For many, the fantasy of going to Mars will soon become a reality. In 2017, Michelle Rucker and John Connolly of the Mars Study Capability Team at NASA gave a PowerPoint presentation on the specifics of just how humans will get to Mars. A key aspect of this mission will be the Deep Space Gateway (More information on DSG can be found in my blog post from last week!). As a quick refresher, the Deep Space Gateway is a space station/area around the moon that will allow people to inhabit the space between the Earth and the Moon (cislunar) and will aid in transporting astronauts to Mars.
The team began their presentation by discussing how the Mars mission fits into the vision for coordinated human and robotic exploration of our solar system. This vision is entitled the Global Exploration Roadmap and one of its main goals is to explore and have astronauts live on Mars and in space. The pair of researchers highlighted the Deep Space Gateway as a way to “provide a convenient assembly, checkout, and refurbishment location to enable Mars missions”. After explaining the role of the Deep Space Gateway (DSG), the team went into the specifics of the phases of the project and the parts of the Mars mission.
After the set up and construction of the DSG and its components (Phase 1), Phase 2 begins with a 180 day Deep Space Transport (DST) checkout and a one year shakedown cruise. During this cruise, the Deep Space Gateway remains in orbit and is supplied with astronauts and cargo by the Orion capsule. At the same time, the DST takes a path that encircles the moon to simulate the deep space trip to Mars. This piece is critical, as the DST will be the vessel that actually takes astronauts to Mars.
Phase 3 consists of our first mission to Mars via the DST! Phase 3 is only a “fly by.” The DST enters Mars orbit without interaction between humans and the Mars surface. This will prove our technical ability to travel all the way to Mars from Earth. The most interesting things occur in Phase 4, when the first humans will be landing on Mars. The first three missions of Phase 4 will revisit the same landing site in order to create a field station on the Mars surface. The Deep Space Gateway will also play an important role, as it will provide an easy access point in order to make any necessary repairs to the Mars mission.
OPINION: This project has been going for a LONG time, but unfortunately there is still a long way to go, and we won’t see anyone standing on Mars until the 2030’s. It’s incredible to think that all of this progress has been made, but we are still so far away. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, but I’ll be happy and very interested to see where NASA goes with this.
Rucker, M., Connolly, J. 2017. Deep Space Gateway – Enabling Missions to Mars. NASA Technical Reports Server: JSC-E-DAA-TN49931.