Recently, there have been growing interest from astronauts on the whole issue surrounding a manned maiden trip to the planet Mars (Red Planet). Meanwhile, researchers are gathering vital information concerning the planet thanks to robots and satellites that revolve around the planet. Therefore, in order to understand what to expect we take a quick look at the planet. The planet Mars is fourth on the solar system and has a size (radius= 3390 Km) that is approximately half that of the planet Earth.
Its mean weather condition is chilly and the atmospheric composition is dominated by carbon dioxide (95%) with oxygen constituting a paltry 0.13%. Importantly, the planet has low atmospheric pressure and weak magnetic fields. Moreover, strong dust storms are common on the planet. All these together with the fact that man needs to traverse dangerous cosmic rays from the sun present the challenges that man need to overcome in order to set a foot on the planet.
As such, in the thesis statement we ask whether the current technology can assist man to land and settle on the planet Mars at the face of all these challenges. In this article we therefore explore this thesis by looking at the potential challenges that man is likely to face and the prospective mission plan in place.
Potential challenges that man is likely to face
Mars landing presents numerous challenges that scientists need to research about before they takeoff. Importantly, scientists are working round the clock to come up with ways to maneuver in order to land on the planet. As such, scientists are trying to figure out on the challenges that one may encounter in the process of landing. Both scientists and engineers are brainstorming and present their thoughts with respect to the kind of designs that would be suitable for that process.
As such, their discussions are dominated by ideas to determine the final shape of the spacecraft and the design of the engine to be installed. Another question is “whether propulsive maneuvers, performed in the form of short thruster burns, will be accompanied by parachutes during landing” (British National Space Centre, 2009). This list is as long as are the ideas proposed by scientists.
One of the main challenges in landing people on the planet Mars is working out on ways to prevent crash-landing, a challenge that is caused by the planet’s thin atmosphere. However, this problem is not common to the landing process of Mars rovers. This is owed to the fact that they are lightweight. Human landing on the planet Mars will probably include massive luggage that would render them heavy. As such, the Mars’ thin atmosphere cannot offer enough drag force to limit crash-landing.
Comparably, on the Earth’s atmosphere, the availability thick atmosphere is the reason that spacecrafts can brake simply, resulting in a smooth landing. Other factors, for instance, weather patterns, season and latitude further complicate the whole situation. Importantly, they play a role in determining the density of the atmosphere. For instance, it is estimated that almost “8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide leaves and re-enters Mars’ atmosphere seasonally” (Aldridge, 2008).
This is equivalent to twenty-three centimeter thick of dry ice. Researchers’ headache is to somehow work on modifying the environment to form a dense atmosphere that would provide enough visibility and prevent crash-landing.
The designers of the mission are weighing the options on whether to allow astronauts to directly land on the planet or to orbit around it to give them sufficient time to scrutinize the atmosphere that is synonymous with dust storms. Faced with these challenges, planners are bracing themselves with possible solutions to counter them.
The prospective mission plan
The mission of landing on Mars wouldn’t be like a walk in the park; however, the mission might not be as complicated as earlier thought. With many ideas still streaming in from scientists around the world; the text that follows presents a detailed prospective plan that the mission entails.
The planners are yet to decide on whether to land by portion such that their payloads land separately from them or land with them at once. Planners’ opinion is however skewed to landing on portions and advises against massive payloads (Christian, 2008). One main idea that has received considerable approval is the brainchild of Robert Zubrin, an aerospace specialist.
As such, in his report he emphasizes on the need to release two consecutive spacecrafts with the first one carrying cargo and the second one carrying astronauts together with their habitat. He explains that the first spacecraft would be vital in enhancing an extended stay of the crew and generate enough fuel important for a return trip. Upon landing, they would kick-start their infrastructural development on the planet by leaving the second spacecraft and its contents behind as they travel back home to collect more materials.
The main highlight in Zubrin’s plan “is that the fuel for the return voyage is to be manufactured on the planet Mars” (Bell, 2008). Zubrin’s plan takes the advantage of Mars’ atmosphere that is rich in carbon dioxide to develop a chemical process that would manufacture fuel, oxygen and water necessary for an extended stay, and to make a safe trip back home. However, they will be required to carry a surplus of hydrogen gas to achieve this.
Planners are also weighing options “on whether to bring the entire spacecraft down on the surface or leave a portion of it orbiting around it” (Connolly, 2007). However, for now the important part is to know whether the spacecraft can safely land on the surface and make a return flight back home. As such, the spacecraft has been dubbed the Earth Return Vehicle (ERV).
The ability to make a safe landing for the entire ERV would avoid the complexity that comes with orbital maneuvers. Now that it is apparent that man is ready to make his maiden trip to the Mars, it is important that the design of the spacecraft assumes a dish-shaped aero-shell vital in increasing friction that would enhance a smooth landing. This will further be enhanced by an attached parachute (Connolly, 2007).
In a conclusion, human mission to land and settle on the planet Mars is riddled with many challenges that keep scientists the world over burn the midnight oil in search for answers. One important challenge comes in the form of the landing process that would ensure a smooth landing at the backdrop of a thin atmosphere that is full of carbon dioxide with insufficient oxygen.
However, planers and engineers have proposed efficient designs of spacecrafts and planned on how to execute the mission to a success. Nevertheless, as for now, this mission remains a dream, but as it looks, humans will finally land and settle on the planet Mars.
Aldridge, E. C. (2008). A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover. Report of the President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy, 45 (7), 6-9.
Bell, J. (2008). Space for Both? Human vs. Robotic Space Missions. Scientific American Science Talk Podcast, 5(5), 13.
British National Space Centre. (2009). Aurora: Exploring the Moon, Mars and beyond. British National Space Report Magazine, p. 7.
Christian, J. (2008). Sizing of an Entry, Decent, and Landing System for Human Mars Exploration. Space 2006 Proceedings, 6(5), 2.
Connolly, J. (2007). Constellation Program Overview. Constellation Program Overview, 9(3), 19.