Space nerds, rejoice: NASA has selected eight unbelievably futuristic proposals that could someday turn our dreams of traveling to Mars into reality.
As part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) project, the space agency awards funding to plans that could potentially revolutionize aerospace missions, present new technologies, and greatly boost current methods of aerospace system development.
Under the program's phase II, funding can be worth as high as $500,000 for a 24-month research. Moving onto phase II allows scientists to further test ideas already sponsored by NASA during phase I studies, with the condition that the study yields feasible and beneficial initial results.
On Friday, NASA announced that it has given the green light to eight concepts to push through the next phase. The projects are still in their infancy, and there is an off chance that they fail in the next 10 years, but these proposals are worth the time.
Scientists estimate that it would take about nine months — coincidentally the same number of months for pregnancy — for humans to travel to Mars.
The tedious trip would require more supplies to get the crew there and back, and it would have to ensure that the astronauts' stay at the red planet will have enough cargo.
What's the solution? If astronauts could sleep during the whole trip, a lot of cargo weight and unnecessary time will be saved.
That is what the proposal by Atlanta-based aerospace company SpaceWorks suggests in its research called "Torpor Inducing Transfer Habitat For Human Stasis To Mars."
Astronauts will be placed in a condition of advanced hypothermia, with their core body temperatures lowered by about negative 12 degrees Celsius (10 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to lower their metabolic rate. The sleeping astronauts will be fed intravenously.
SpaceWorks also created spacecraft module designs [PDF] for the journey. If this project succeeds, astronauts could travel beyond our own solar system.
Spacecraft sent to Mars rely on the red planet's atmosphere to decelerate before landing. The friction between the spacecraft and the Martian atmosphere can be quite dangerous and requires protection that can add to the weight of the craft.
In fact, every extra pound of weight in spaceflight can equate to thousands of dollars in mission cost.
What's the solution? David Kirtley, nuclear engineer and founder of Helion Energy, proposed that wrapping the spacecraft in a shell of plasma could perform the aerobraking in a more restrained manner.
If successful, this magnetoshell could reduce thousands of pounds and at least $1.8 billion dollars from Martian manned missions. It could also potentially protect astronomers from radiation.
Laser Propulsion System
Physicist Philip Lubin of University of Califonia, Santa Barbara proposed that a breakthrough laser propulsion system could shorten the time it takes for tiny spacecraft to travel to Mars.
This project, which received funding from billionaire Yuri Milner, will not be ready for launch in the next three decades but as soon as it is, scientists believe the small starships could reach Alpha Centauri after 20 years.
Growable Space Habitat
There is not much details about this project, but it relies on a concept called tensegrity. According to creator Robert Skelton, tensegrity is an adaptable, flexible, and malleable structure comprised of continuous sticks and strings. Skelton says this is based on the molecular structure of the fiber of a spider and can shape-shift by changing the string tension.
Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, says NIAC is one of the ways in which the space agency engages the scientific and engineering community in the United States. The program challenges developers to create visionary and life-changing aerospace concepts.
"This year's Phase II fellows have clearly met this challenge," says Jurczyk.
The complete list of chosen projects can be viewed on NASA's website.