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This artist’s principle depicts astronauts and human habitats ~ above Mars. NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover carries a variety of technologies that could make Mars safer and easier to discover for humans. Credit: NASA


There are many things humankind must overcome before any type of return journey to Mars is launched.

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The two major players room NASA and also SpaceX, which work-related together intimately on goals to the International an are Station but have completing ideas that what a crewed Mars mission would certainly look like.

Size matters

The biggest difficulty (or constraint) is the massive of the payload (spacecraft, people, fuel, supplies, etc.) required to make the journey.


We quiet talk around launching other into room being favor launching its load in gold.

The payload massive is usually simply a little percentage of the total mass of the beginning vehicle.

For example, the Saturn V rocket that introduced Apollo 11 to the Moon weighed 3,000 tonnes.

But it might launch just 140 tonnes (5% that its initial launch mass) to low earth orbit, and 50 tonnes (less than 2% of its early stage launch mass) come the Moon.

Mass constrains the dimension of a Mars spacecraft and what it can do in space. Every maneuver costs fuel to fire rocket motors, and this fuel must right now be carried into an are on the spacecraft.

SpaceX’s plan is for its crewed Starship vehicle to be refueled in room by a independently launched fuel tanker. That way much much more fuel can be carried into orbit than could be carried on a single launch.


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Concept arts of SpaceX’s Dragon landing on Mars. Credit: SpaceX


Time matters

Another challenge, intimately associated with fuel, is time.

Missions the send spacecraft v no crew come the external planets frequently travel facility trajectories around the Sun. They usage what are called gravity assist maneuvers to efficiently slingshot about different planets come gain enough momentum to reach their target.

This saves a lot of fuel, yet can an outcome in objectives that take it years come reach their destinations. Clearly this is something people would not want to do.

Both Earth and also Mars have (almost) one orbits and also a manoeuvre recognized as the Hohmann carry is the most fuel-efficient means to travel in between two planets. Basically, without going into too lot detail, this is whereby a spacecraft does a solitary burn right into an elliptical move orbit indigenous one planet to the other.

A Hohmann transfer between Earth and Mars takes approximately 259 days (between eight and nine months) and also is only possible approximately every two years as result of the different orbits around the sun of Earth and also Mars.

A spacecraft can reach Mars in a much shorter time (SpaceX is claiming 6 months) however — girlfriend guessed that — it would certainly cost an ext fuel to do it that way.


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Mars and also Earth have few similarities. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Safe landing

Suppose ours spacecraft and crew get to Mars. The next challenge is landing.

A spacecraft entering earth is maybe to use the drag generated by communication with the environment to sluggish down. This allows the handmade to soil safely top top the Earth’s surface ar (provided it can survive the associated heating).

But the environment on Mars is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s. That means less potential because that drag, so that isn’t feasible to floor safely there is no some sort of aid.

Some missions have actually landed top top airbags (such as NASA’s Pathfinder mission) if others have used thrusters (NASA’s Phoenix mission). The latter, as soon as again, requires more fuel.

Life ~ above Mars

A Martian work lasts 24 hours and also 37 minutes yet the similarities with earth stop there.

The thin atmosphere on Mars means it can’t maintain heat and also Earth does, therefore life top top Mars is characterised by big extremes in temperature during the day/night cycle.

Mars has actually a preferably temperature of 30℃, which sounds quite pleasant, but its minimum temperature is -140℃, and its mean temperature is -63℃. The typical winter temperature in ~ the Earth’s southern Pole is around -49℃.

So we must be an extremely selective about where we pick to live on Mars and also how we control temperature during the night.

The heaviness on Mars is 38% that Earth’s (so you’d feeling lighter) however the air is principally carbon dioxide (CO₂) with number of percent the nitrogen, therefore it’s completely unbreathable. We would require to develop a climate-controlled place just to live there.

SpaceX plans come launch numerous cargo flights including critical infrastructure such as greenhouses, solar panels and also — you guessed it — a fuel-production facility for return objectives to Earth.

Life on Mars would certainly be possible and number of simulation trials have already been excellent on planet to watch how civilization would cope with such one existence.


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This illustration mirrors NASA astronauts working on the surface ar of Mars. A helicopter similar to the ingenuity Mars Helicopter is airborne at left. Ingenuity is being carried aboard the Perseverance rover; the was recently deployed to the Martian surface ar to test whether future helicopters can accompany robotic and also human missions. Credit: NASA


Return to Earth

The final challenge is the return journey and getting world safely earlier to Earth.

Apollo 11 gone into Earth’s environment at about 40,000km/h, which is just below the velocity required to escape Earth’s orbit.

Spacecraft return from Mars will have actually re-entry velocities from 47,000km/h to 54,000km/h, depending upon the orbit they use to arrive at Earth.

They can slow down right into low orbit roughly Earth to about 28,800km/h before entering our atmosphere however — girlfriend guessed that — they’d need extra fuel to perform that.

If they simply barrel right into the atmosphere, it will do every one of the deceleration because that them. We just need come make sure we don’t death the astronauts v G-forces or burn them up due to excess heating.

These are just some the the challenges facing a Mars mission and all of the technological building block to accomplish this are there. We just need to invest the time and also the money and bring it every together.

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And we must return civilization safely earlier to Earth, mission accomplished. Credit: NASA


Written by kris James, Lecturer, Centre because that Hypersonics, The university of Queensland.