To be able to make it feasible and affordable, you need a sustainable budget. You need a budget that is consistent, that you can predict from year to year and that doesn’t get canceled in the next administration”.
The technology they plan on using for this mission includes their Space Launch System (SLS) and their Orion deep space crew capsule. At the Mars Workshop in December 2013, NASA, Boeing, Orbital Sciences Corp., and others set agreements regarding what the mission should accomplish and how they would go about doing so.
These agreements include that human exploration of Mars is technologically feasible by 2030, that Mars should be the main focus for human spaceflight for the next twenty to thirty years, and they established that the use of the International Space Station (ISS) including international partnerships are essential for these deep space missions.
NASA still believes that they need more information before setting off to the Red Planet; to prepare for this they are going to send rovers on precursor missions in the 2020s before sending humans to the planet. Experts are unsure of the length of the mission and will decide that as we get closer to the 2030s launch date.
Mars One and NASA are not the only organizations that have their eye on Mars. Otherswould like to go to Mars, like Inspiration Mars, Elon Musk,and Mars Direct.
Inspiration Mars wants to launch two people, preferably a married couple. The couple will go on a flyby of Mars sometime in January 2018, where they plan on getting as close as 160 kilometres in August of that same year.
The founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, dreams of turning humanity into a multi-planet species. He plans on going to Mars via a reusable rocket that is powered by liquid oxygen and methane. The plan is to start off with putting approximately ten people on the planet which will eventually grow into a self-sustaining settlement containing about 80,000 people. According to Musk, the reusable rocket is the key to the entire mission.
Mars Direct, which was first established in the 1990s by Mars Society head Robert Zubrin states that a “live-off-the-land” approach is needed to keep the costs down. He plans on doing this by generating oxygen and fuel by pulling material for fuel out of the atmosphere, using the soil to get water, and resources for construction: all of this running off of a nuclear powerreactor. Zubrin states that the settlement will become self-sufficient over time.
NASA’S FLYING SAUCER
On June 29, 2014 NASA launched their new Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) craft on its’ first test flight. This craft is designed for potential missions to Mars in the near future. It was tested in Earth’s upper atmosphere to experiment how the craft and its Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD) and LDSD systems would function in a Martian environment.
The saucer-shaped craft has two pairs of one-use thrusters which spin it, as well as a single solid state rocket under the middle of the craft to propel it.For the test flight, a large science balloon brought the craft up to an altitude of 120,000 feet.
When the craft reached the correct altitude, thrusters activated to spin it, increasing its stability. At the same time, the rocket under the craft accelerated the vehicle. When correct acceleration and height were reached—Mach 4 and 180,000 feet—the rocket cut out and a second set of thrusters pointed in the opposite direction ignited to de-spin the craft.
At this point the SIAD system was deployed, an inflatable ring around the craft expanded, bringing the crafts diameter from 20 to 26 feet and decelerating it to Mach 2.5 (Kramer, 2014). According to NASA engineers the SIAD system deployed as expected with minimal disturbance to the craft. The next step was to deploy the supersonic parachute which is used to slow down the craft to land.
To do this a ballute was used to deploy the parachute at speeds of 200 feet per second.The ballute was then cut free and the parachute was released out of its storage container. The parachute started to tear as soon as it was released; the low atmosphere environment proved too much for the parachute and tore it apart.
Principal Investigator for LDSD, Ian Clark said that “[they] got significant insight into the fundamental physics of parachute inflation. We are literally rewriting the books on high-speed parachute operations, and we are doing it a year ahead of schedule” during a news conference.
Even with the parachute failure, the engineers behind it still consider the test a success as it gave them a chance to see how a parachute would function in such an environment and would better prepare them for future tests.
MARS ROVER WITH LASERS
With the continued success of their Curiosity Mars rover, NASA has made plans for a second one. This rover will be based mostly off of Curiosity’s design but the main focus of the new rover is ground penetration radar and lasers.
The new rover will look and function much like Curiosity; it will have 6 wheels, weigh one ton, and will land with the aid of a rocket powered sky crane. The main difference between the two is that the new rover will have seven instruments to Curiosity’s ten.
The mast of the new rover will have the MastCam-Z, a stereoscopic camera which has the ability to zoom, and the SuperCam: an advanced version of Curiosity’s ChemCam. It will shoot lasers to determine the chemical composition of rocks from a distance.
The rover’s arm willhave a Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry (PIXL); this is an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer that has a high resolution imager. This allows scientists to perform detailed investigations on rock materials.
As well as the PIXL, the new rover will have what is called the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC). This is a spectrophotometer for the detailed study of rocks and potentially detected organics.
The body of the rover will house the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), which is a high tech weather station and a Radar Imagers for Mars’ Subsurface Exploration (RIMFAX), which is ground penetrating radar.
A Mars Oxygen ISRU—in situ resource utilization—Experiment (MOXIE) will test if oxygen can be made from the carbon dioxide rich Martian atmosphere. The last instrument is a coring drill which would be used to collect samples; the samples would either be stored on the rover or on the ground in a specified location.
The new rover will be used in a mission to Mars in the 2020s with the purpose of identifying rocks that might have the best chance of obtaining evidence of past life on Mars. The rover will follow the path that Curiosity took when it landed on Mars to check a site that Curiosity established might have supported life.
The new rover can search for bio signatures, cache samples with the possibility of returning to Earth, and furthers the goal of NASA putting people on Mars. If the rover cannot come back to Earth on its own then it would be possible for astronauts to claim the samples later; when sealed the samples can last up to twenty years from collection.
Humanity is pushing technology beyond what the most imaginative science fiction authors of the past could have guessed; we are coming up with new innovations and new inventions continuously. We are exceeding the limits that we set for ourselves and crossing boundaries that we never thought possible. One day, we may find out where we came from, if we are truly alone, and if we can defy the constraints that have grounded civilization on planet earth for all of its history.