This story now
IN Science & Technology ON 21 Oct, 2016
Mars mission has been an ambitious project in the second tenure of Barack Obama as the president of US. He disclosed a golden goal to send humans to Mars by 2030 and safely bring them back as well. The distant vision of the mission is to make possible for humans to live on Mars someday in future.
While the tenure of Mr Obama as the US president is to end soon, NASA already announced a detailed report on the mission. NASA claims that it will conquer Mars till the end of 2030. Experts say we are much closer to the possibility of Mars trip. It's a common belief that if the next US president shows the same amount of enthusiasm, the mission would be a sure shot success.
While America is hopeful at this front, there are many challenges to face. So the question here is, are these plans feasible in the next few years? Here are the biggest challenges that seem to hinder this dream of NASA.
Currently, America doesn't own a technology to take its astronauts to the Mars. It doesn't have a spacecraft to leave the earth for even the International Space Station. Mars would be a far fetched goal. America relies on Russian Soyuz aircraft for its ISS tours.
Now realizing the need of a spacecraft for the mission, the USA is down for developing its own spacecraft. To further surprise, the private companies of America are up for this challenge.
SpaceX is on its Dragon robotic vehicle and Boeing on its CST-100. Elon Musk, the owner of SpaceX, claims that the Dragon would be ready to leave Earth by 2018.
Another challenge against the mission is the need for the larger than ever space crafts. The trip to Mars would be a 3-year round trip, and spacecraft would have to take off with the astronauts and supplies. The supplies would be in an amount that they can last for these 3 years. So to launch such heavy payloads including humans, supplies and fuels a giant spacecraft is needed. So they either have to develop a single massive unit or multiple units launched separately.
To launch a huge spacecraft, a huge rocket is needed as well. Although it's not a new science, still designing largest spacecraft and rocket ever is a challenge. NASA is to conduct a second test of world's largest rocket in 2021. The rocket will be a part of Space Launch System. SpaceX is developing Falcon Heavy Rocket that would be capable 0f launching heavier payloads to space.
Let's assume we reach happily into the orbit of Mars. There still is a challenge that waits. How are they going to place their feet on the surface of the Mars? The deceleration needed for such a landing on the planet was from the friction, thermal effects, and parachutes in the past. But are these factors enough to provide power to decelerate such a huge craft?
SpaceX, on the other hand, is proving that supersonic retro propulsion can serve the purpose. The technology would include firing engines to the spacecraft to provide opposite acceleration. So the technology to meet the challenge is already there.
Even after the American space agencies develop the required resources, the trip cannot be set up without any testing. As mentioned in the timeline, NASA plans to test its resources by sending them to the orbit the Moon. The trial would take place sometime between 2018 and 2030. NASA would organize a crew for a spacewalk in the region of Moon. Some of these test missions can even last for a whole year.
NASA will also send a mission to a nearby asteroid Bennu sometime soon. These missions would help NASA to test their preparations to travel the Mars without taking the risk of going into deeper space.
Is it enough for NASA astronauts to reach the Mars? The thing which is more important is to reach alive and survive there and further the research.
The biggest threat to the lives of people traveling to Mars would be solar flares and cosmic radiations from the galaxy. The solar flares can be tolerated by having some special design features. We also can install a dedicated storm shelter. For example, we can have a water wall. The wall would be a lining the walls of spacecraft with clean water from life support water supply.
Now the other threat would be the galactic cosmic radiations. These aren't that easy to counter. Our free space has cosmic radiations of high intensities.
As measured in the previous Mars outing, the cosmic radiations would be of the same intensity as on International Space Station. Earth's Van Allen belts protect ISS from the charged solar particles and cosmic radiations. ISS is below these belts, but there won't be such a belt as a savior on Mars mission. One strategy is to cross the outer space at higher speeds with minimalistic exposure to radiation. This challenge could still be the biggest for them. Mars is safe but outer space is not.
Astronauts spend days, weeks, and months on the space station. They have to build their survival and stay facility there. The same services would be handy on Mars trip. But the thing is even when the planets are nearest to each other it's a 6 to 9 months journey. ISS is few hours travel, and if anything goes wrong, the earth is closer for rescue. This won't be possible for Mars. A sound life support system is a compulsion on Mars mission.
Also, on completing the months-long journey to Mars, they aren't going to take a u-turn soon. They will only start the journey back when Mars and Earth are in the perfect alignment with the sun. So they would be Martian humans for more than a year. This calls for a need of a permanent residence to face the climatic changes and other threats.
So NASA is all set for its mission Mars. It has its preparations and a way against all the challenges. So the task seems much possible. Although preparations are on at higher pace, implementation is what that can hang the mission for some time. NASA plans to send the mission asap, but it seems to take quite some time as of now.
Moral of the story is. Mars travel is feasible provided we get the right resources to make it happen. Get ready for some space vacation. :)