Humans to Mars: How and Why

Presented by Douglas Gage, Ph.D. on October 15, 2011. Now that the space shuttle program has ended, what should be the next step for human space flight? There appears to be broad agreement that Mars should be our ultimate goal, but some say that first we should go back to the moon or to an asteroid, and many question whether we should be spending our scarce resources to send humans anywhere beyond Low Earth Orbit any time soon. While the focus of the current debate reflects the “center of gravity” of the NASA budget — building and launching rockets and spacecraft — orbital physics dictates that human travelers to Mars will spend more time on the ground there than in space en route, and this ground segment is where the real challenges lie. The Apollo program demonstrated that NASA can design, build, and fly big rockets in a decade or so, but the real challenges lie in developing the technologies, systems, and operational processes that will keep our explorers safe, secure, productive, and happy on the surface of Mars. We need to provide shelter, energy, air, water, food, health care, communications, IT support, ground transportation, and much more. – The initial development of these technologies is much less expensive that designing and building rockets. – The more time we spend preparing to support humans on the surface of Mars, the more successful our mission is likely to be. – Most of the technologies required can be used or adapted for use on Earth. So, regardless of