Humans have made tremendous development in recent years with robots and rovers on Mars, but will we land on Mars before 2050, as is the goal set by many space travel companies?
Mars has always been a source of great interest to the scientific community and the general public. The Red Planet is very Earth-like, and is not too far away from Earth, which is why it is possible for a spacecraft to reach it in a relatively short time span.
However, getting to Mars in a safe and affordable way is still a difficult task. In around 15 years, Mars and Earth will be at their closest again. The two planets will be about 54 million kilometers away from each other, which means that we’ll be able to reach the red planet in approximately 200 days. Since the clock is ticking, we have to analyze whether the human race is ready to send its first manned mission to Mars.
Landing on Mars Before 2050
NASA and SpaceX are at the forefront of humanity’s plans to travel to Mars. NASA plans to send the first manned mission to Mars in 15 years, while Space X has a more ambitious target of 2024. The critical question is: will we be ready when the time comes? There are three main challenges that need to be addressed before we can reach the red planet: rockets, radiation, and restlessness.
Let’s look at these factors to answer the question, “will we land on Mars before 2050?”
The biggest issue that we face when it comes to traveling to Mars is the cost of sending a spacecraft out of the clutches of Earth’s gravity. With our current technology, it will cost us $100-$500 billion for a return mission. The only way to bring this cost down so that it is economical is to build a rocket that can be reused later.
Here’s where SpaceX has taken the initiative. Elon Musk, the owner of Space X, believes that creating reusable rockets is possible. They have already shown the launch and the successful re-entry and landing of the Falcon 9 rocket. The first test flight for the Falcon Heavy was also successful. This was a critical step in our journey to Mars. SpaceX has shown that they can not only send a rocket into space, but they can also reuse the most expensive part of that rocket – the boosters.
Space X is also developing a new rocket called the BFR (we don’t really need to go into what BFR stands for. Google it if you’re curious), which is meant to replace NASA’s legendary space shuttle. The rocket has the ability to carry 100 people as well as a payload of 150,000kgs. The BFR will have reusable parts, which will dramatically reduce the costs associated with space travel. The BFR has two cargo missions that have been planned for 2022 and two cargo and crew missions for 2024.
While the SpaceX timeline can slip, things are looking good for Elon Musk’s goals.
Another major issue that astronauts on the way to Mars will have to deal with is the risk of solar and cosmic radiation. Radiation can lead to cancer, dementia, and impaired vision. It doesn’t matter how much SPF-50 you pack, it won’t help beyond the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere. Even a one-way trip to Mars can expose humans to 15 times the annual radiation limit for a nuclear power plant worker.
This is not even taking into account the radiation that astronauts will be faced with when they touch down on the surface of Mars. Mars doesn’t have a magnetic field (not in the same way as Earth does, anyway), so the astronauts there will feel the full force of the radiation from space.
There are some protective measures that can protect the astronauts on the journey. For starters, the crew can be shielded from these harmful rays by water jackets and thicker hulls of their ships. However, even these measures can still be penetrated by the high-powered rays that are shooting through space. Shielding is also not affordable. Also, since shielding increases the mass on the rocket ship, it also adds to the cost of fuel for the mission.
Another solution is to make sure that we get to Mars as quickly as possible. This would minimize the exposure of radiation on the astronauts, but this would mean that we need to build faster rockets.
The Way Forward
One way that humans are learning more about Mars and its radiation conditions is through rovers and landers. Mars Insight was launched by NASA in 2018. It touched down in November of 2018 and has since been taking pictures and weather measurements. Mars Insight is not a rover and will collect all the data from one location. The primary mission of the probe is to understand the seismic activity and the behavior of the radiation on Mars.
In the next ten years, the priority for the scientific community is to focus on research. The International Space Station, Voyager 1, and the Mars Science Laboratory continue to collect data for us. This has helped the scientific community plan for the mission to Mars in a better way.
Another issue is that the journey to Mars will definitely be long and boring. While this was never an issue on the Star Trek series, it can become a problem for astronauts in real life. Extended periods can pass in space with no stimulation at all. Staring into the black abyss of the universe can cause a whole host of mental issues for the astronauts aboard the ship to Mars.
Astronauts do go through intensive psychological testing before they are allowed to go on missions. However, no mission has posed the severe boredom challenges of the long trip to the red planet. That’s not to say that we haven’t tried to simulate what it would be like to make the long journey to Mars and then spend a significant amount of time on the planet.
The Hi-Seas project has been up and running for the last seven years. It takes a group of astronauts and places them in isolation in the side of a volcano for eight months. The goal of the project is to mimic the conditions of life on Mars and, thus, understand the psychological effects that life in such isolated conditions can have on humans.
The simulations by Hi-Seas Project in Hawaii led us to the conclusion that staying busy is the best way to address this boredom. The schedule of the participants remained packed from dawn to dusk, which is why they were better able to cope with the isolation.
Elon Musk also believes that the journey needs to be fun so that people actually want to go to Mars. This is why the crew of BFR plans to create compartments with plenty of fun activities. This includes cabins, a restaurant, lecture halls, a movie theater, and zero-gravity games.
Other Issues with a Mars Landing Before 2050
Other problems that could delay any hope of landing on Mars before 2050 include a lack of funds and poor planning. President Obama has put a plan to return to the moon on a halt so that NASA can focus all its resources on going to Mars. However, President Donald Trump wants to send another mission to the moon in the foreseeable future, which could delay NASA’s plans for Mars.
In 2009, the Augustine Commission panel also analyzed the funding for NASA and found that it did not match their goals. The annual budget for the space program is $18 billion. NASA would need $3 billion more every year to make it to Mars by 2050. Currently, the lack of funding can delay plans for a Mars landing.
Another problem is that aerospace experts have noted dozens of technologies that need to be worked on immediately if we want to land on Mars in the desired timeframe. This includes a spacecraft that can manage the harsh entry into Mars as well as land softly enough to ensure the safety of the astronauts. It should also be able to leave Mars’ atmosphere and return to Earth.
Texas Senator, Ted Cruz, suggests that the next funding bill for NASA needs to have a long-term plan in place. Instead of going for a yearly plan, the best thing would be to have a consistent strategy. The vision for NASA needs to last for longer than one administration so that Congress can set a budget for the objectives and goals accordingly.
Are We Going?
So, will we land on Mars before 2050? It depends, really. The goal for a Mars landing before 2050 is only achievable if humans are able to come up with viable solutions for the radiation problem, the cost of rockets, and the restlessness and isolation that the astronauts will be exposed to on the red planet, along with the need for advancements in certain technologies. If these issues are addressed in time, landing on Mars before 2050 is a very real possibility.