The exploration and even colonization of Mars is the next big space mission. It is generally accepted among the space exploration community that landing on Mars is necessary for fueling patriotism, scientific progress and our general understanding of the universe. The real split comes in the idea of “space tourism.” Many commercial organizations are promoting the inclusion of ordinary citizens in the journey to Mars. Competition is beginning to heat up among these groups as a mission approaches in the near future. NASA has already begun in-depth planning for a Mars landing, deeming the SpaceX Falcon Heavy the safest vehicle to make the journey to Mars, and has begun researching the details of the mission. This includes, but is not limited to: facilitating a safe landing, countering the effects of cosmic radiation and determining a supply of water to sustain a population.
Meanwhile, non-profit organizations such as Mars One and Inspiration Mars also race to the finish line. Inspiration Mars plans to send a married couple around that dark side of Mars and back to Earth, a two year trip for both research (on the effects of zero-gravity and radiation) and for patriotic reasons.
Meanwhile, Mars One, a non-profit organization, is seeking to put 24 people on the surface of Mars beginning in 2023. Already, tens of thousands have applied, and experts are making the cuts; finalists will compete on worldwide television for a position as one of the chosen 24, and the winners will be trained for eight years before being deployed in groups of four starting in 2023. As Norbert Craft, the Mars One medical director, explains, “Gone are the days when bravery and the number of hours flying a supersonic jet were the top criteria for selection. Now, we are more concerned with how well each astronaut works and lives with the others – and for a lifetime of challenges ahead.” The people they will be sending to Mars will be ordinary people. CEO Bas Lansdorp explains, “Mars One is a mission representing all humanity, and its true spirit will be justified only if people from the entire world are represented.” This is the stance that many private corporations are taking: anyone should have the opportunity to take part in this project, in the spirit of space exploration.
Another mission proposed has been the “Aldrin Cycler”, outlined in Buzz Aldrin’s book Mission to Mars (Buzz Aldrin was the second man to set foot on the moon). As he explains in response to questions over where we should explore next, “From a scientific, technology-advancing, meaningful, and politically inspired point of view, in my opinion, it should be Mars, by way of one of the two moons that circle the planet.” He proposes to use the orbital path between the sun and the moons of Mars to create a permanent “bus route of sorts,” where astronauts can get on and off when it passes. This plan is much more economically feasible than several launches and allows for a constant system to travel between Mars and Earth at significantly reduced costs.
From harmful radiation to the challenge of engineering a reliable spacecraft, the obstacles are by no means small. The task of supplying astronauts with food and water for such a long mission and ensuring astronaut health is also a major challenge. Thus, it remains to be seen which group will overcome the obstacles of long-distance space travel and make it to Mars successfully.