Here’s your chance to influence how NASA will fulfill its agency-wide goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s for a sustained period of time.
NASA has just announced a cash prize contest seeking input from the public for ideas on how to develop the infrastructure needed to establish a continuing human presence on the Red Planet starting about two decades from now to achieve the agency’s “Journey to Mars” enterprise.
The contest is named “Space Pioneering – Achieving Earth Independence,” in line with NASA’s long-term solar system exploration strategy “of ‘pioneering space’ for this and future generations.”
At virtually every forum, NASA officials explain that the agency’s overriding goal is embarked on the ambitious task of creating a viable and affordable plan for “boots on Mars.”
Although the 2030s seems a long way off, the task of sending astronauts to the Red Planet and then establishing a continuing human presence is daunting—from the technical, scientific, budget, and political perspectives.
NASA has started on the long road to Mars and is currently developing the launch from Earth infrastructure in the form of the Orion deep space crew capsule and the mammoth SLS Heavy Lift Launch booster. But those immense programs alone are insufficient for the huge task at hand—much more is needed.
Therefore, on May 5, NASA announced a challenge seeking public input for ideas on achieving a sustained human presence on Mars as part of the agency’s “Journey to Mars” initiative.
NASA wants you to gather your thoughts and submit detailed ideas “for developing the elements of space pioneering necessary to establish a continuous human presence on the Red Planet.”
Among the basic elements NASA suggests proposals for are related to shelter, food, water, breathable air, communication, exercise, social interactions, and medicine.
But to endure the harsh extremes of the Martian environment—consisting of an ultra thin atmosphere less than 1 percent as thick as Earth’s, a constant 24/7 bombardment of ionizing, and harmful solar and cosmic radiation, frigid daily nighttime temperatures dipping below those in Antarctica, and the absence of liquid water on the surface—future Martian visitors and settlers will need to be ultra resourceful and creative to survive.
Although Mars had oceans of surface liquid water billions of years ago in the ancient past, Mars today is a cold, dry, desiccated, and nearly forbidding world.
Yet Mars has been endlessly fascinating Earthlings for centuries as the most Earth-like planet, as we seek to determine if it ever harbored life, past or present.
Since it’s impractical to bring all necessary supplies from Earth, due to the astronomical costs, humans explorers will need to “live of the land” and establish viable methods for “in situ resource utilization,” or ISRU.
Therefore, NASA is encouraging contest participants to “consider innovative and creative elements” beyond the well-known basic examples toward the goal of “Space Pioneering – Achieving Earth Independence,” enabling the establishment of a continuous human presence on the Red Planet.
The “Space Pioneering” cash prizes consist of a maximum of three awards at a minimum of $5,000 each. NASA says the total award pool amounts to a maximum of $15,000.
The deadline for submissions is July 6, 2015.
Here are the basic rules:
“Participants are asked to describe one or more Mars surface systems or capabilities and operations that are needed to achieve this goal and, to the greatest extent possible, are technically achievable, economically sustainable, and minimize reliance on support from Earth.”
Ideally, reliance on Earth would be eliminated.
Only a written submission is required for this “Theoretical Challenge” that will be evaluated by NASA, and awards will only be granted if they meet NASA’s criteria.
NASA says you don’t have to transfer exclusive intellectual property (IP) rights to the agency. Instead, NASA will grant the awardee(s) “a non-exclusive license to practice their solutions.”
Submission details can be found at this link.
NASA is now focused like never before on sending astronauts to Mars.
“We are closer to getting Humans to Mars than ever before in the history of civilization,” says NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden.
There is plenty of scientific justification for exploring Mars first with robots and next with humans.
“Mars matters because it might help us unravel the mystery of how life started on Earth,” says Bolden.
NASA’s robotic explorers, in the form of orbiters, landers, and rovers, are already paving the path for future human explorers.
NASA currently has an armada of five spacecraft conducting intensive and long duration investigations at Mars, circling overhead and driving on the surface.
The orbiters include both older spacecraft, Mars Odyssey (MO), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and the recently arrived MAVEN orbiter.
They are fortified by two orbiters from ESA and ISRO, Mars Express (MEX), and Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).
Sister rovers Curiosity and Opportunity are roving the Red Planet’s surface and have found habitable zones, signs of past liquid water, organic molecules, and periodic low level venting of methane (CH4).
The ISS is also heavily involved in enabling the journey to Mars, by testing out the technologies required to sustain humans in space for many years, working toward developing closed loop life support system, and checking out the long term effects of microgravity on the human body.
Key to this effort is the newly started, first ever one-year ISS mission, involving NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.
The Orion deep space crew capsule that will transport astronauts to Mars completed its first mission in December 2014 and was virtually flawless.
NASA is also simultaneously developing the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift rocket to propel Orion to Mars.
But even more hardware is needed, in the form of habitats, Solar Electric Propulsion, and Mars landers, habitats, and ascent vehicles.
NASA also welcomes international and commercial participation.
“A great path” lies ahead for “science and launching humans to Mars,” said John Grunsfeld.
“NASA’s space science knowledge will allow us to do the work … including on the ISS … that will allow us to move forward so we can launch people to Mars in the next couple of decades. When we go to another planet, specifically like Mars that’s the only planet in our solar system that we could actually live on, then we shouldn’t go only as one country or another country or in a race. We should go to Mars as ‘Humans,’ leaving planet Earth, to another planet that we are going to live on,” Grunsfeld elaborated.
The journey to Mars is not easy. It will take multiple decades of time and the support and money of multiple U.S. presidential administrations.
You can be part of making Mars happen, and NASA now seeks your input.
Stay tuned here for continuing developments on all aspects furthering NASA’s Journey to Mars.
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