These days, both NASA and Mars are big in the news. Today, President Trump signed a new law approving funding for a a crewed NASA mission to Mars as well as other missions into deep space. Receiving a rare unanimous vote in the Senate and House of Representatives, this new law will help NASA acheive its goal for a crewed mission to Mars as early as 2030.
This new addition sets the Trump’s funding allocation for NASA at $19.5 billion for the 2018 fiscal year, up from the $19.1 billion budget originally put forth by the president. But while the Trump administration seems to believe space is indeed the final frontier, how realistic is it we will get the chance to travel through space in the not too distant future?
If NASA has its way, things look very good.
According to NASA’s website, the space agency has long been on the path to pave the way for future human explorers to make their way to Mars and flourish on the planet’s surface. The Mars Science Laboratory mission’s Curiosity rover compiled data which NASA can use to help keep future astronauts safe when stationed there.
NASA has also pinpointed the final three promising landing sites for the Mars 2020 Rover. These include Gusev Crater, Jezero Crater, and Northeast Syrtis. The upcoming rover mission will provide NASA with crucial information for future manned Mars missions, including measuring the planet’s oxygen levels as well as other important resources.
But NASA is not the only one rearing to race off to Mars; Elon Musk’s SpaceX has also recently teamed up with the agency to identify possible landing sites for the unmanned Dragon capsule, which is scheduled to land on the Red Planet in 2020.
Last year, Musk also announced his plans for an Interplanetary Transport System, which could bring people to Mars in as little as 80 days. His goal would be to set up a colony of a million people on the planet as well as “make Mars seem possible” as a travel option within our lifetime.
NASA has also looked ahead towards dwellings for astronauts on Mars. Apparently, the scientists believe the best building materials for these home would be ice.
Although unmanned and manned missions to Mars are all well and good, what about the rest of us? When will deep space travel and possible planetary colonization actually be feasible?
Here are some of the challenges mankind will face during space travel to Mars and beyond.
Launching a manned Mars-bound vessel from Earth
No question about it: To get a group of humans to Mars, you need one big rocket. Luckily, NASA is on the job here as well. The space agency has been hard at work on the Space Launch System (SLS), a rocket powerful enough and with sufficient storage space to get a crew to Mars. As of now, the SLS Block 1—one of three SLS vehicles planned—has an estimated test launch date of no later than November 2018.
Keeping the crew and Martian-loving tourists healthy
Once NASA manages to get people on their way to the Red Planet, the next challenge will be keeping them healthy in space. After all, space is a rough place and humans are delicate organisms. Space radiation increases the risk of cancer and microgravity can cause many strange health conditions, such as constant nausea and loss of bone and muscle mass. Since a trip to Mars would take at least eight months, any humans on board the shuttle would need to be protected the entire time they travel through space. Psychological well-being and ways of coping with isolation and the taking in the vastness of empty space would also have to be dealt with.
Landing on the surface of the Red Planet
Landing on Mars is apparently no easy feat. Since the atmospheric pressure on Earth is 99 percent higher than on Mars, objects landing on the Martian surface slam down hard. Once this challenge has been dealt with, the next comes up: Mars’ difficult terrain. The planet is full of craters, jagged boulders, cliffs and other dangerous obstacles. However, the potential rewards are great. As Dr. Firouz Naderi of NASA’s Mars Program Office said, Mars is the “most Earth-like planet in our solar system” and offers great promise to someday sustain life—including our own.
In short, if NASA’s plans continue as hoped, you may someday be sending postcards back home to Earth from your trip to Mars.
[Featured Image by Esteban De Armas/Shutterstock]