There are several organizations and space agencies around the world that are planning manned missions to Mars in the future. NASA, for example, is currently working on a program called Artemis, which aims to send astronauts back to the Moon by 2024 and eventually to Mars. Other groups such as SpaceX and the United Arab Emirates also have plans for manned missions to Mars in the coming years.
The specifics of the mission plans can vary depending on the organization, but generally speaking, a manned mission to Mars would involve several key steps:
- Launch and Initial Earth Orbit: The spacecraft would be launched from Earth using a powerful rocket, such as NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) or SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. Once in Earth orbit, the spacecraft would perform a series of tests and maneuvers to make sure all systems are functioning properly before beginning the journey to Mars.
- Trans-Mars Injection (TMI): The spacecraft would then perform a trans-Mars injection maneuver, which would send it on a trajectory towards Mars. This would typically involve firing the rocket’s engines to provide the necessary velocity to leave Earth’s orbit and begin the journey to Mars.
- Cruise to Mars: The journey to Mars would take several months, during which time the spacecraft would be traveling through deep space. During this time, the astronauts on board would need to be able to perform maintenance and repairs, as well as keep themselves occupied with work and leisure activities. The spacecraft would also need to be able to sustain the crew during the long journey with food, water, air and other essentials.
- Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI): As the spacecraft approaches Mars, it would need to perform a Mars orbit insertion maneuver to slow down and enter into orbit around the planet. This would typically involve firing the rocket’s engines to slow the spacecraft down so that it can be captured by Mars’ gravity.
- Descent and Landing: The spacecraft would then perform a controlled descent and landing on the surface of Mars. This would be a challenging step, as the spacecraft would need to navigate through the Martian atmosphere and land on the surface with a high degree of precision.
- Surface Operations: Once the spacecraft has landed on the surface of Mars, the astronauts would disembark and begin conducting surface operations. This would involve performing scientific experiments and studies, as well as setting up equipment such as rovers and habitats. The astronauts would also need to take steps to stay safe on the Martian surface, such as wearing pressurized suits and staying within a habitat to avoid the harsh Martian environment.
- Ascent and Return: After completing their surface operations, the astronauts would then return to the spacecraft, lift off from the Martian surface, and begin the journey back to Earth.
As the specific details and schedule of the mission is not yet announced by NASA, it is subject to change. But these are the general steps of a manned mission to Mars.
There are many potential dangers that could occur during a manned mission to Mars. Some of the main risks include:
- Radiation exposure: Mars has a thin atmosphere and no magnetic field, so astronauts would be exposed to high levels of ionizing radiation from galactic cosmic rays and solar flares. This could increase their risk of cancer and other diseases.
- Microgravity-induced health problems: Long-duration spaceflight can cause a variety of health problems, including muscle and bone loss, vision impairment, and cardiovascular changes.
- Psychological stress: Being confined to a small spacecraft or habitat for an extended period of time can take a toll on the mental health of the astronauts, leading to isolation, depression, and other psychological problems.
- Mechanical and systems failures: Any number of mechanical or systems failures could occur during a mission, from equipment malfunctions to habitat leaks. These could potentially be fatal if not addressed quickly and effectively.
- Dust storms: Martian dust storms can last for weeks and cover vast areas of the planet, obscuring visibility and potentially damaging equipment.
- Landing and departure: Landing and taking off from Mars are some of the riskiest and technically challenging parts of the mission. Any failure during these operations could result in the loss of the spacecraft and crew.
As for other incidents where things have gone wrong. The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was a near-disaster that was caused by an explosion in one of the spacecraft’s oxygen tanks. The crew was able to return safely to Earth thanks to the quick thinking and resourcefulness of the mission control team and the astronauts themselves. The Challenger and Columbia space shuttle accidents in 1986 and 2003 respectively, resulted in the deaths of the entire crew.
The Phobos-Grunt, Russia’s Mars probe mission launch in 2011, failed and fell back to Earth, the Beagle 2 lander lost contact with Earth during its descent to Mars, in 2003 and ExoMars Schiaparelli lander crash-landed in 2016 are some other examples.
It’s clear that spaceflight is a risky business and mission to Mars will pose many challenges that needs to be addressed. But with the advancements in technology and knowledge gained from past missions, NASA and other space agencies are better prepared than ever to tackle these challenges and ensure the safety and success of future manned missions to Mars.