Pockmarked, potato-shaped, and the size of a modest asteroid, the Martian moon Phobos doesn’t look like it should rank high on any list of must-see solar system destinations. But don’t count Phobos out. Scientifically speaking, the diminutive moon is great quarry: no one is quite sure how it formed and achieved its orbit around the Red Planet. The moon’s surface might also be a treasure trove of Martian material, dusted with a generous layer of debris cast into space when Mars was bombarded by asteroids soon after the planet's formation. Practically speaking, Phobos is also relatively easy to visit; the moon's gravity is so easy to escape that Phobos is considered an attractive destination for astronauts, a training opportunity that could help pave the way for a manned mission to Mars. No one has gone to Phobos and come back...yet. But on Tuesday, Russia will make an ambitious attempt to be the first when it sends the spacecraft Phobos-Grunt to retrieve a sample of … [Read more...] about To Mars and Back Again
Trip to mars one way
This is part of IEEE Spectrum’s Special Report: Why Mars? Why Now? Many people believe that a manned mission to Mars is a venture best left to the next generation. They’re wrong. We have in hand all the required technologies; we don’t need to build giant spaceships, a lunar base, or a space station grander than the one we have. Instead, we can go straight to Mars in relatively small spacecraft powered by boosters like those that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon 40 years ago. With this “Mars Direct” approach, traveling light and living off the land whenever possible, humans could reach the Red Planet within a decade. Here’s how it might work. In the spring of 2014, a heavy-lift booster similar to Apollo’s Saturn V launches from Cape Canaveral and uses its upper stage to throw an unmanned payload weighing 40 metric tons onto a trajectory to Mars. The payload includes an Earth return vehicle (ERV) that will eventually bring a human crew home; … [Read more...] about How to Go to Mars—Right Now!
Humans are not designed for long-distance travel, which makes the roughly 55-million-kilometer trip to Mars a real hassle. It's hard enough keeping a few of us fleshy weaklings alive next door in low Earth orbit. Now think about a trip to Mars. It’s at best several months away, and once you head out, there's no stopping for groceries. The job of the astronauts during the journey will be simple: eat, drink, and breathe the bare minimum necessary for survival, while trying not to die of boredom or kill any of their fellow travelers. After the first few months, it's going to be decidedly unpleasant. Aerospace company SpaceWorks, with funding from NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program, is exploring the idea of having voyagers to Mars do what all professional travelers do when confronted by uncomfortably long transit times: use whatever technologies or pharmaceuticals are available in order to make themselves totally unaware of … [Read more...] about Putting Humans in Stasis Is the Best Way of Getting Us to Mars
This coming January, Ad Astra Rocket Company will test the VX-200, a full-scale ground prototype of the variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket (VASIMIR), first conceived in 1979 by the company’s president and CEO, astronaut and plasma physicist Franklin Chang Diaz. The rocket is an attempt to improve on current space-propulsion technologies, and it would use hot plasma, heated by radio waves and controlled by a magnetic field, for propulsion. Chang Diaz believes that the system would allow rockets to travel through space at higher speeds, with greater fuel efficiency. If the prototype demonstrates sufficient efficiency, thrust, and specific impulse on the ground, the next step will be the VF-200, a flight version of the rocket. Ad Astra plans to fly the VF-200 to the International Space Station, where it would help maintain the space station’s orbit. If all this goes according to plan, Chang Diaz hopes to eventually build VASIMIRs that could travel to Mars and … [Read more...] about To Mars and Beyond
The spacesuit gloves are off. It’s not just Elon Musk that wants to take us all to Mars—Boeing has declared its ambition, too. The race to the Red Planet is on. Speaking at a technology conference in Chicago called What’s Next, Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg signalled his intention to join this century’s space race. “I'm convinced that the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket," he explained.Boeing's plans to take people to the Red Planet are nothing new. As Ars Technica points out, the company is already working on a craft that will take humans to Mars, because it’s the primary contractors on NASA's new Space Launch System rocket. That rocket will, eventually, be powerful enough to take up to six astronauts to the planet, but such a mission isn’t expected to take place until the late 2030s. Muilenburg did, however, hint that Boeing is also interested in space tourism, suggesting that … [Read more...] about The 21st-Century Space Race: Will Boeing or SpaceX Be First to Mars?
While SpaceX CEO Elon Musk believes it’s entirely possible humans could one day populate Mars, scientists are now suggesting that astronauts who travel there may arrive with brain damage.No, it doesn’t sound like a particularly sturdy foundation for the challenging task of building a new world on a faraway planet, but until someone works out how to protect space travelers from the damaging effects of prolonged cosmic ray exposure, such a scenario appears inevitable.Research published this week by scientists at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) found that rodents exposed to highly energetic charged particles – like those found in the galactic cosmic rays that would bombard space explorers during a mission to Mars – leads to serious long-term brain damage involving “cognitive impairments and dementia.”Putting it mildly, Professor Charles Limoli of the UCI’s School of Medicine described his team’s findings as “not … [Read more...] about It seems that going all the way to Mars may cause brain damage
Millionaire and former space tourist Dennis Tito on Wednesday revealed details of his ambitious plan to send a manned spacecraft to Mars in January, 2018.Tito told a media gathering in Washington that the 501-day mission, dubbed Inspiration Mars, a mission for America, is likely to involve a two-person crew comprising a man and a woman. He said that ideally the pair would be a married, middle-aged couple, adding that the space travelers could be selected within the next year.There had been some speculation as to whether Tito himself would take part in the Red Planet mission, but he ruled himself out. He will, after all, be 77 in 2018 so his decision to oversee the mission from terra firma won’t come as a surprise to too many observers.“I will not be one of the crew members,” Tito confirmed on Wednesday. “And if I were 30 years younger, I still would not be.” Twelve years ago, the former rocket engineer became the first paying passenger to visit the … [Read more...] about Mission to Mars: Space tourist Dennis Tito intends to send married couple to the Red Planet (and bring them back again)
Aside from its extremely cold temperatures, unbearably thin atmosphere, and its all-around shroud of complete mystery; perhaps the biggest obstacle facing a journey to Mars is the sheer amount of time it would take to get there. Though exact timeframes tend to differ, a 260-day trip to the red planet seems the closest to a consensus among those knowledgeable of the journey, meaning it would take nearly nine months to reach its orbit. However, according to UC Santa Barbara physics professor Philip Lubin, by making use of directed energy propulsion (i.e. lasers) it might be possible to reach Mars in a fraction of the time it would take to watch The Martian.While Lubin’s idea of a 30-minute trip to Mars first burst on the scene during a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) symposium last October, the concept was featured by NASA 360 in a recent video. Though two-minute video hardly delves into the exact science of achieving such an endeavor, Lubin … [Read more...] about Could a spacecraft really make the journey to Mars in 30 minutes? One physicist says yes
President Obama on Monday proposed a dramatically new path that would end NASA's Constellation moon program and shift the agency's focus to developing new technologies for deeper space exploration instead."The truth is that we were not on a path to get back to the moon's surface" in a reasonable time frame, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden explained while presenting the proposed budget for fiscal year 2011. "As we focused so much of our effort and funding on just getting to the moon, we were neglecting investments in the key technologies that would be required to go beyond."The president's new budget request provides US$3 billion over five years for "robotic exploration precursor missions that will pave the way for later human exploration of the moon, Mars and nearby asteroids," Bolden explained. "These missions will inform us of the most interesting places to explore with humans, and validate our approaches to get them there safely and sustainably."Also included in the proposed $3.8 … [Read more...] about Obama Gazes Past the Moon to Mars
Elon Musk fleshed out his vision for establishing the first colony on Mars in an interview published Friday in The Washington Post.As soon as 2018, Musk's SpaceX venture could launch an unmanned spacecraft to the red planet, he told the paper, and that could be followed by future unmanned flights every two years -- timed for when the Earth and Mars orbits position the planets closest together.A cargo route to Mars would need to be established in advance of any manned trip, Musk said, and he compared the supply trips to trains leaving a station at regular intervals. They would be necessary to deliver the critical infrastructure to Mars that astronauts would need later.The goal of those efforts would be to set the groundwork for the first human mission to Mars in 2025. The first unmanned missions would be sent to conduct science experiments and to deliver rovers to the planet to do basic exploration. What could be a barrier to overcome is that SpaceX is a private company that lacks the … [Read more...] about Musk Envisions Wagon Train to Mars