NASA is going to the Moon. Next step: Mars

NASA is going to the Moon. Next step: Mars

NASA has announced that they will be going to the moon once again before the end of this decade for further space exploration. They plan to build outposts on the Moon to ‘pave a way for a journey to Mars’.

The journey is expected to begin soon with the development of a new spacecraft that is to be constructed around the best technology possible. The best of Apollo is aimed to be reliable, affordable, versatile, and safe. It is designed to carry four astronauts to and from the moon, support up to six passengers to Mars, and supplies to the International Space Station. The spacecraft is expected to be three times the size of Apollo and is to be powered by Solar Energy and liquid methane. The choice of using methane might be questionable but scientists hope to refine the methane from the atmosphere of Mars to refuel the capsule and the Lunar Lander.

It can also deliver twice the amount of crew members compared to its predecessor and can be used up to 10 times. Once the Lunar outpost is established, crew members can stay there for 6 to 8 months. It can even be operated without an astronaut which allows them to explore the surface without leaving anyone behind in the vehicle.

Before the announcement in December, NASA’s long-term goal was a mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s. That’s an expensive goal to achieve. NASA is building a rocket called the Space Launch System and a spacecraft named Orion that’s supposed to bring astronauts to the Moon in the coming years. Orion is expected to start ferrying crew members to the International Space Station within 5 years. This does, however, raises the question: Why go to the moon before Mars? Recent studies on the Moon have shown the presence of water on the Moon in the form of ice inside deep craters. This hints at the possibility of obtaining water from the Moon for further explorations. Furthermore, the Moon is extremely close to the Earth. The Apollo astronauts reached the Moon within two days after a liftoff. President Donald Trump said,

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery. It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints but we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, worlds beyond.”

The interesting bit of this ‘space exploration plan’ as some have named it, is the commercialization of space travel for the average consumer. The cost is expected to decrease after the Lunar Base is established and resource extraction is initiated. NASA is trying to do this without additional funding. The ongoing challenge observed in recent years has been the reconciliation of the orders of politicians with the hard realities of fixed budgets, and the indisputable laws of physics.

Even though the Moon and Mars have some similarities (craters, dust, rocks, mountains etc.), they are quite different in the eyes of an aeronautical engineer. The Moon has no atmosphere whereas Mars has a thin atmosphere that can prove to be quite dangerous for spacecraft. It’s too thin to assist in braking a landing vehicle, but it’s thick enough to cause fatal problems such as overheating and turbulence. Mars and the Moon aren’t perfect twins, of course, but any practice or simulation for living in space will be useful for the Red Planet.

Mars will provide even more challenges to astronauts because of its distance and it’s a planet with dust storms and other types of weather. But it might be easier in some aspects too. Mars has a day that’s close to our 24-hour day so astronauts wouldn’t feel a lot of difference. And as humans, we feel psychologically better when looking around at a rough, wind-swept landscape that has an uncanny resemblance to some of the desert zones on Earth. Scientists are hopeful that the exploration of the Moon will help in solving a lot of riddles and it will prove extremely beneficial for settling on Mars.

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