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May 18, 2019
On December 11, 2017, US President Donald Trump signed a directive ordering NASA to prepare the return of astronauts to the moon, «followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.»
The date fixed by NASA is 2024 for the Moon and 2033 for March, but among the experts and industrialists of the American space sector, the date of 2033 seems highly unlikely, unless a national effort Herculean, the magnitude of Apollo program in the 1960s.
This week, NASA boss Jim Bridenstine said: «The Moon is our test bed for our future mission to Mars at the seventh» People on Mars «conference in Washington. That’s why we go to the moon. «
Two days later, during a session at the same site devoted to surface operations on Mars, the head of the laboratory developing future space dwellings at Houston’s legendary Johnson Center explained that the problem was not technological.
«A lot of people want us to have an Apollo moment, a president get up like Kennedy and take the whole country behind him,» said Robert Howard. «With this impulse, we could go there in 2027. But I do not believe it. With our current approach, we will be lucky if we get there before 2037 «. «And if I was really pessimistic (…) I would say the 2060s,» he said.
Everything remains to design, build, test and retest, rockets to vehicles through the method to grow salads.
The one-way trip will take six months at least, as opposed to three days for the moon. The whole mission could last two years, because Mars does not get close to the Earth until every 26 months: you have to sit on these windows.
It will be necessary to design protections for astronauts against solar and cosmic radiation for such a long time, said Julie Robinson, Chief Scientist for the International Space Station (ISS).
«A second problem is the feeding system,» she said. The concepts proposed so far «are not small enough to go to Mars». Not to mention the possibility of a medical emergency: the astronauts will have to learn how to manage any accident themselves, because the rescue will be too far away.
«One big topic is space suits,» said Jennifer Heldmann of NASA’s Ames Research Center. She recalls that the Apollo astronauts had complained a lot of gloves, too inflated and exhausting any manipulation.
In Houston, NASA is developing a new combination, the first in 40 years, called xEMU, but it will only be tested in the ISS in a few years. And Mars is not the moon. Dust will be a big problem. Apollo’s astronauts returned covered with lunar dust in their module. Blocking it will be crucial for those who will spend months or a year on the red planet.
The techniques of exploiting the resources of the Martian soil to extract the water, the oxygen and the fuels necessary for the humans do not exist yet — it should be tested on the Moon by the end of this decade.
Finally, there is the most fundamental question: how will some humans psychologically bear being confined and isolated for two years?
It will not be possible to communicate in real time with «mission control» in Houston: radio communications will take between 4 and 24 minutes between the two planets, one way. NASA is planning delayed communication exercises in the coming years in the ISS.
Artificial intelligence will also need to be developed to help and guide astronauts without ground intervention. One researcher studied in detail the feasibility of Mars landing in 2033, in a report for NASA in February. She declared the goal «unfeasible».
«It’s not just a budget issue,» said expert Bhavya Lal of the Science & Technology Policy Institute this week. «It’s a question of organizational capacity: how much can NASA do at the same time?» The most realistic date, according to her, is 2039.
Sending American Astronauts to Moon in 2024: NASA Challenge Accepts
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): https://www.nasa.gov/
Moon to Mars: https://www.nasa.gov/specials/moon2mars/
Images, Text, Credits: AFP/NASA/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.
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