Humans have always been fascinated with sending people to land on Mars. They have been preparing themselves for the same for decades now. But what do we need to land on Mars? I mean, the technologies associated with the success of this mission!
Let’s imagine a story. A spaceship from Earth lands safely on the Mars surface. When the airlock’s hatch opens, a person wearing a white pressure suit appears. The Earth envoy cautiously steps outdoors and starts down the ladder after glancing about through his bowl-shaped helmet at the unusual surroundings.
The alien traveler descends the ladder in a matter of minutes and readies himself for a “great leap” that will leave the first trace of humans on the pure, orange sands that spread as far as the eye can see. Mars exploration by humans has started.
Sounds like science fiction, right?
Alright, before we ask what technologies are required for humans to land us safely on Mars, we must ask what technologies are needed to get us there.
Too Many Challenges Before We Land On Mars
First of all, rocket systems that operate in this day and age will not be possible for a journey to Mars. Reaching the red planet would take years, and this would have tremendous impacts on the psychology of humans traveling. A trip to our moon takes us almost a month to get there.
Imagine yourself on a mission. All lonely with uncertainty galore. There may be two or three friends. Nothing much. As you reach there, there is a high possibility you wouldn’t be in the same mental state anymore.
1. Laser Communication
To eliminate this, we need advanced laser-based communication. While radio communication in the current format takes around nine years, advanced laser-based communication will take up to nine weeks to deliver and receive messages from the Martian surface.
Laser communication will also speed up the process of communication between planets. NASA already implemented this technique in their Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission in 2013.
However, the current technology needs to be upgraded. Challenges from Earth’s lower earth orbits (clouds, winds, etc.) and upper earth orbit (differences in density) must be addressed to amplify laser communication.
2. Improved Heat Shields and Propulsion Systems
As stated above, the rocket systems are woefully unequipped for us to sustain on the surface of Mars at all times. To even get past our upper earth orbits, we need rockets that can withstand a huge amount of heat. There is a reason why.
The rockets rely on fuel to thrust the rocket perpendicular to the Earth’s surface. In doing so, they revolve around the planet twice or thrice before getting thrown away in space towards their intended destination. This method is called the gravity-propulsion system. We can continue this method since it’s tried and tested.
However, this method takes years to reach Mars. 35, to be precise. This method is being replaced by something similar to a giant slingshot, which would fling rockets and satellites into orbit. While doing so, the rocket’s surface would suffer from serious burns, which may smoke the spaceship before it reaches space.
Heavier spacecraft are needed for the purpose, and the shape of the rockets needs to be changed to suit the radically different manner of take-off. NASA operates a breathable heat shield. A more robust and rock-solid heat shield is required for the same. With time and necessity, advanced heat shields would be the need of the hour.
3. Mobile Shelter
Now that we’ve landed on Mars, we need to move about and learn everything on its surface. Currently, the largest vehicle on Mars is the Pathfinder, which is almost as big as a car. However, this time it wouldn’t be the likes of Pathfinder or any uncrewed vehicle.
The feasible idea is to have a gigantic, truck-like shelter that would disembark from the rocket and stroll on the Martian surface. NASA is already trying to make this a reality. We have already seen the precedent since the science-fiction movie Martian.
NASA plans to combine the vehicle with a 2020 Perseverance rover, reducing the items needed to land on the surface. Already, extensive tests have been carried out on Earth before they thought about its final launch in 2020.
Future Artemis astronauts living in the pressurize will offer valuable feedback, which will help improve the capability and other parameters in the next rrover launches. Not only that, but it would also help refine robots which would help in detailed surveys.
Having a rover, however, is not enough. First, it would need pressure and gravity, which would provide earthlike conditions for people to move about normally in an incredibly light atmosphere. Scaling up is necessary since the new rover would require several rooms and support systems to sustain humanity.
Secondly, the whole system would require an uninterrupted power supply of electricity and oxygen. It would have all the life support systems, comfortable astronaut suits, clothing, etc.
This rover would move all around Mars and pick up the required data. To collect soil samples and other anomalies, astronauts wearing spacesuits could disembark – do their job, and return to their rover. It can also extend to possessing technologies that allow them to return to the spacecraft and Earth.
4. Technologies Regarding Food and Water
Speaking of important things, we require water and food. To survive on Mars, we need farmlands to grow crops – or some source we can eat. Building hydroponics is the way to go for the future, but smaller home-room farms would be the ideal farming system for Mars. Special focus should be paid to burying plants that consume as less water as possible would be the de riguere.
Decomposition of feces and the creation of biogas would be the need to provide the soil with much necessary assistance. That, along with removing sewage not to contaminate the moving rovers with various kinds of bacteria. While the idea may seem a bit disgusting, such a practice has already been happening on Earth.
When we talk about reuse, we should see the marvel of designer Leonardo Manavella. The designer developed a concept device that turns urine into drinkable water. This method can be used in unsafe situations and areas around the world. Activated carbon in the said device purifies the color and flavor of urine. It was also replicated by a team of scientists at Belgium University, as reported by Reuters.
While these technologies exist, others would provide a third solution that we may not see in the future without the ocean.
An uninterruptable power supply like here on Earth is a dream on Mars. When we talk about electricity from Martian sources which works 24/7? It’s a long reach. The availability of sunlight on the red planet is a rarity. The climate on Mars is also terrible and needs endless energy even to reach an Earthlike environment. Hence, the best possibility is to stay indoors in the mobile rrover, unlike on Earth.
On Mars, resources would be used in an entirely different manner. As mentioned earlier, there would be an urgent requirement to use complementary resources like sewage and soil. We must require where such energies come from when we talk about power. Using in-situ materials would be high in demand and key to setting up a base on Mars forever.
As said before, the sun and wind fail to be the driving force behind power. In such a terrible atmosphere, there is a need to transport materials across the planet and integrate complementary resources. It isn’t possible without energy.
Carrying this much energy from Earth and spending it on Mars would be absurd and unviable. The only alternative is to find in-situ materials and create energy from them as a key base. The most viable energy source in this regard would be nuclear energy – with only one problem, i.e., radioactive waste. This problem is again eliminated when we consider Thorium instead of Uranium.
With Thorium, we see that many things can be accomplished at a fraction of the cost. However, an uninterrupted supply of something as rare as Thorium is impossible. Besides, no one knows the resources which might be available on Mars. It may be possible that there are no complementary resources.
When the feasibility of Thorium is tested on Earth thoroughly, it can be brought to Mars for the initial as well as in the reserving phase. Rovers, which would meander around the Martian surface, can detect the entire planet’s surface, finalize a key to building a mining base on Mars, and help with operations.
The next option would be the ability to use in-situ materials. Another aspect of Martian sources of energy is their dust storms. The red planet is home to extreme temperatures due to its barren lands. It engulfs several dust storms, driven by heat imbalance between the seasons and day and night.
Any technology that could harness power from the Martian storms would benefit the astronauts who would temporarily settle on the planet for their activities. In this aspect, windmills are of much use – not only to drive and generate electricity but to collect Martian soil for testing on plantations.
6. Space Suits
When Apollo 13 first went to the moon, much information from the lunar rocks wasn’t collected. Reason? The astronauts couldn’t bend down with their 300+ spacesuits and collect the info staring at them from right at their feet.
As time passes, space suits grow more and more natural and earthlike. In all honesty, there have been few changes from the late 1960s to now regarding the weight of these suits. There has been changing in flexibility, though.
The current space suits of NASA are called the XEMU or the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit and will be worn by the next batch of astronauts who are to visit space. The XEMU suits would help the astronauts to perform earthlike movements. Workers’ safety is considered primary in these XEMU.
As time goes by, the space suits would be more advanced, and the XEMU would be lighter, almost at par with a pure animal leather jacket and, at the same time, fighting the bitter – 60-degree Celcius cold temperature on Mars.
7. 3D Printing
To set up a colony on Mars, we shouldn’t just think of ways that can get us there and sustain it. We also must focus on building things on Mars despite having many environmental factors as roadblocks. 3D Printing is one answer to this solution.
We are slowly getting closer to what is thought of since 3D printing is widely used worldwide. However, 3D printing must be carried on on a huge scale to flourish in Martian soil. Conventional building of various residences using scaffolding and other raw materials is impossible.
Hence, we require printing layers to create new buildings, colonies, and even glass bubbles within which people can supply oxygen and pressure and freely move about on the new planet.
The International Space Station has been using 3D printing for many years, but everything has a future. Colossal amounts of 3D printing will be necessary for humans to build different megastructures containing several tools, farming space, water storage, and oxygen storage capacity. Essentially, the first factories on Mars to supply basic requirements would need 3D printing.
It is not an end in itself. 3D printing may lead to innovation in various fields. For example, we can see how Martian soil works with earth soil and gives rise to a new, edible plant species. It would also be viable to create a specially created uncrewed 3D printed aircraft to fly quicker around Mars and collect more information.
Other Challenges To Land On Mars
There are a few factors to consider to make land on Mars if humans successfully reach Mars’ vicinity. The size of the payload, the location of the engines, the fuel type, and the vehicle’s shape are all taken into account.
Another concern is whether propulsive landing operations, such as short thruster burns, will be coupled with parachute deployments. Another problem is how to accommodate astronauts during extraterrestrial journeys.
Finding a way to slow down so that the landing vehicle doesn’t crash into the ground is one of the primary challenges in putting people on Mars. The thin atmosphere of Mars is the issue. The landing of the lightweight Mars rovers is unaffected by this problem.
It will be challenging to slow this heavier burden if humans land on Mars because they need to bring a lot of luggage. It is because there is no dense atmosphere to generate friction.
You can observe friction’s beneficial effects on slowing moving items every day. Consider when you witnessed a driver bang on the brakes to stop fast. Additionally, airplanes employ air friction like spaceships to slow down and safely land on Mars.
Other factors impacting the density of Mars’ atmosphere make the landing situation more challenging. The atmosphere’s density can vary depending on the time of day, latitude, season, and weather.
For instance, every season on Mars, roughly 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide escape and re-enter the atmosphere. That is equivalent to almost nine inches (23 cm) of solid carbon dioxide or dry ice! For the astronauts to land on Mars within a sufficiently congested area that still allows for adequate visibility, researchers are striving to predict the atmospheric variations on Mars.
The question of whether the arriving spacecraft should immediately head for the surface or park in orbit before landing is being debated by planners. Similar to how airplanes circle the airport in bad weather, parking in orbit gives astronauts more options in the event of a dust storm.
Crewed missions are still far off because there are still a lot of issues to be resolved with landing on Mars. The final spacecraft and mission plan design will significantly impact how much it will cost to send people to Mars.
Utilizing existing developed technologies aids in keeping expenses more affordable. We can observe how arduously our scientists are putting in the effort to realize this vision. For the time being, let’s consider human land on Mars as occurring in real life, not simply in science fiction films.