How to get to Mars and can we do it?

Who will fly first?

Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos): “Putin said - Putin did”

Chances of success: 1:60

Russia has announced the development of the Angara-A5V superheavy rocket, which in terms of carrying capacity exceeds all existing analogues today. Its first test flight is scheduled for 2023, and in 2025 the rocket should fly in the most severe configuration with a carrying capacity sufficient for interplanetary missions. And for 2018, according to the decree of President Putin, the first manned launch was planned from the Vostochny spaceport, that is, from the territory of Russia (today all manned expeditions will start from Kazakhstan).

Inspiration Mars: “Does it even count?”

Chances of success: 1:25

Unlike competing projects, Inspiration Mars (the brainchild of the first space tourist Denis Tito, who cost only $ 20 million in a space ticket), does not provide for the landing of astronauts on the surface of the Red Planet. Tito decided to take advantage of the successful interposition of the planets, in which they find themselves in 2021, to equip the mission immediately to Mars and Venus, designed for 582 days.

China National Space Administration: “Came to a hat analysis”

Chances of success: 1: 100

China managed to send the first man into space only in 2003, but since then its space program has been rapidly gaining momentum. The Chinese are actively building an orbital station, and by 2020 they plan to launch their first rover. One of the Taikonauts, the Chinese cosmonauts, participated in the Mars-500 experiment in Moscow, during which scientists studied the effects of long-term isolation (500 days) in preparation for extra-long space travel. China plans to send a manned expedition to Mars in the 2040–2060s.

SpaceX: “They have a great desire and means”

Chances of success: 1: 5

Elon Musk firmly decided to send a man to Mars, and his brainchild has already reached maturity. News of contracts between SpaceX and NASA for the delivery of goods into orbit is just the tip of the iceberg. A reusable launch vehicle with a returnable module capable of landing on a tiny platform using its own navigator is actively being developed (see. PM No. 8'2015). Musk promises to introduce a transport module for the colonization of Mars by the end of the year. The company is also developing its own spacesuit model.

NASA: "Advanced, but still state employees"

Chances of success: 1:80

Following the cessation of shuttle flights in 2011, NASA is developing a completely new system for delivering astronauts and cargo to distant orbits. This will open up new opportunities for the next round of space exploration. The massive Space Launch System rocket will be used to send Orion spacecraft of the new class to nearby asteroids. Such missions will help to gain new knowledge and master the skills so necessary for traveling to Mars. According to the agency’s plans, the first expedition to a neighboring planet will take place in the 2030s.

Mars One: “Nothing personal, only show business”

Chances of success: 1:15

This project offers a one-way Mars ticket and is funded by advertising revenue from a reality show. The authors of the project promise starting in 2020 to make several unmanned flights in order to develop technology and build a Martian base. The launch of the first manned mission is scheduled for 2026. Unfortunately, all this looks very implausible.

Martian society: “With all its incredibility, the plan is thought out in detail”

Chances of success: 1: 9

The Mars Direct plan has two stages. First, an unmanned ship will leave for Mars, which, upon arrival, will begin to accumulate a reserve of fuel on the return trip due to the interaction of hydrogen with the Martian atmosphere. Following will arrive a ship with astronauts, which will bring inhabited modules with it. After completing the study, everyone will go home on the first ship, preserving the base for the following visitors. After several missions on the planet, it will be possible to establish the first extraterrestrial settlement.

European Space Agency: “Europeans and other problems have enough”

Chances of success: 1: 300

Old world scientists are conducting several joint space projects with Russia. Their plans include sending an orbiting vehicle to Mars in 2016 and a rover in 2018. No one seriously considers Europe as the leader of the Martian race.


Who to harbor in a star chariot?

Solar sail. Although the photons emitted by the Sun do not have mass, they create the same effect in space as the wind on Earth. They bombard the spacecraft, so NASA has to consider the influence of the solar wind when calculating flight paths. But why not take advantage of this phenomenon? It is only necessary to construct a sufficiently strong and large space sail, which will give the ship the required momentum, without spending a single drop of precious fuel. It can be completely cut out from special carbon fibers or from Mylar (lavsan) reinforced with aluminum.

Nuclear rocket engine. You can use an atomic reactor to heat hydrogen to a very high temperature, so that a jet of rapidly expanding gas, breaking out of narrow nozzles, creates jet thrust. This principle is similar to the operation of a modern chemical engine, but it burns twice as little fuel.

Ion engine. This technology is ten times more efficient than a traditional chemical fuel engine. In the process, ionized xenon atoms are accelerated in an electric field and pushed into outer space. The ideal engine for traveling long distances in space is able to serve well in flight to Mars.

Space vegetables

How to feed a whole group of astronauts during a three-year expedition to Mars? Truly, the task is not easy. According to Doug Ming, a specialist at NASA's Martian Science Lab, the agency is exploring the possibility of growing food both on the surface of the Red Planet upon arrival and on the way to it. Engineers have already compiled a list of twenty-three cultivated plants that, after a little modification, will be able to provide travelers with a balanced diet and give them enough strength to successfully complete the mission. The star menu included carrots, mushrooms, onions, peas, peanuts, soybeans, sweet potatoes and even strawberries.

Low Pressure Salad

Before being on the table with the astronauts, the plants will serve to maintain a sufficient level of oxygen in the artificial atmosphere of their space home. Some species can be adapted to the cramped conditions of the ship using genetic engineering: for example, to reduce the usual earthly 1.2-meter height of wheat spikelets.

There are no fertile soils on Mars, water in the ground is also practically absent. The extraterrestrial environment is completely unsuitable for farming, so it seems that the first crop will have to be cultivated hydroponically. According to scientists, over time, the soil of Mars will be able to adapt to the needs of terrestrial plants. To do this, you need to properly fertilize it, and, fortunately, the astronauts will bring with them everything they need. Human urine already contains enough nitrogen, which Martian soil is so lacking, as well as phosphorus and potassium. These trace elements necessary for plants can be extracted from waste products of astronauts, and filtered water can be used again for household purposes.

Do we need it? Should humanity colonize Mars - and if so, why? Opinions of scientists, politicians and astronauts were collected by Roman Fishman.

Is it really life?

If people manage to survive the flight, then upon arrival there are many other dangers.

In Martian days, 40 minutes more compared to Earth. Say nothing to worry about? The earthly circadian rhythms of the first inhabitants of the Red Planet will quickly fail, and with them the duration of sleep, hormonal regulation and even body temperature can change. This effect can be leveled with the help of light therapy.

Being in space without protection of the atmosphere, people receive about 20 times a larger dose of radiation than on Earth. Radiation increases the risk of cancer, and can also lead to irreversible (and so far little studied) changes in the heart, brain, bone tissue and internal organs. It is planned that Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, who arrived on the ISS on March 28, 2015, will spend a year in orbit and their mission will allow to study in more detail the effect of a long stay in space on the human body. According to scientists, in the worst case, radiation can lead to a decrease in the mental abilities of astronauts. To minimize the risk, you must minimize the duration of the flight. When the astronauts find themselves on Mars, the planet’s atmosphere will block part of the destructive cosmic radiation, and working and residential modules will further reduce the dose received by the astronauts. According to NASA standards, exposure received by travelers over their entire time in space should not increase the risk of cancer by more than 3%. The first people to reach the Red Planet will receive a lifetime dose in a three-year trip, and when they return to Earth, the path to space will be closed to them forever.

NASA's special planetary defense unit is vigilant to ensure that living organisms from one planet do not fall onto another. The first stage of such protection requires the complete sterilization of the outer surface of the spacecraft from terrestrial microorganisms. The second stage of protection involves the collection of all waste products during the mission and dumping them overboard into outer space, only after he leaves an alien planet. In addition, it is necessary to protect the astronauts themselves from a possible infection with Martian flu or, worse, an illness that is unknown to terrestrial science. Upon returning to Earth, the ship will undergo sterilization, and the crew will have to pass a series of checks on the way home. And it would be better if none of them gave a positive result, because NASA still does not have a clear plan for the case of introducing extraterrestrial infections. The development of an emergency protocol must be completed before the start of the expedition to Mars, so that later there would be no need to make hasty decisions in a crisis situation. Otherwise, harsh reality will dictate its own rules: according to the laws of war, any infected ship is immediately sent to where it came from. So unhappy patients will have to seek medical help from Martian doctors.

The article “Mars: a scientific guide” was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 11, November 2015).

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