NASA is evaluating a first human sojourn on the surface of Mars that would last about 30 Earth days.
Scientists and engineers discuss how best to use that month on the Red Planet. Has the Mars explorers plant a flag, simply try to stay alive, do valuable scientific work, or prioritize setting up equipment for the next human Mars landing team? However that epic mission spirals out of control, choice of location will be critical, and bringing selected gear on the first outing will likely set the stage for future human exploration of the Red Planet.
Last month, NASA held a Science Objectives for Human Exploration of Mars Workshop to identify the highest-priority science objectives for a manned expedition to the Red Planet† The agency has also started outlining several possible operating concepts that would make that science possible.
Among the results of the meeting is the identification of certain categories of scientific work that could benefit from a manned surface mission, whether or not the astronauts actually have to operate the equipment. It turns out that a lot of science can be done, even if the astronauts have to spend most of their time working to stay alive and stay healthy.
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Pre-positioned Robot Assets
“My impression from the workshop was that while 30 days is a very strict limitation for scientific operations, if we use pre-placed robotic resources effectively, we can reduce the risk of achieving scientific objectives, which is inherent in such a short period of time. mission on the surface,” said Paul Niles, a planetary scientist within the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston.
“There’s still a lot of work to do to better understand whether the types of missions we’ve discussed are feasible,” Niles told Space.com.
The workshop, held May 4-6 in Denver, brought together scientific and technical expertise, said Michelle Rucker, leader of the Mars Integration Group that develops manned Mars mission concepts at JSC.
“We’ve brought the communities together to talk about how we can maximize the return of science for a shorter-term mission,” Rucker said.
Mars: what we know about the red planet
‘A little nervous’
Rucker said the distance to Mars means a manned surface mission would take a total of at least two years round trip, and perhaps longer.
“We’ve never put anyone in space for two years. That’s a subtlety that people miss because they now consider human spaceflight so routine,” Rucker said. “We’ve Got A Few” data points on a year† But engineers get a little nervous when you go outside their experience base.”
In recent years, Rucker and colleagues have been challenged to look at ways to get humans to Mars and back again. as quickly as possible while still doing substantial scientific work while the crews are on the surface.
“We knew there would be a lot of concerns that about a month on Mars wouldn’t be enough time to get a lot done,” she said.
But the scientific work wouldn’t end when the astronauts leave the Red Planet, Rucker advised.
“We have pre-installed cargo, so there’s some robotic capabilities when the crew arrives to set up equipment,” she said. “And once the crew leaves, we’ll probably have a lot of assets that we can leave behind. People need quite a lot of maintenance. We’re going to need a lot of power, communication infrastructure…and all that infrastructure would be available to science after the crew. comes back to Soil†
Stephen Hoffman is a senior engineer specialist from Houston for The Aerospace Corporation. He has years of experience devising manned Mars exploration scenarios, and most recently mapped out daily activity timelines for two astronauts occupying the Red Planet for 30 days on Mars, or sols. (A sol is just a little longer than a day on Earth and lasts about 24 hours and 39 minutes).
“If you look back at human spaceflight in the past, the first time you do something is never the most ambitious thing,” Hoffman said.
He underlined the brief sojourn on the lunar surface of Apollo 11 in 1969, as opposed to later Apollo “J” missions designed for extended flights by moonwalkers. Likewise, Hoffman, the former, said: spaceship mission was a scant 36-lane flight that assessed the vehicle’s performance, while the shuttle’s follow-up missions were longer and versatile.
“This one 30-sol mission on Mars fits the bill,” Hoffman said. “It’s long enough to test the first time humans are on Mars, the first time we have EVA [extravehicular activity] spacesuits on Mars, the first time we’ve pressurized rovers on Mars. There’s always a first time on Mars,” Hoffman said.
Such newer studies represent a departure, he added. Planners of potential astronaut missions to Mars have generally already researched long stays on the surface on the first attempt – for example, 300 sol or 18 months of crew time.
What needs to be taken into account is that crews will not be working outside their habitats 24/7, experts have emphasized. First, Red Planet explorers will have to adapt to: Mars gravitywhich is about 40% of that on the Earth’s surface, after a long trek in microgravity† (It currently takes about eight months to fly from our planet to Mars.)
Mars astronauts will also need to eat, sleep, talk to doctors, unplug and listen to music and relax at the end of the day, Rucker added. “Is it important to just dip your toe in the water and start exploring, or wait for it to be perfect?”
Rucker feels a “culture shift” between the scientific community, robotic exploration enthusiasts and the fact that Mars is increasingly coming into view as a human destiny. “I think the fact is that we know more about Mars today than we knew” the moon when we first landed people there.”
The recent Denver workshop was a step forward in shaping a consensus that a month on Mars “isn’t throwing it away, no ‘plant the flag, take a picture and go home’ thing,” Hoffman said. A crucial question to be worked out, he said, is what will be required of that first landing crew on Mars in preparation for many more, and longer, human sojourns on the Red Planet.
Leonard David is author of the book “Moon Rush: The New Space Race,” published by National Geographic in May 2019. David has been a Space.com writer for more than five decades, reporting on the space industry for over five decades. follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on facebook (opens in new tab)†