Nasa has outlined a three-step plan to launch a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s, with the space agency’s chief Charles Bolden describing such a mission as necessary for “this species is to survive indefinitely”.
Mr Bolden, a former test pilot who has flown four shuttle missions into space including the deployment of the Hubble telescope in 1990, was speaking at the ‘Humans to Mars Summit’ when he outlined the “stepping stones” that would take Nasa to the Red Planet.
“If this species is to survive indefinitely we need to become a multi-planet species, we need to go to Mars, and Mars is a stepping stone to other solar systems,” the Times reported Mr Bolden as saying.
The first of these steps is to “lasso” an asteroid by 2015 and bring it into the Moon’s orbit. This mission would not only bring scientists new samples from outer space but would provide a valuable testing ground for key technologies necessary for manned missions.
These include the deployment of Nasa’s Solar Electric Propulsion System – an Ion thruster that use beams of electrically charged atoms or molecules to create a low, but precise, amount of thrust necessary for navigating a manned mission in deep space.
Other steps outlined by Nasa include developing the technologies that would allow for self-reliant spacecraft, including the use of 3D printers to manufacture parts for repairs and finding methods to grow vegetables in space to create sustainable food supplies.
However, as well the technical challenges Mr Bolden also highlighted the need for increased funding from the US government. Nasa’s 2015 budget is currently requesting one per cent less than the 2014 request but $600 million more than the agency received in 2014. Mr Bolden said “with some increases in Nasa’ budget, we’re gonna be able to get to Mars in the 2030s”.
The Nasa chief also revealed more missions about the agency’s under-development Orion spacecraft, which is being designed to ferry astronauts into deep space.
“Orion is finishing preparation for a heat shield test in December, and in New Orleans we're beginning to manufacture flight hardware for the heavy lift rocket necessary for Mars missionsm,” wrote Mr Bolden in an op-ed accompanying his speech.
"It is important to remember that NASA sent humans to the moon by setting a goal that seemed beyond reach. In that same spirit, the agency has made a human mission to Mars the centerpiece of its next big leap into the unknown.”