NASA Expects to Land Astronauts on the Red Planet by the Early 2030s
By Edwin L. Aguirre
NASA is charting a bold course that could have humans exploring the Martian surface by the early 2030s.
That was the vision John Connolly, who heads the Mars Study Capability Team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, shared with more than 150 faculty members, students and guests during a symposium held recently at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center in downtown Lowell. Connolly is studying and planning the space agency’s human mission to the Red Planet.
Why go to Mars? “Because it’s the next logical step,” Connolly said, noting that throughout history, people have always strived to push the envelope and explore new boundaries, from summiting Mount Everest to landing on the Moon. “We are born to explore,” he said. “It’s in our DNA.”
A roundtrip mission to Mars, which averages 140 million miles away from Earth, could take up to five years, or more, so the astronauts would have to be self-sufficient and self-reliant. “It’s a daunting task technologically and logistically,” said Connolly. That is why astronauts are experimenting how to grow vegetables aboard the International Space Station and are training how to “live off the land, just like in The Martian.”
The two-day symposium, called “Space Exploration in the Upcoming Decade: The Domestication of Space,” was presented by the university’s Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology (LoCSST) and the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium.
“The meeting commemorates the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1 and the dawning of the Space Age,” said LoCCST director and physics Prof. Supriya Chakrabarti, who organized the event together with MIT professor and former NASA astronaut Jeff Hoffmann.
The Commercialization of Space
Abrahamson noted that federal funding to NASA has been decreasing steadily over the years, which has led to the rise of more commercial ventures in space exploration. Private companies like SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace, Orbital ATK, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Sierra Nevada are now taking over some of NASA’s former domain. A number of them plan to not only deliver cargo and transport crew into Earth orbit but also eventually carry space tourists.
“We are doing everything we can to make spaceflight more efficient and affordable,” said Cabana, who is a former space shuttle astronaut. “We have transformed the Kennedy Space Center in Florida into a multi-user spaceport, and we’re paving the way for NASA’s journey to Mars.”
He said NASA’s powerful new rocket, called the Space Launch System, and the next-generation Orion spacecraft, which will transport astronauts to Mars and back, are scheduled to undergo a test launch from Cape Canaveral in 2019.
“The Mars mission is already well under way,” said Cabana.