A mission to Mars is the next big step in space travel. After the Moon landing Mars is the next closest destination for humans to set foot on. However much progress has yet to be made in order for NASA and its peers to accomplish the lofty goal of a mission to Mars and lacking budgets as well as waning public interest are not helping. Despite these unfortunate set backs NASA is in the midst of testing new equipment and systems that will be a part of a mission to the red planet.
In the last few weeks NASA scientists have been reviewing and checking the SLS, or Space Launch System. The SLS is the type of rocket that will be capable of carrying humans from Earth to Mars with the necessary cargo. The final version of the SLS will be capable of carrying over 140 tons, everything needed for human colonization. Along with the testing of the new system NASA has been undergoing evaluations for the budget, the conclusion of which puts the organization on track for a mission to Mars around 2030.
Along with the high-tech launch system, NASA is also experimenting with 3-D printed rocket parts. The printed parts are not going on any missions any time soon, but they certainly help with the budget when individual parts are needed for tests. Speed and efficiency are the name of the game, with each section of the programming aiming to be ready to come together in Nov. 2018. Even though the different aspects of the SLS system are being worked on by different teams they are all making steady progress.
The plan is not to work towards just one super powerful launch system, but to make multiple launch vehicles for use on different missions. Tests will begin in 2018, but will not be tested with actual human crews until three years later in 2021. The first tests will use an Orion capsule with no crew, going all the way beyond the Moon and then returning. This kind of progress is long overdue after many debates about and changes to NASA’s plans. The original shuttle program was cancelled in favor of new missions to the Moon, which were eventually also scrapped. The debates were sparked by the Colombia disaster in 2003, but revolved mostly around budget concerns. The current SLS program is a result of those budgetary debates, and thus those in charge at NASA are determined to win the approval of the American taxpayers, promising not to waste their money.
The SLS system could potentially be used for scientific missions, missions that private company’s shuttles may or may not be able to handle. NASA intends to use their somewhat limited budget to produce the most effective and efficient launch and delivery system possible, to make the most progress for science and human exploration. Even without mainstream public attention the scientists at NASA are steadily making history, not just for America, but for each nation that inhabits the Earth and eventually maybe even the solar system.
By Matt Isaacs