If you think that the idea of humans traveling millions of miles to land on Mars is an impossible and far-fetched idea, you may want to take that up with the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group chartered by NASA.
The stated goal of MEPAG is to help with planning and prioritizing exploration activities on Mars for “the next several decades.” If these scientists have their way, planet Mars living will be a reality within a generation.
MEPAG aims to be the scientific analysis arm of the Mars exploration effort. Questions are posed to MEPAG – described by NASA as a community-based forum – regarding scientific concerns or issues related to the exploration of Mars. The forum, headed up by the lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program, then submits its analysis and findings to NASA’s Planetary Science Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council.
So what sort of plans has the forum already come up with to further explore Mars? To understand this, you would need to pour through the various documents published by the group.
Since I’ve already done that, I can report the most exciting aspects of those reports.
Goals, Objectives and Priorities for Planet Mars Living
The best predictor of what future Mars exploration will look like boils down to today’s priorities and goals set forth by NASA planners.
The MEPAG analysis group put forth just such a list of goals, objectives and priorities in 2010, with an updated version in 2012.
That document outlines a four-step process that will finally get humans in a realistic position to travel to, land on, and start to explore the red planet.
Those major goals are listed in the document as follows:
–> Determine if life ever arose on Mars.
–> Understand the processes and history of climate on Mars.
–> Determine the evolution of the surface and interior of Mars.
–> Prepare for human exploration.
It appears that NASA has a clear path to get humans to Mars, and that nothing short of complete financial shutdown of the program from the government (not an inconceivable notion) will stop the agency from accomplishing that goal. (1)
This is not much unlike the race to the moon, except the race in this case is against a financial time clock.
Off to a Rocky Start
Back in February, the Obama Administration initially zeroed out funding in the budget for the Mars exploration missions. The Curiosity Rover was on its way to the little red planet, and already its mission seemed doomed.
However, the success (and probably the popularity) of the astonishing Curiosity Rover landing, has made the little scientific robot a national sensation. Not surprisingly, Washington eventually signed on for what NASA administrator Charles Bolden called a “robust Mars exploration program.”
In a December 4th press release, Bolden says that yet another robotic science rover will be launched in 2020. Even more surprisingly, Bolden set a time table on when NASA plans to have humans set foot on the surface of Mars.
“With this next mission, we’re ensuring American remains the world leader in the exploration of the Red Planet, while taking another significant step toward sending humans there in the 2030s.” (2)
The first stage – the search for extraterrestrial life on Mars – is clearly underway with the Curiosity Rover; however, it is also helping to add scientific data to the second goal to understand the processes and history of the Mars climate.
Modern Focus on Planet Mars Living
Regardless, it appears that there will be no stopping humans from visiting Mars, at least if scientists have anything to say about it. There are other scientific forums cropping up across the world to also analyze the plausibility of humans building a colony on Mars.
For example from February 4th – 6th, UCLA will be hosting a two-day conference to “examine the present-day habitability of Mars.”
Why are scientists so excited? It’s because, as the UCLA site points out, recent discoveries from the Phoenix Lander and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have “dramatically overturned previously held beliefs about the planet.”
Specifically, that there could still be liquid water on or inside the planet. If there is water, then that changes everything.