While reading The Martian, our ACS ChemClub book study selection, it amazes me how real the story seems, even though we know humans have yet to travel to the Red Planet. But after reading the book you may have wondered how likely it is for a real mission to take place, rather that the fictional Ares Program in The Martian.
It turns out NASA is already developing the capabilities needed to send humans Mars in the 2030’s, a goal outlined in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy, also issued in 2010. And it is not just NASA doing the planning, they are also working with commercial and international partners to create the Global Exploration Roadmap, which lays out a shared vision for coordinated human and robotic exploration of our solar system. In March 2017, the president of the U.S. signed a new law authorizing a manned NASA mission to Mars.
The plans for exploring are complex and have many steps, but two big pieces of technology include NASA’s powerful Space Launch System rocket and Orion, a new generation spacecraft designed to carry astronauts into deep space.
The Orion Spacecraft will carry a crew of four. It is capable of missions as near as orbits around the earth to as far as Mars and beyond. Orion will have multiple uses, from transporting crew and supplies to the International Space Station to exploring deep space. NASA’s current goal is to have Orion operational by 2021.
The Space Launch System is classified as a super-heavy launch lift vehicle. It initially will be able to carry 70 metric tons of payload into Earth orbit. Upgrades in years to follow will double this capacity. The first version is scheduled to launch in 2018.
The next step in going to Mars is to build the Deep Space Gateway and the Deep Space Transport. The Deep Space gateway will be like a small version of the International Space Station but will orbit around the moon. This will serve as an assembly station and rest stop for astronauts headed for Mars. It will have several docking ports and room to amass supplies and equipment.
The Deep Space Transport is a reusable spacecraft that will be stationed at the Gateway and will depart from there. After traveling to Mars it will return to the gateway for service and refitting and another mission. Other than landing humans on the surface of Mars and returning them safely, other details of the first mission to Mars are still in development.
And if you still think this sounds like science-fiction, consider that NASA has designed a series of posters to recruit the next generation of deep space voyagers! Although they are not quite ready to accept applications, they are definitely getting the word out that the future is real.
If you have any comments or questions about plans to travel to Mars, share your thoughts with us in the comment section and on Facebook or Twitter using #ACSChemClubBook.
Don’t forget, about the resource packet for the ChemClub Virtual Book Club, including the two contests that are still open: