While anticipating the first human colony on the red planet, we must take into account the bewildering list of technologies enabling the journey to Mars.
NASA is of course the top agency leading the scientific projects that lead to the development of these technologies in the hope that by 2030, all will be set and ready for a first attempt to accomplish the highly anticipated journey to Mars.
Some of the technologies currently being developed have already been prefigured by the Hollywood movie The Martian. Let’s take a look at a couple of them and put them in context. If you’re looking for further information, a quick check on NASA’s website and other NASA-related laboratories will reveal a treasure trove.
Let’s begin with a few words on where the magic happens. The Marshall Space Flight Center, located in Huntsville, Alabama hosts the Technology Demonstration Mission program. Here, technology development is the keyword for the future of the space race and the exploration of the red planet. The work is overseen by the Space Technology Mission Directorate located in Washington.
What do we need to make sure the dream becomes reality in a sustainable and safe way? Propulsion systems more efficient than ever, deep-space navigation technologies that go beyond the current limits and revolutionary descent technologies based on data already retrieved from other missions such as Curiosity’s.
One of the greatest technology development programs refers to the Deep Space Atomic Clock. The project is developed under the auspices of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. As in The Martian, the deep space atomic clock is a mercury-ion based clock intended to change deep-space radio navigation. The costs of operations would diminish significantly with the introduction of the new technology, while the perks would increase. Among them, delivering more data over a shorter period of time and improving the navigation functions of flight related events are crucial for a successful operation.
The deep space atomic clock would be validated once NASA launches a prototype with a commercial vehicle as soon as 2016. The prototype would be launched in the Earth’s orbit where it will be closely monitored over a period of one year.
Provided it fares as expected, the deep space atomic clock sets the scene for long-term expeditions to Mars that require large amounts of valuable cargo being ferried both ways.
The bewildering list of technologies enabling the journey to Mars also includes systems that can efficiently provide water recovery. Provided we reach Mars, water is nowhere to be found. Ferrying water from Earth to the red planet is a long process with an elevated risk level.
As such, a Mars water supply needs to be created. The Martian shows how the Ares 3 crew is doing everything in their power to conserve water.
Similarly, on the International Space Station, the Water Recovery System ensures that any drop of liquid is reclaimed, recycled and filtered to become ready for consumption. This technology is part of The Environmental Control and Life Support System.
This two technologies are just the tip of the iceberg when we take into account all aspects involved in the preparation for the journey to Mars and the possible human colony to be established there. And everything needs to be perfected as there is no margin for error in the space race.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia