Mars: The Next Chapter in Space Exploration
The next step: A giant leap from the Moon to Mars
In December 2017 President Donald Trump issued a new challenge to NASA and the space tech community: “enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.” This edict created new momentum to land a man on Mars. But how the heck are we going to do it?
One of NASA’s first objectives is to return to the moon. Even though it has been 50 years since we first went to the moon, we have only spent a grand total of 16 days there. So the plan is to return to the moon, soon. And this time, the U.S. won't be going there alone. Unlike the ‘space race’ of the 1960s, today the United States and Russia are working in partnership. The plan is to explore the moon and create a ‘Gateway’ in its orbit, which will be a “lunar orbiting platform to host astronauts farther from Earth than ever before”. And other nations wish to join the club including Europe, Japan, and Canada. If we can construct this platform we will be able to go back and forth to the lunar surface for further exploration and create a station for refueling and launching further space travel.
The Gateway can be positioned in the in the furthest part of Earth's orbit – meaning it will have the least amount of Earth’s gravity affecting and slowing down the rockets launching from there. This means that large rockets like the Delta V or Space X’s Falcon Heavy can go a lot farther if launched from the Moon than from Earth.
With the moon back within reach, NASA’s ‘Exploration Campaign’ is developing the mechanisms to transport humans to Mars. Through a combination of the lunar base and advanced robotic and human life-support systems the goal is to create a means to enable long-duration human space travel.
But, we’re going to need a bigger rocket! To construct the Gateway NASA is developing a new heavy launch rocket called the Space Launch System. The moon will then become not only a testing ground for the further Mars missions but also a potential opportunity for fuel and life-support resources – like the frozen water at its poles. The SLS is to be the most powerful rocket ever built with a total thrust greater than that of the Saturn V, here's how the two stack up. The SLS will be 365 ft. in height and 27 ft. in diameter vs. the Saturn V's 138 ft. length and 33 ft. diameter. The Saturn V was propelled by the powerful F-1 and J-2 engines while the SLS will use the RS-25 initially designed for the Space Shuttle program. In its largest configuration (at 130 metric tons) the SLS will lift more than 286,000 pounds and provide 20% more thrust than the Saturn V.
Private entities are also eager to participate in these missions. Elon Musk is building what he has dubbed a ‘BFR’ (can you guess what that stands for?) rocket which will carry 150 tons, 40 cabins each of which could hold up to 5 or 6 people, a solar storm shelter and an entertainment area. Musk also plans to make use of the lunar base plan to continue onwards to Mars.