Nasa has detailed how a hypothetical manned mission to Mars would work. But while that’s a dream, the agency is funding attempts to use private firms to cut the costs of space travel.
The Mars mission is outlined in an interview with Imaginova (the firm behind Space.com) which has been syndicated to sites such as Fox News. It details how there are two main options being explored.
The first is to use a nuclear reactor to heat a gas to temperatures high enough to produce enough thrust to complete the journey. The second option is based on current space shuttle technology: a chemical engine using liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. With both techniques, the return journey would be powered by on-board methane and liquid oxygen taken from Mars’ atmosphere.
However the astronauts got there, there would be plenty of preparation work. The plan would be to get as much equipment in place as possible through unmanned vehicles. This could involve using equipment to produce oxygen and even water from Mars’ natural resources so that it was ready for the astronauts when they arrived.
With the astronauts expected to spend as long as 500 days on Mars, they’d have to be completely self-sufficient, particularly given a 40 minute delay in communications with Earth. There are even plans to have equipment on board the manned shuttle to grow fresh vegetables.
While visiting Mars is still merely an idea, Nasa is already exploring new ways of funding journeys closer to home. It’s paying $500 million to private companies which want to run commercial space flights. The firms have been given until the end of next year to conclusively demonstrate they can get private vehicles to the International Space Station and back.
If they meet this target, they will get contracts worth $1.6 billion for 12 supply mission to the statement, approximately one third of the amount it currently costs Nasa to carry out such operations. Using private firms is seen as a way of solving the shortfall in public funding without having to rely on foreign governments.