Even though Curiosity is broadcasting some fantastic images along with unprecedented data, many of us are wondering when mankind will set foot on Mars. Yet a bigger question is with the Constellation Program no longer an option, how will humans land on Mars?
The Constellation program was NASA’s human spaceflight program. Initially it was this program that was going to take the first humans to Mars. (1) To accomplish this mission to Mars, NASA was planning the Orion Mars mission. The goal was to land humans on the Martian surface by 2030.
Unfortunately, the Constellation program ended in 2011 by presidential decree, dashing the hopes of many Mars enthusiasts. However, the president is confident that humans will make it to the Red Planet in our lifetime.
In an announcement at Kennedy Space Center, he stated, “I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow and I expect to be around to see it.”(2) The president’s idea is that the private sector will bring us to Mars.
New Age of Human Space Exploration
It seems that the new age of human space exploration will be ushered in by billionaire entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX. However, Musk wants to do more than just land on Mars, he wants to colonize it. (3)
He wants to send 80,000 people to the planet at a time in an effort to colonize and maintain a human presence on Mars (3). His plan for accomplishing this lofty goal: recycling. Musk’s idea is to design and implement reusable rockets.
He admits that the technology is not completed today and he is vague on what type of reusable rocket would be used. His company, SpaceX, is rumored to be in the design phase of a large reusable rocket known as the Mass Cargo Transport (MCT). When asked directly if it was the MCT that he was referring to, Musk simply replied, “Maybe.” (4)
Though the private sector has entered into the human space exploration arena, NASA is still facilitating human space exploration. They not only have partnered with SpaceX, but also with The Boeing Company and Sierra Nevada Corporation in what they call the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) Space Act Agreements (SAAs).
The CCiCap is the third round in NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program. However, CCiCap differs from the first two installments in that it requires a total space exploration solution from the private sector. This solution must include everything required for a successful departure and return including spacecraft, launch vehicles, launch services, ground and mission operations and recovery.
The Private Sector
Even though the Constellation program is no longer an option for a human space exploration mission to Mars, NASA will still play an intricate role facilitating that mission. This partnership between NASA and the private sector may turn out to be exactly what space exploration needs.
The private sector tends to be more focused on the bottom line, creating an efficient and more cost effective model in their practices. The flip side of that is deciding whether we really want the private sector in space before scientists, who are more focused about the exploration and not the bottom line.
Nevertheless, the Curiosity mission proves that we can send rovers to Mars. The next step is to get humans on Mars and it appears we will do so through the private sector.
References & Image Credits:
(1) NASA Constellation
(2) ABC News
(5) NASA Commercial Exploration
(6) NASA Mars Planning
(7) NASA Goddard Photo and Video via photopin cc
(8) NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via photopin cc