There’s no doubt that a mission to Mars would be a transforming event in the history of mankind, and NASA knows it. As the agency plans out the mission it has created a number of programs that encourage scientists, students in colleges and graduate schools, businesses, and individuals to get involved.

These programs include:

  • Soliciting from the public ideas on designing structures on Mars that would use existing materials already on the planet.
  • A workshop to collect proposals for landing locations on Mars that would offer the highest scientific research value.
  • A NASA plan that outlines the next steps in the development and implementation of a manned journey to Mars.

It is obvious that the executives of NASA are seeking the entire population to buy into the concept of landing a manned crew on the surface of Mars and then returning them back to Earth. Making people feel as though they are a part of the mission would make it easier for NASA to get funds and create the new technologies necessary to convert a plan to reality.

The outline of a plan for the next steps in the development and implementation of such a mission is similar to a company’s annual report to stockholders.

The NASA report, which was released earlier this month, is titled NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration.

What NASA proposes is a series of baby steps, or sub-missions, that would provide us with the knowledge and capability to successfully achieve future sub-missions that would ultimately culminate in landing a manned crew on the Red Planet.

So, initial research or Earth Reliant exploration is focused on research onboard the International Space Station, The ISS will serve as a platform for testing technologies, advancing knowledge in human health and performance research that will enable deep space, long duration missions.

In sub-missions or projects referred to as Proving Grounds, NASA will learn to conduct complex operations in a deep space environment that allows crews to return to Earth in a matter of days. Primarily operating in cislunar space – the volume of space around the moon featuring multiple possible stable staging orbits for future deep space missions – NASA will advance and validate capabilities required for humans to live and work at distances much farther away from our home planet, such as Mars.

A series of Earth Independent activities will then be performed which will build on what we learn on the space station and in deep space to enable human missions to the Mars vicinity, possibly to low-Mars orbit or one of the Martian moons, and eventually the Martian surface. Future Mars missions will represent a collaborative effort between NASA and its partners – a global achievement that marks a transition in humanity’s expansion as we go to Mars to seek the potential of sustainable life beyond Earth.

NASA’s plan also calls for overcoming challenges involved in traveling in space. A new and powerful space transportation system will be key to the journey, but NASA will also need to learn new ways of operating in space, based on self-reliance and increased system reliability. NASA will use Proving Ground missions to validate transportation and habitation capabilities as well as new operational approaches to stay productive in space while reducing reliance on Earth.

NASA identifies the technological operational challenges in three categories: Transportation, sending humans and cargo through space efficiently, safely, and reliably; working in space, enabling productive operations for crew and robotic systems; and staying healthy, developing habitation systems that provide safe, healthy and sustainable human exploration. Bridging these three categories are the overarching logistical challenges facing crewed missions lasting up to 1,100 days, and exploration campaigns that span decades.

NASA’s plan also includes strategic investments that will provide capabilities and state-of-the-art technologies that benefit both NASA and their industry partners while minimizing overall costs through innovative partnerships.

NASA is already involved in the development of the Space Launch System, the Orion crewed spacecraft, and the revitalization of a space launch complex. These transportation capabilities for the journey to Mars will also be available to commercial crew and cargo partners to maintain operations and stimulate new economic activity in low-Earth orbit.

Another sub-mission included in the overall mission of a journey to Mars is the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM); NASA will demonstrate an advanced solar electric propulsion capability that will be a critical component of the journey to Mars. ARM will also provide an unprecedented opportunity for NASA to validate new spacewalk and sample handling techniques as astronauts investigate several tones of an asteroid boulder – potentially opening new scientific discoveries about the formation of the solar system and beginning of life on Earth.

Incorporated into the plan will be existing ground-based facilities and services including the Deep Space Network (DSN), Near Earth Network (NEN), and Space Network (SN) – critical communications capabilities that continue to advance human and robotic communication throughout the solar system.

NASA will continue to use assets already on or orbiting Mars to gather vital data about the Martian environment and help NASA understand what challenges they may face and resources they may encounter.

NASA understands that astronauts on Mars will need the capability to live off the land and they are looking for innovative ideas to use situ (in place) Martian resources to help establish a human presence on the Red Planet.

NASA is sponsoring the In Situ Resource Utilization Challenge to encourage the public to submit designs for structures on Mars that would use existing materials. The agency plans to award $10,000 to the first-place winner and $2,500 to each of two second-place submissions.

NineSigma Inc. is managing the challenge as part of the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL).

Finally, NASA will be holding their first Landing Sites/Exploration Zones Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars on October 27-30, 2015 at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas. The workshop will collect proposals for locations on Mars that would be of high scientific research value while also providing natural resources to enable human explorers to land, live and work safely on the Red Planet.

NASA plans to use existing assets at Mars, such as the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter (MRO) and the Odyssey spacecraft, to support the selection process of potential Exploration Zones.

The event is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. EDT (1 p.m. CDT) Tuesday, October 27, 2015. The workshop will be webcast live via UStream.


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