Currently, the only way we can get people on Mars within the next 20 years, is a ‘one way’ trip to the red planet.
But, at some point in the future, this in no way excludes the possibility of a return flight. It is likely that technological progress will make this less complex down the line. Also, once the planet is inhabited, it will not be easy to build the returning rocket there.
NASA is on a journey to Mars, with a goal of sending humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s. That journey is already well under way.
As we expand humanity’s presence into the solar system, there will be a higher possibility of answering these questions:
Was Mars once home to microbial life or is it today?
Can it be a safe home for humans?
What can the Red Planet teach us about our own planet’s past, present and future?
NASA’s revealed plans
The human exploration of Mars crosses three thresholds, if we are to build on the robotic legacy, each with increasing challenges as humans move farther from Earth: Earth Reliant, the Proving Ground, and Earth Independent.
-Earth Reliant exploration is focused on research aboard the International Space Station. The orbiting microgravity laboratory serves as a world-class test bed for the technologies and communications systems needed for human missions to deep space. Astronauts are learning about what it takes to live and work in space for long periods of time. Thus, increasing our understanding of how the body changes in space and how to protect astronaut health.
-Proving Ground, is about conducting a series of missions near the moon. NASA calls it “cislunar space”, that will test the capabilities they will need to live and work at Mars. Astronauts on the space station are only hours away from Earth. But the proving ground is days away, a natural stepping stone to a Mars mission, which will be months away from home.
NASA will launch its new powerful rocket, the Space Launch System, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission will carry the Orion spacecraft (without astronauts) thousands of miles beyond the moon during an approximately three week mission.
Next up, astronauts will climb into Orion for a similar mission, traveling farther than humans have ever traveled before.
Also in the 2020s, NASA will send astronauts on a yearlong mission into this deep space proving ground, verifying habitation and testing our readiness for Mars.
After this, we are finally ready to talk about the third and final step.
-Earth Independent. This mission is all about building on what we’ve learned on the space station and in deep space to send humans to low-Mars orbit in the early 2030s.
This phase will also include testing the entry, descent and landing techniques needed to get to the Martian surface and study what’s needed for in-situ resource utilization or “living off the land.” NASA mentioned that they are already studying potential “Exploration Zones” on Mars that would offer compelling science research and provide resources our astronauts can use.
All the candidates taking this trip will do so because they chose to. They will receive extensive preparatory training so that they fully know what to expect. Astronauts that have passed the selection process can always choose not to join the mission at any time, and at any point during preparations. Back-up teams will be ready to replace any crew member that drops out, even at the very last minute.
How long does it take to travel to the red planet?
The trip takes around seven months, and that’s a bit longer than astronauts currently stay on the International Space Station.
Because of the reason that both Mars and Earth’s orbits are not perfectly circular, the precise duration of each journey depends on when it is taken. So the time it takes to travel between them varies from six to eight months.
Humanity’s next frontier will be exciting.