NASA's Mars Journey: Next Steps For Mankind - InformationWeek

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10/11/2015
12:06 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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NASA's Mars Journey: Next Steps For Mankind

Sometime in the 2030s, NASA wants to land astronauts on Mars. Here's a look at what it will take to get us there.
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(Image: NASA)

(Image: NASA)

With film audiences traveling to Mars in their imaginations through The Martian, a fictional account of a future mission to fourth planet, NASA is preparing to make that trip.

On Thursday, the space agency published an outline of its plan to reach the red planet, "NASA's Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement that he plans to discuss the plan with members of Congress and the space agency's international partners.

Reaching Mars may be the most ambitious challenge undertaken by humanity to date. The journey will tax bodies, minds, and resources on an unprecedented scale. It will require NASA to work with private sector and international partners, including the 12 other space agencies seeking to expand humanity's reach in the Solar System.

NASA acknowledges the way to Mars will not be easy, but it maintains its goal is realistic. "We are developing the capabilities necessary to get there, land there, and live there," NASA says in its report.

[Check out these stunning images of NASA's Apollo missions through the years.]

The plan anticipates three phases, each moving humans closer to Mars, with an arrival date sometime in the 2030s, if all goes well.

The first phase involves Earth Reliant exploration. It's where we are now, using the International Space Station for experiments to help us understand how to maintain human health in space and develop the necessary technology to travel and thrive in hostile environments.

Over the next decade, NASA will expand the scope of its operations to cislunar space, the area of space around the Moon. During this Proving Grounds phase, NASA and its partners will focus on validating the systems it develops for transportation, working in space, and keeping astronauts healthy far from home. Researchers will also focus on balancing the need for supplies from Earth against opportunities to use locally generated or recaptured resources, with a view toward making human outposts in space self-sustaining.

The final phase will be Earth Independent. Astronauts will reach for low-Mars orbit, perhaps the Martian moons, and finally Mars itself. The goal, says William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters, is "a future with a sustainable human presence in deep space."

NASA expects the journey to Mars will improve life on Earth. "NASA's human exploration, science, and technology endeavors are intertwined," the space agency's report concludes. "As our exploration activities reach farther into the solar system, we will also broaden our reach here on Earth, enabling more participation, partners, activity, and economic and technological benefits."

We have something to look forward to.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
10/23/2015 | 11:45:28 AM
Re: Benefits
kstaron, that's the key. It's a race. Can we colonize other planets before we extinct ourselves --- or get made extinct --- on Earth. That's the fire under Elon Musk, from what I've read. He doesn't think we're long for this world, and I tend to agree with him.
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
10/23/2015 | 9:10:29 AM
Re: Benefits
Broadway, Here's to hoping the inventions needed to get us to and keep us on Mars are similar to the inventions needed to help us deal with climate change, over population, the lack of clean water and so on that are issues on this planet as well. New ways to recycle water, grow more food, keep more food edible longer, balance O2 levels, using clean, renewable sources of energy. All of these are needed both here and on Mars. The longer we can sustain on Earth, the longer we have to perfect the technologies to launch us into deep space.
gnxman
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gnxman,
User Rank: Guru
10/19/2015 | 12:40:28 PM
Re: Benefits
There have been many many tangible and intangible economic poliitcal and social benefits to the space program. When Kennedy said were are landing on the moon in less than 10 years, we had to invent practically everything to get there. That pressure to come up with solutions, that "can do" attitude is incalculable. We need to re-capture that spirit of "can do".
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
10/13/2015 | 10:55:50 PM
Re: Benefits
Whoopty, I agree with you. Check out the interview with Elon Musk that Wait But Why did and still runs on its homepage. His whole reason for SpaceX is to allow humans to colonize other planets. Why? To ensure we survive the coming cataclysm on Earth, whether natural or man-made. Talk about "keenly important".
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
10/12/2015 | 7:27:37 AM
Re: Benefits
I couldnt' agree more. Not only are there a number of inventions that are now very common place that came from the space programs of the past, but I've heard it said that for every dollar spent in space-tech development, around $10 come back into the economy. 

That, and the philosophical implications made by space travel mean that the benefits of investing in it are near limitless. It really is about time the public saw space exploration as a keenly important part of modern society. 
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
10/12/2015 | 5:59:44 AM
Benefits
A space program can create benefits for the economy, technology and education, etc. There are a few indirect and intangible benefits that cannot be fully measured. For instance, the value of Hubble's ultra-deep field images, finding an exoplanet or discovering Methane in Mars is difficult to quantify.
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