How close are we to humans stepping on Mars? Although humanity has been behind that dream for a long time, there is still much to investigate. We have sent robotic missions and we know what technology would be necessary to carry out a manned mission, but to date there is only data and no person has set foot on the red planet.
The digitaltrends website contacted Michael Hecht, a space expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and principal investigator of the MOXIE oxygen fabrication instrument for the Perseverance rover, to learn how a trip from Earth to Mars is possible and under what conditions humans could set foot on Martian soil for the first time time.
Despite the many space technology news that seem to predict the near future of a manned mission to Mars, this goal always seems to be far from the programming of space agencies and companies.
In order to set foot on the neighboring planet, the first step is to build technology that makes this purpose possible.. However, Hecht claims that humanity would have to commit financially for this to be a reality.
“We could have gone after Apollo. It would have been difficult and dangerous. But now we can do it more safely”, comment Hecht. But, if done, What would the process be like?
A meeting point between Earth and Mars
In reality, according to the space expert, there would only be one practical way to travel to the red planet. The elliptical orbit (around the Sun) of Mars lasts just under two Earth years. This implies that there is a period in a 26-month cycle in which that journey is easier.
At that exact moment when the planets are closest, a rocket could be sent into the Hohmann transfer orbit. “There is a magic point in that 26 month cycle”Hecht mentions. That ‘point’ is the ideal moment for a rocket to be launched from Earth to cross into the orbit of Mars: “It’s like changing lanes on the highway”.
For this reason, missions to the red planet are launched almost at the same time, as the rover Perseverance of NASA, the Tianwen-1 mission of China and the Hope mission of the United Arab Emirates.
The duration of the trip
Although we reduce the distance of the path by launching the spacecraft when the points of the orbits of Mars and Earth are closer, the mission would last three years, compared to the few days that the missions to the Moon lasted. Those three years would add up to the time of the trip and the stay on the Martian surface.
If astronauts were sent to Mars, they could make really important explorations and discoveries, but there would be considerable risk: should a problem arise on the mission, it would be virtually impossible to send aid or supplies from Earth.
On such a long journey, there are several possible threats: exposure to radiation, risks during launch and landing, failures that can appear over time, etc. To minimize these problems, Hecht explains that it would be essential to send machines and equipment to the planet before the astronauts arrive. In addition, it would be key to ensure that basic needs to survive are covered, such as access to water and oxygen.
The MOXIE project of the space expert would be a clear example of the technology that would reduce the risks of a manned mission to Mars. This machine is capable of producing oxygen from the abundant CO2 in the Martian atmosphere.
Live on Mars?
Although we are a long way from building futuristic cities on Mars, the idea of creating McMurdo base in Antarctica, so that several astronauts spend 18 months living there, imitating the conditions of Mars.
According to Hecht, it would be feasible to establish a first manned mission to Mars within 20 to 25 years and establish a research outpost like the one in Antarctica in subsequent decades.
This mission could be stronger and better planned if different countries participated. Currently, NASA cooperates with other space agencies, such as ESA and the Japanese Space Agency.
“Hopefully, that first mission will involve not just NASA and not just the United States,” Hecht ventures. Hopefully it also involves China, so there is not a single point of failure. “
Likewise, Hecht explains that not only government space agencies are investigating to travel to Mars, now there are also private companies, such as SpaceX and Blue Origin that set their sights on the red planet.
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