Mankind has always been fascinated by Mars, and now we are closer to leaving traces on the surface of the Red Planet than ever before.
"Mars is very hot in the current public spirit," said Adam Steltzner, chief engineer for a new unmanned NASA mission to Mars, which launches next year and is called Mars 2020.
This is not NASA's first mission to Mars. We brought the Viking Lander to Mars in 1976, the 1997 Sojourner Rover and the Twin Rover Spirit and Opportunity 2003. And in 2012, Steltzner's last major project, the Curiosity Rover, landed on the Red Planet. It still explores Mars today.
"Curiosity showed us that the old, humid environment of Mars was actually livable for life," said Steltzner. "Nevertheless, the question remains excitingly unanswered as to whether still exists . Our mission, Mars 2020, is to unravel this question and give an answer."
The star of Mars 2020 is its rover. With its cameras, lasers and sensors, the Martian surface is examined for signs of ancient life. And it will fill rock samples into airtight canisters for a later mission to Earth.
The rover will also carry a stowaway – a robot that detaches itself when the rover is safely on Mars. It is a miniature helicopter.
"This special helicopter is now designed for a flight of up to 90 seconds," said Mimi Aung of NASA.
"Ninety seconds – $ 23 million for a drone that can fly 90 seconds?" asked correspondent David Pogue.
"This is the first time we fly a helicopter on another planet! ," Aung replied.
Asked for a timeline, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine replied: "I'll tell you that, we may think, perhaps in the mid-2030s, as a timeline."
A key element of his Mars plan is the creation of a kind of rehearsal stage on the Moon. "The moon can be a great touchstone for our first mission to Mars," he said. "So, if something is wrong, there is still the opportunity to get home."
Pogue asked, "Is part of the Martian thrust to literally create a planet B? y? "
" I do not rule it out, but it's not my goal right now, "Bridenstine said.
The main goal is …?" We want to discover life. "
But not everyone thinks that way Some people argue that we need another option to make the Earth uninhabitable.
"They want a backup planet; You want a backup strategy, maybe a few backup strategies. The moon could be one, Mars could be one, "said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer, whose business is to launch cargo, satellites, and soon people into space for its customers: governments, communications companies, and NASA.
Her boss is Tesla billionaire Elon Musk, who told an audience last year, "It's important that we try to become a multi-planetary civilization and extend life beyond the earth.
Unlike NASA, SpaceX reuses its missiles rather than just burning them, and it's amazing to see them return to the pad and land perfectly on their tails
SpaceX and NASA need each other – and as Shotwell makes clear, they are not competitors. "You are both customer and partner," she said.
But she believes that SpaceX will bring people to Mars first: " We would like to be able to send a ship to Mars in 2022. Hopefully, if we did a good job in 2022 "We could send 2024 people."
"2024, with people saying people are crazy?" Pogue asked.
"People said we were crazy since we started!" She laughed.
The giant rocket SpaceX is building for Mars is called Super Heavy. It's not quite as big as the Saturn V booster, the biggest ever, but SpaceX says it's six times more powerful breathing and it's a very inhospitable environment … why Mars now?
"The properties of the planet were close enough to Earth that we could see a way to bring people to Mars and let them survive," said Shotwell. "But it's a fixer upper planet, and life on Mars will not be easy in the first few decades."
Kim Binsted, a professor at the University of Hawaii, is the mastermind behind an isolated habitat, perched on a Hawaiian volcano called HI-SEAS (for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation). It feels as much like Mars as you can find on Earth.
Binsted said about the HI-SEAS habitat: "This gives us the opportunity to conduct long-term simulations to explore the Martian surface, with a long duration of four to 12 months or even longer."
People who live in isolation in the HI-SEAS dome can not make calls home. They have a communication delay of less than 20 minutes (in each direction) to simulate the time it takes for a signal to travel from Earth to Mars. "That means you do not have to surf the Internet, surf the net, do not pick up the phone, and not call anyone," Binsted said.
The HI-SEAS habitat can not simulate the hostile conditions on Mars, however, may simulate being brought together with other astronauts during a month-long mission. "The main thing we're testing is people," Binsted said. "If the human part fails, it's just as catastrophic as if the rocket exploded."
And the key lies in choosing the right kind of people: "It can be summarized as thick-skinned, long-melting and optimistic outlook," said Binsted. "If you take people off the street and bring them into this habitat, they'll probably be in their throats in a day or two!"
Probably because inside it feels like one and a half stories Camping tent – as big as you get on a very cheap cruise ship or in prison. "If you can imagine spending a year vacationing in a RV with your family, then this is the situation we're talking about here," Binsted said. "And our crews all showed up alive!"
Now space travel is enormously expensive. So Pogue Bridenstine asked the big taxpayer, "Why spend money to get to other planets when we have so many problems here at home?"
"I think that's a very shortsighted suggestion," he replied. I'll tell you why: Space has changed our entire lives – how we communicate, how we navigate, produce food, how we produce energy, and how we forecast weather Meeting Disaster Assistance, Ensuring National Security and Defense The only reason all of these technologies are available to us lies in the trail that NASA has taken in exploration. And
And here we go: NASA completes the construction of its new Mars rover, ready for launch in July 2020. In Texas, SpaceX fires prototypes of its Mars rocket engines twice a week and prepare for short test flights in late 2020, certainly in the next decade. "
And Adam Steltzner of NASA is looking forward to lifting his baby to Mars from afar, as he himself never wants to go to Mars would. "I have kids and a nice garden, and that's a warm, wet kiss compared to the Martian surface, I'd like to hang out here!"
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A story by Amol Mhatre.