Pack your bags, because we’re going to Mars! Eventually! And now, thanks to NASA, we have a timeline and goals on how and when that will happen. This new plan outlines what steps we’ll take on the path to human exploration on Mars, making it a reality within the next 15 to 20 years.
The first step in the process of getting us to Mars involves the International Space Station. We already have astronauts up there testing technologies for long duration space travel. We’re also studying the effects of space on ISS astronauts’ bodies, leading to an understanding about how space travel can cause medical problems like muscle atrophy and skeletal deterioration. NASA is running similar tests here on Earth by simulating the body’s condition in space, to figure out what special exercise plans can offset these side effects.
Deep space missions are next, including capturing an asteroid and redirecting it to an orbit around the Moon. Astronauts will load up into the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle capsule and get sent to the asteroid via NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket, which will be the most powerful launch system ever built. During this mission, NASA will also test new spacesuits and technologies, along with a Solar Electric Propulsion System. If successful, astronauts on this mission will collect samples of the asteroid and then bring them back to Earth.
Our robotic missions to Mars will also continue. Curiosity is on the ground now, taking samples and collecting data about the surface of Mars. It’s also measuring radiation there, so we have an idea of what sort of protective gear astronauts will need when exploring the planet. Future robotic missions to Mars are in the works, including the Mars 2020 rover, which will collect samples from the planet for future retrieval and in our search for past Martian life. This mission will also test new technologies to see how they work in situ.
By the 2030’s, NASA feels that we’ll be ready and armed with enough information to land humans on Mars. But really, Mars is just the beginning. Once we travel to deep space, there will be even more planets open to us for exploration, giving us a chance to finally spread our species farther than near-Earth orbit.