Introduction to the NASA Mars Mission
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017 under section 435 mandated NASA with partnering with an independent body in preparation for a manned mission to Mars. The duty is to assess the kind of technology required for the mission, the duration that the exploration will rake, the cost of the project, and the budget profiles that would be involved in the mission to Mars. The mission is estimated to launch in 2033 according to the initial plan and hence intense preparations have to be made through partnering with the independent body to facilitate the mission (IDA, 2019). The entity identified and requested by NASA was the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI). The entity is to make an evaluation by using the current plans that NASA has regarding the mission to Mars. Mars has been discovered to have a geological evolution and climate cycles that are closely if not completely related to earth. At one point the conditions on Mars are believed to support human life and as a result, NASA is taking the step towards pioneering the rest of the world on a journey to the beyond low Earth orbit red planet. Through successful partnerships and very advanced technologies, the mission is believed to identify Mars as habitable to human beings and hence people will have an opportunity to choose to live on the planet.
Execution of the Project
NASA has been on the exploration journey for more than four decades where the initial moves took the effort of science and technology research through the use of the ISS which stand for the International Space Station. The move was in collaboration with scientific laboratories based on earth. Over a period of time, NASA has been developing the Space Launch System as well as the Orion crewed spacecraft with the aim of finding better methods to minimize the logistics involved and for sufficient preparation of the human missions into the cislunar space. NASA is very optimistic that the challenges the mission to Mars may encounter along the way are under all mean solvable. High-end technology, for example, has to be developed and will require various conceptualization, development and testing stages before being launched.
The main goal of the mission to mars by NASA is to extend the capacity of human beings to live, work, learn, and operate normally in a sustainable environment beyond the surface of the earth (NASA, 2015). NASA seeks the hand of both international and commercial partners who will help to facilitate the mission and help in the realization of economic benefits of the mission as well as strengthening the leadership abilities of America on planet Earth and in space.
NASA has made proposals regarding its plans for human spaceflight set to take place before 2030. There are plans to set-up a human-tended station named as the Gateway, around the moon between 2023 and 2026. The Gateway will be a source of learning for scholars wishing to learn more about the lunar environment, to gather a more informed operational experience, and to carry out missions to the Moon and Mars. The space launch system (SLS) and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle are the designated service providers set to facilitate human missions to the Gateway.
Technological Assessment and Challenges
There are low-risk levels of technological challenges that are associated with both the Orion and the SLS as tools for the manned mission to Mars. Deep Space Transport is set to be in use in the mission for further exploration of the Mars orbit. The DST requires heavy technological investment and consequently, it estimated to have some medium level to high risks. Preparations for an Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) are already at the low technology readiness level (TRL). The aim of the ECLSS is to ensure that the DST is reliable and that it meets the performance level that it is expected to achieve. It is not until the year 2022 that NASA plans to test the reliability of the ECLSS by making use of high oxygen reclamation rates on the international space station. It is therefore quite necessary that NASA together with the identified partners who among them include scholars pay close attention to detail when it comes to the technological use in the systems and devices that are going to be used in the mission.
There will be two types of Landers that will be required for both the Mars Cargo and the crew where the entry needs for the two of them will be different (Percy et al., 2015). The lander with the cargo is expected to arrive two years earlier that the lander with the astronauts for verification and system emplacement. The use of two different landers is an approach aimed at minimizing the risk that the crew may face in the new environment. However, a high level of technology will be required in the landing since the team will need to make a very close to surface landing to facilitate the establishment of the surface systems. The Mars habitat together with the life support facilities such as power, thermal management systems, mobility equipment, and consumables such as air food, and water constitute the surface systems. Appropriate space suits known as EVA must also be made available in the systems. At the end of the mission, the crew would need to make use of Mars Ascent Vehicles to take them back to the DST that will be marking orbits since it will be nearly impossible for it to stay still.
Time Schedule Assessment and Challenges
NASA estimates that the most likely period that the space exploration will be ready to set off will be after 2037. However, the estimated period comes without the inclusion of massive technological developments, delays in the schedule, as well as budget hitches. If aspects of budget delays and technological advancement are to be included, the mission to Mars should take place after 2039. Some of the aspects that contribute to the expected delays in the mission as opposed to the initial date of 2033 are based on the fact that NASA has to combine four complex elements and develop them to full effect in preparation for the launch. The SLS, the Orion, Gateway, and the DTS together create a huge task ahead for NASA for they have to be aligned to function perfectly before any launching is made and hence contributing to scheduling delays. Human factors are to be considered as well because NASA has to have a well-prepared lot of human astronauts equipped with vast knowledge and skills on the mission and therefore it may take a while to get the team ready for the mission. It is quite clear then that human, financial, and technological aspects will in a large way contribute to the delay in the launching of the manned mission to Mars. Some of the other reasons that may contribute to the delay in the execution of the project Mars include the fact that there will be an annual human mission to the Gateway after the initial launch. The teams will be sent to work on the Gateway, to operate the Deep Space Transport, and to make a transfer to the surface of the moon. It means that NASA has to take extra time to prepare for these activities as it will require the shift from focusing on landing on the moon to focusing on the set mission which is to prepare the DST for the Mars mission.
The exploration period to Mars between the Fiscal year 2019 and 2037 is estimated to cost about 83 U.S billion dollars. It is quite clear that is going to be quite a costly mission given that the figure is only an estimate and may rise depending on other factors consisting of extended duration of the mission. As per the fiscal year 2017, there is an estimated additional cost of 45 U.S billion dollars for NASA investment in the Gateway, the Orion, and the SLS without the mission to mass being included in the budget. The additional cost will be inclusive of the Orion capsules, the DST and its supplies, the ground support of the DST on Earth while it will be on mission and the cost of the SLS launches. If the share of the NASA budget that has been set for the manned mission to space is constant for the 19-year period between 2019 and 2037, then the cost of the mission would be at 233.8 U. S dollars.
The Risk to Human health
The mission may be for the better of the future of humanity. However, it will come at the cost of the big risk in term of the health of the astronauts. The orbital mission is set to 1,100 days where human beings will be in the beyond Earth orbit with unknown risk to their health. The DST I expected to make a one-year shakedown cruise and making any changes in the already existing plan with the attempts to reduce human health risk would mean that the schedule would be negatively affected as well as the cost of the mission (IDA, 2019). The challenge that NASA currently faces is the lack of sufficient study regarding the health risk of the mission. The Human Research Program Integrated Research Plan designated to carry out the study, given the long-duration to be taken in the deep space spaceflight does not have enough and satisfactory information in terms of evidence and strategy needed to come up with mitigation measures. There lacks a unified plan regarding how NASA is going to handle the effects of the radiation and low gravity present on the Mars orbit as it may have negative effects on the health of the astronauts. It may also expose them to physical harm and injuries by the equipment they will be operating. The astronauts will be separated from their families and friends for quite a long time in an alien place where communication may be limited. The isolation may cause some deep emotional and psychological effects on the team which basically means that they will not be fully functional beings given the circumstances.
Comparison to Previous and Future Missions
In 1971, Mars 2 and 3 Soviet orbiters made a successful landing on Mars which were later followed by NASA 5 years later with their Viking 1 and 2 (Guedim, 2019). These two landings were however not as informative as expected as they failed to reveal any signs of the probability of the existence of life on the Red Planet. The current mission by NASA will be different in that the aim is to evaluate the sustainability of human life on Mars. Unlike the previous missions that were heavily criticized for their estimated cost, partners and stakeholder have been willing to support the current mission. It is arguably correct to argue that humanity is in search of existence beyond planet Earth. Probably due to the fear of overpopulation or the need to explore new spaces and having the technological know-how to carry out the explorations are among the reasons as to why many look forward to the mission. Elon Musk is also planning a similar mission to Mars with his SpaceX predicted to Launch in 2024. As opposed to NASA, SpaceX has a strict timeline and plans to launch the first cargo mission to the Red Planet in the year 2022 followed by a crew mission in 2024 (NASA, 2015). The SpaceX mission is more of a privately-owned mission and seems more financially set, unlike NASA. However, if all the budgetary needs are met, NASA will have a more in-depth exploration compared to SpaceX given the amount of groundwork being done in preparation for the launch.
Mars may be the next place to call home for humanity, but until then, it is up to the manned missions to provide information on how sustainable the planet will be. It is not guaranteed that Mars is fully hospitable to human life and can sustain it and hence the cause for the exploration mission which may come at the cost of the health of the astronauts. NASA has to ensure that human, technological, and financial aspects are well considered before launching the mission for efficiency in the mission and in the results.