The current main of NASA is to get to the Moon. But that is only the stepping stone – the real goal is to get to Mars.
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no. 1 – Engines
The first thing we need are powerful engines that will shorten the journey to Mars and back and here, NASA is considering several options – including an electric or even nuclear engine. The first is very effective but only provides low thrust. The other one provides high thrust but isn’t very effective. But most likely, it will be some form of a nuclear engine. Currently, critical components are being developed and tested.
no. 2 – Heat Shielding
Secondly, we need an inflatable heat shield so the astronauts can safely land with all the gear they will need. Because Mars is so far away, we will need many tons of gear and because the atmosphere of Mars is very thin it would not slow down the descent very much. Thus a very large shield will be needed and NASA is currently working on such a shield that can be inflated and enlarged to the needed proportions. Soon a prototype should be tested.
no. 3 – Space Suits
Now we move on to space suits. New spacesuits – with a modular design – are being already prepared for Lunar expeditions. The first astronauts that will be part of the Artemis programs will be using the new xEMU (exploration extravehicular mobility unit) spacesuits. NASA hopes these will bring unparalleled levels of freedom of movement but for the missions to Mars, we will need better life support features and the ability to perform well in the temperatures that can be found on Mars.
no. 4 – Base
Next up, we need a place for the astronauts to live in. First NASA wants to use a sort of a trailer that will of course provide nice breathable air, comfortable temperatures, and altogether an environment in which the astronauts will be able to live in for weeks and travel dozens of kilometers far from the return rocket.
no. 5 – Energy
If you want to stay somewhere for a while, you need energy. And energy, that is reliable and constant. Here, most likely we will stick to the time-proven small nuclear fission reactors. NASA first wants to test them on the Moon and after the technology has been tested on a large scale – use it on Mars.
no. 6 – Communication
Lastly, we need a form of quick (relatively) and reliable communication. And instead of using radio-based technology, we will use laser-based technology this time. It isn’t faster than radio-based communication but it allows much more data to be sent – including high-definition images and videos. NASA predicts up to 10 times more data will be sent over laser than we would be capable to send over radiowaves.
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