Future astronauts may spend as long as 30 days or even considerably longer on a mission to Mars. Astronauts will have to deal with the psychological pressures of being away from Earth and logistical challenges as they adapt to Mars’s gravity and hostile environment. NASA also has to prepare for the financial requirements of a project of this magnitude.
NASA has released a draft of a new high-level workshop that details how a 30-day mission to the Red Planet may be accomplished.
Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy hopes that the feedback NASA gets on the objectives they have defined will help guide NASA’s exploration plans for the Moon and Mars over the next 20 years. The workshop planners are looking for cooperation from NASA and outside stakeholders to fine-tune these goals and be as transparent as possible.
Melroy wants feedback to identify possible holes in the project architecture and places where NASA’s goals may overlap with those of industry and international partners, allowing for future collaboration.
Kurt Vogel, NASA’s director of space architectures, drew out the blueprint for a future Mars trip. In the workshop, he claimed that two crew members might survive inside a pressurized rover that could serve as a housing and exploration vehicle, allowing scientists to pursue essential science goals.
The high-level draft specifies 50 critical areas that fall into significant categories for human exploration:
Making a mission to the surface of Mars a reality
NASA’s plan for getting humans to Mars would place two astronauts in orbit before sending another two to the surface in a 25-ton lander vehicle.
A spacecraft that delivers astronauts to Mars and can also serve as a habitat during their stay is critical for a month-long stay. This would be accomplished with a hybrid rocket that combines chemical and electric propulsion.
Vogel wants to optimize the science by letting the astronauts drive around before they get conditioned enough to put on the spacesuits and start exploring the surface.
When transit time to and from Earth is factored in, a future expedition to the surface of Mars and back could take two years — but it could also involve a 500-day stay on the surface, which would represent roughly 1,000 days away from our warm blue planet for future astronauts.
NASA will develop the Transit Habitat to offer lodging for humans on their long, historic voyage to Mars when the Lunar Gateway is finished and functioning in lunar orbit.
Kurt Vogel, NASA’s director of space architectures, described what such a trip might entail.
The agency envisions a habitat spacecraft that employs a hybrid rocket stage that combines chemical and electric power to make the months-long journey there.
Two crew members would remain in orbit, while the other two would travel to Mars’ surface. The latter would have access to supplies delivered to the surface by a 25-ton Mars lander, which would provide surface power and mobility and a fully fueled pre-deployed crew ascent vehicle to return them both to orbit later.
Vogel proposes that the two crew members dwell inside a pressurized rover that would offer habitation and allow them to achieve scientific objectives while on the desolate Martian surface for up to an Earth month.
Preparing the crew for Mars’ gravity
During the presentation, Vogel stated that NASA’s premise was to prepare the crew and give them as much time as possible to adjust to Mars gravity which is about a third of that on Earth. A 200-pound human would weigh approximately 76 pounds on the Red Planet.
In the future, a journey to Mars might last anywhere from 30 days on the surface (about two Earth years when transit times are taken into account) to almost 500 days on the surface (long-stay missions that could last 916 days).
Given the enormous logistics and expenditures required, Vogel and his colleagues believed that 30 days on the surface was significantly more possible.
When can we expect NASA astronauts to stay on Mars?
NASA faces a mountain of work before flights to Mars can begin. It still has the Artemis missions to complete. The Artemis mission have been operating delayed by contractors and over budget, while SpaceX Starship is delayed waiting for FAA review.
Following the Artemis missions, NASA plans to build the Lunar Gateway, a permanent presence on the Moon that will serve as a stepping stone for astronauts to reach the surface and eventually develop the Transit Habitat. This concept spacecraft will house astronauts on their much longer voyage to Mars.
It will be a while before we have a better idea of what a crewed voyage to the Martian surface would require. However, NASA is doing its best to solicit advice and feedback on its ambitious plan.
Feature image credit: Astronaut working on Mars by NASA