NASA is planning on sending humans to Mars in the 2030s, but will astronauts traveling to the red planet find people waiting for them when they get there?
Space agency officials recently detailed plans to land space travelers on Mars sometime during the 2030s.
The Space Launch System rocket and Orion multipurpose crew vehicle will be used to launch the astronauts on their way to Mars. The pair will be tested in 2017, according to current schedules.
NASA planners are investigating how to ensure safety for space travelers during the long journey to Mars. An inexpensive, reliable method of sending small payloads into space would make ferrying supplies to space much easier, aiding the mission.
"Already two companies -- SpaceX and Orbital Sciences -- are making regular cargo deliveries to the Space Station," Charles Bolden, NASA administrator, wrote in a press release outlining the plans.
Mission planners intend to capture an asteroid and guide it into a stable orbit around the moon in what they're calling the Asteroid Redirect Mission. Astronauts will then be able to use that outpost as a stepping stone toward Mars.
Mars One, a private group of space developers, may already be on the red planet when NASA arrives. That organization plans to launch a group of colonists to Mars in 2024, with landing planned for the following year. The space travelers headed toward the new world on Mars One, unlike the NASA astronauts, will be prepared to take a one-way journey. A human settlement will be built by robots in 2023, and is expected to be fully operational before launch.
"Water is extracted from the Martian soil by evaporating the subsurface ice particles in an oven. The evaporated water is condensed back to its liquid state and stored. Part of the water is used for producing oxygen. Nitrogen and argon, filtered from the Martian atmosphere, make up the other components of the breathable air inside the habitat," Mars One planners wrote on the mission Web site.
This could lead to problems never before encountered in human history. Let us assume a crew of 20-odd people are already on Mars when NASA arrives with the only ship capable of traveling back to our home world. If a person is too sick to be treated on Mars and needs to come back to Earth, are astronauts morally or legally obligated to stay in the Martian colony? What if an astronaut decides that they want to stay behind? What happens if a NASA astronaut and Mars One colonist fall in love? Can they change the rules for the programs?
The race to the moon in the 1960s pitted American versus Russian engineers in attempting to place the first person on our planetary neighbor, and return them to Earth. Now, the Race for Mars is on, and it pits government versus private space organizations. And this time, one side is not planning on coming back.