Speaking at an Aerojet Rocketdyne plant, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said the program is looking into advanced propulsion technologies that can cut the current eight-month journey to Mars “in half.” Technologies such as solar-electric propulsion are definitely in the cards, but NASA may look towards more unconventional solutions such as nuclear rockets as well. The main problem with getting humans to Mars is that, with our current liquid-fuelled rocket engines, it takes a very long time to get there; about eight months or so. If we can cut the journey in half, we significantly reduce the amount of food and water needed—which in turn cuts down the weight of the spacecraft, which in turn reduces the amount of fuel needed, which in turn feeds a very positive feedback loop. Less time in outer space means astronauts will be bombarded by less radiation too.
NASA has beefed up a process of traffic monitoring, communication and maneuver planning to ensure that Mars orbiters do not approach each other too closely.
Last year’s addition of two new spacecraft orbiting Mars brought the census of active Mars orbiters to five, the most ever. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission joined the 2003 Mars Express from ESA (the European Space Agency) and two from NASA: the 2001 Mars Odyssey and the 2006 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The newly enhanced collision-avoidance process also tracks the approximate location of NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, a 1997 orbiter that is no longer working.
It’s not just the total number that matters, but also the types of orbits missions use for achieving their science goals. MAVEN, which reached Mars on Sept. 21, 2014, studies the upper atmosphere. It flies an elongated orbit, sometimes farther from Mars than NASA’s other orbiters and sometimes closer to Mars, so it crosses altitudes occupied by those orbiters. For safety, NASA also monitors positions of ESA’s and India’s orbiters, which both fly elongated orbits
10 things humans are doing right now to reach Mars Business Insider
Mars is a freezing, desolate desert seemingly devoid of life. Yet humanity will be in much better shape after we colonize it.
This feat, however, will not be easy. The first steps will likely begin with return missions from Mars back to Earth. And only after we’ve proven that we can safely transport, land, and launch people from Mars, will we begin considering the possibility of establishing small, permanent colonies there.
Before either of those things can happen, however, scientists first need to make sure we can afford these missions and, more importantly, prove that we have the technology to safely get people to Mars and back.
There are ten projects that are currently underway which should help us move forward with missions to Mars. Based on the ground and in space, these projects are pushing the boundaries of technology and human psychology, physiology, and ingenuity.
NASA Awards Radiation Challenge Winners, Launches Next Round to Seek Ideas for Protecting Humans on the Journey to Mars NASA
NASA awarded $12,000 to five winners of a challenge to mitigate radiation exposure on deep space missions and launched a new follow-on challenge to identify innovative ways of protecting crews on the journey to Mars.
The follow-on challenge offers an award of up to $30,000 for design ideas to protect the crew on long-duration space missions. Anyone can participate in the challenge, which will be open Wednesday, April 29 through Monday, June 29, 2015.
“We are very impressed with the enthusiasm and sheer number of people from the public who showed interest in solving this very difficult problem for human space exploration,” said Steve Rader, deputy manager of the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation. “We look forward to seeing what people will come up with in this next challenge to find the optimal configuration for these different protection approaches.”
NASA has selected three proposals to develop and manufacture ultra-lightweight (ULW) materials for future aerospace vehicles and structures. The proposals will mature advanced technologies that will enable NASA to reduce the mass of spacecraft by 40 percent for deep space exploration.
“Lightweight and multifunctional materials and structures are one of NASA’s top focus areas capable of having the greatest impact on future NASA missions in human and robotic exploration,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. “These advanced technologies are necessary for us to be able to launch stronger, yet lighter, spacecraft and components as we look to explore an asteroid and eventually Mars.”
Advisors to NASA: Dump the asteroid mission and go to Phobos instead Houston Chronicle
At the conclusion of its meeting the NASA Advisory Council adopted a “finding” that the asteroid redirect mission should be dropped in favor of demonstrating solar electric propulsion on a Mars orbit mission. That could include a Phobos or Deimos sample return, but the council wanted to leave NASA some flexibility to study all options.
“If this technology is designed to go to Mars and back, let’s send it to Mars and back,” said Steve Squyres, chairman of the advisory committee. The vote was unanimous. This “finding” represents the opinion of the committee and is not binding on NASA. However it will likely spur NASA to at least further study a Mars orbit option, and will embolden the many critics of NASA’s asteroid mission
Building on the success of NASA’s partnerships with commercial industry to date, NASA has selected 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) to advance concept studies and technology development projects in the areas of advanced propulsion, habitation and small satellites.
Through these public-private partnerships, selected companies will partner with NASA to develop the exploration capabilities necessary to enable commercial endeavors in space and human exploration to deep-space destinations such as the proving ground of space around the moon, known as cis-lunar space, and Mars.
Selected advanced electric propulsion projects will develop propulsion technology systems in the 50- to 300-kilowatt range to meet the needs of a variety of deep space mission concepts. State-of-the-art electric propulsion technology currently employed by NASA generates less than five kilowatts, and systems being developed for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) Broad Area Announcement (BAA) are in the 40-kilowatt range.
Habitation systems selections will help define the architecture and subsystems of a modular habitation capability to enable extended missions in deep space. Orion is the first component of human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and will be capable of sustaining a crew of four for 21 days in deep space and returning them safely to Earth.
These selections are intended to augment the Orion capsule with the development of capabilities to initially sustain a crew of four for up to 60 days in cis-lunar space with the ability to scale up to transit habitation capabilities for future Mars missions. The selected projects will address concepts and, in some cases, provide advancement in technologies related to habitation and operations, or environmental control and life support capabilities of a habitation system.
NASA’s longest-running and most successful Mars rover may be brought to a halt by budget cuts Business Insider
It’s been a long time coming, but this week NASA’s Mars Opportunity rovercompleted the first-ever Martian marathon. After landing on the Red Planet in January 2004 on a mission originally planned to only last 90 days, Opportunity has instead endured for more than a decade, and has taken eleven years and two months to travel the marathon-standard 42.195 kilometers. On average, that’s only about ten meters per day—slower even than a snail’s pace.
“This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world,” says John Callas, Opportunity’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “A first time happens only once.”
How Science Fiction Will Help Us Go to Mars Mother Jones
While the technology for a manned mission is decades away, our imagination is not. Countless science-fiction books and movies take us to the red planet, often with fantastical results. Andy Weir’s novel The Martian is a twist on those tales, offering a near-future account of humanity’s third visit to Mars, with an unfortunate accident stranding an astronaut there. Weir blends real science into the adventure, depicting in exquisite detail how astronaut Mark Watney would survive using engineering and ingenuity. The result is an uplifting tale with a generational hero who unites and captivates people across the world. It’s currently being adapted into a film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon.
With an eye on Mars, White House seeks to boost NASA funding The Christian Science Monitor
The White House budget proposal for NASA in 2016 calls for a $500 million boost over the 2015 enacted budget and would keep NASA on its path to Mars, NASA chief Charles Bolden says.
The $18.5 billion budget request, presented by Bolden today (Feb. 2), includes funding for developing a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and the agency’s asteroid redirect mission (ARM). Officials think ARM could help pave the way for crewed missions to the Red Planet by the 2030s.
“NASA is firmly on a journey to Mars,” Bolden said. “Make no mistake, this journey will help guide and define our generation.”