The agency has created a new gigantic rocket, a new spacecraft dubbed Orion, and a Space Launch System. However, despite this hardware costing a total of nearly 40 billion dollars, NASA has made major steps on how it hopes to get the first astronaut into Mars. The agency published a 36 page Mars Exploration Plan two years ago in a bid to provide the required framework for the exploration to commence. Fortunately, after waiting for some time, it appears the plan is now coming to life.
On March 21st, US President Donald Trump signed a law that gives NASA the mandate to send people to Mars by the year 2033. Just one week after the signing, the space agency released a space exploration plan to make this a reality. However, this is not for the weak-minded or the faint hearted. NASA’s original plan is to send astronauts into space by locking them into a tube-shaped spaceship. The astronauts will be locked into the ship for three years with no emergency escape route. Additionally, the astronauts will only be required to orbit Mars, any landing attempt will not be allowed. A document released by William Gerstenmaier, NASA’S head of human exploration confirmed this. Gerstenmaier also released a five-phase program that will be used to get astronauts to Mars.
Phase 0 is the first one and it will involve using the international space station in order to test exploration capacity and to promote a commercial space industry. NASA is keen on partnering with companies such as SpaceX, Boeing, and OrbitalATK on this venture.
The second phase will be much more ambitious, NASA is planning to do a total of six launches between the year 2018 and 2025. The space exploration agency has said that it will start by launching the inaugural SLS rocket. This is a 321 foot huge rocket that will rival the acclaimed Saturn V rockets.
The third phase will begin a little bit later in 2030. At this point, NASA hopes that all launches so far would have been successful and at this phase, the job will be sending more rockets to restock the ones that are already orbiting.
The fourth phase will be the “Eureka” moment. This is when NASA hopes to achieve its first Mars landing by humans. However, there are those who argue that pulling off this success will not be easy. When the space agency landed the first man on the moon, it was significantly funded taking nearly 4% of the US budget. Today, that funding has shrunk drastically. There is also increasing competition from the private sector. Many private companies have done well in space exploration and may as well beat NASA to Mars. It’s a great prospect to look forward to though and it will be interesting to see how it will turn out.