The Big Players
Mars is unforgiving planet, with average surface temperatures of -55°C (-67 °F), that can go as low as -153 °C (243 °F). Also worth mentioning: the radiation present, greatly reduced air pressure, and an atmosphere with only 0.1% oxygen, along the difference in gravity, would weaken bones and muscles in humans leading to osteoporosis and cardiovascular problems. The only way for a human to theoretically survive for a prolonged period is to build habitats suited for human life, either on the surface or underground, or transform Mars’ environment to support human life. The question is, who would be capable of creating such technology?
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At the forefront of this endeavor is NASA, the main U.S. government agency that oversees the science and technological innovation related to air and space. Partnering with a number of companies to delegate and build the required technology to address the difficulties of living in space and preparing to launch the Gateway in 2022 which is a spaceship that will orbit the moon and serve as a gateway for moon expeditions and advancements into outer space. The Moon will provide an opportunity to test new tools and equipment that could be used on Mars, such as human habitats, life support systems, and technologies that could assist with building independent outposts on other planets. Living on the Gateway for prolonged periods at a time will allow scientists to understand how the human body reacts to an outer space environment before executing years-long expeditions to Mars.
NASA continues to work with various companies, as Missions to the Moon are about 1,000 times further from Earth than missions to the International Space Station, requiring equipment that can operate reliably away from the home, meet the needs of human life, and still be small enough to launch. Such innovations will become increasingly important for the 34 million-mile journey to Mars.
SpaceX, a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation company founded by Elon Musk, seeks to aid NASA with its long-term goal of establishing a human settlement on Mars. Backed by NASA (who they’re currently in contract with to manufacture and launch spacecrafts), the US military and various other commercial and business outlets SpaceX hopes to land the first human on Mars in 2024 which will allow them to lay the foundations of the first Mars base to build a prosperous city and eventually a self-sufficient society.
Another major corporation to join in the endeavor to Mars is the Boeing Company. The Boeing Company, an American multinational corporation, has been integral on a path to the Gateway lunar outpost, the moon’s surface and Mars. They produce advanced telecommunications systems for commercial, scientific and military use and Boeing is the prime contractor for the design, development, and manufacturing of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), a super heavy lift designed to launch important labs, habitats and supplies to Mars. Boeing currently is producing flight hardware for both the first and second SLS missions.
Lockheed Martin Corporation, another American company specializing in global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies, were commissioned by NASA to study a concept, called Mars Base Camp. The idea is to transport astronauts from Earth, via the Moon, to a Mars-orbiting science laboratory where they can perform real-time scientific exploration, analyze Martian rock and soil samples, and confirm the ideal place to land humans on the surface in the 2030s.
American companies aren’t the only ones trying to reach Mars, there’s also the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). It endeavors to “harness space technology for national development while pursuing space science research and planetary exploration.” India successfully launched its first Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM, or Mangalyaan 1) in 2016 and it hopes to build on its success with a new mission called Mars Orbiter Mission 2, or Mangalyaan 2.
The second mission has been rescheduled a few times, but the launch date is planned to be no later than 2022 and it will examine the morphology, atmosphere and mineralogy, of the planet.
The ISRO has plans to launch a three-person crew to space under a program called Gaganyaan. These first missions focus on uncrewed missions to work out the technical kinks, though flights should begin in 2022.
European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos launched a joint astrobiology program called ExoMars. ExoMars is a two-phase program designed to send a number of spacecrafts to Mars in search of signs of life above the planet and on the surface. The first half of the program, launched in 2016, was only partially successful as the lander they released crashed, but the Orbiter that was released into Mars orbit remains operational. The second part of the program is planned to be launched in July 2020 on a Russian Proton rocket, though it might be postponed to 2022.
There’s also the China National Space Administration (CNSA) which is the national space agency of China. It plans to launch its first independent mission to Mars in mid-2020.
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