According to the space agency’s report called “Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration,” the spacecraft and instruments designed to get a crewed mission on the Red Planet and back would be tested in our planet’s low orbit and near the moon.
William Gerstenmaier of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations division explained that the plan is designed to reach ambitious goals while it would also provide resilience to budgetary cuts, shifts in ‘political priorities,’ technological breakthroughs and new partnerships.
NASA is currently working on the first phase of the three-step plan, gathering data on humans living abroad of the International Space Station (ISS). A series of experiments try to figure out what the effects of microgravity on the human body are. For this purpose, some astronauts agreed to take part in ISS missions that last up to one year.
Living on the ISS is not easy. Astronauts need to watch their body weight and prevent muscle and bone loss. If they do not constantly workout they can lose up to 10 percent of their muscle mass in less than six months which can have dire consequences for their health in space.
On the other hand, ISS crew members are not totally isolated from Earth. They communicate with ground operators on a daily basis and every several months there is a resupply mission that brings supplies on the orbital space laboratory.
Yet, on Mars there won’t be resupply missions and smooth communications. NASA plans these missions to last up to three years so astronauts need to accommodate on the remote planet. This is why in the second step of NASA’s Mars plan space explorers will gain deep-space experience from a series of moon missions in the 2020s.
One such mission is the Asteroid Redirect Mission. During this mission, a robotic lander would redirect a piece of an asteroid to the moon’s orbit. From there, astronauts will land on it.
While NASA unveiled three-step plan to land humans on Mars, the space agency also said that it planned to land the first humans on an asteroid in 2025. Humans will be carried to the space rock by NASA’s Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System giant rocket, which are now being tested for a 2018 uncrewed test flight around the moon. Astronauts selected to reach Mars will be also tested in deep space habitation systems in cis-lunar space.
The third step of the plan is actually landing humans on the Red Planet, an effort that would require help and cooperation from more than 25 space agencies worldwide and precious data gathered by NASA’s robotic rovers that are now exploring the Martian landscape.
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