NASA Just Officially Entered The Race To Put Humans On Mars

Picture: NASA

NASA is wrapping up a press conference providing more details of how it plans to put humans on Mars some time in the 2030s.

Tomorrow, it will launch its first test flight of the next-generation Orion spacecraft. We now know that will be part of what NASA calls it ‘Next Giant Leap’ program.

Orion will launch atop a Delta IV Heavy Rocket from Cape Canaveral and travel to 5800km above the Earth in a four-and-a-half hour mission, completing two orbits.

It will then splash down in the Pacific after returning at more than 32,000km/h.

At a news conference today, NASA confirmed the Orion test is a precursor to a manned journey to Mars.

The space agency is already building a new rocket for launching Orion called the Space Launch System (SLS).

Officials today said SLS will be the largest rocket ever built, with a thrust capacity of more than 10 per cent greater than the rocket that took men to the moon, eventually building out to 20 per cent greater.

It will be 50 metres taller than and twice the mass of the Delta IV rocket launching tomorrow.

The Delta IV on the launch pad. Picture: NASA

“Wherever we want to go (in space) SLS can take up there,” a NASA official said today.

SLS testing will being in early autumn next year. NASA says it has 16 RS25 engines – enhanced versions of the Space Shuttle’s main engine – in storage ready to fire.

Flight hardware is “being assembled right now”, a NASA official said, as are test facilities at Stennis and Marshall Space Flight centres in the US.

NASA says the SLS will be capable of carrying 130 metric tonnes of payload by time it’s fully expanded for the mission.

“We’ve been studying Mars robotically for 40 years,” he said. “SLS will enable human exploration.”

On the question of habitats, NASA is currently running its Evolvable Mars Campaign, which deals with how to break apart habitation challenegs both in transit to Mars and on its surface.

It said the most likely solution involved breaking a habitation system into modular components over several journeys.

In October, NASA called for private submissions through its (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement, asking for industry input and approaches on affordability, manufacturing and operability options.

Submissions close on December 12 and a spokesman said NASA will begin testing proposals early next year.

More to come.

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