It has been over four decades since mankind first touched down on the surface of the moon. Technology has progressed leaps and bounds since then, and many of us have turned our eyes to the stars once more - this time focusing on our fiery neighbour, Mars. A number of robotic missions have been sent to Mars over the past few decades, but recently some space ventures have been gearing up to send humans to The Red Planet - and soon.
NASA has set a goal of getting humans to Mars by 2035. Launches like that of NASA's Orion rocket in December 2014 are meant to foster public enthusiasm for future, farther missions and demonstrate that the U.S. space agency is rapidly developing the technology necessary to get man to Mars. Though NASA calls the Orion launch the "first step on the journey to Mars," some private entities have been making even bolder moves.
One such company is Elon Musk's SpaceX, which aims to have humans on Mars by 2026. SpaceX has been fairly successful in beating out private competitors for government contracts, such as ferrying astronauts up to the International Space Station. While Musk is clear about his goals, SpaceX's plans aren't as developed as those of another private venture, Mars One.
Mars One, a Dutch non-profit, received over a quarter million applications from earthlings all vying for a space in what the organization says will be the first human colony on Mars. Selection criteria was unique and the selection process intense; Mars One selected candidates based, not on intelligence or impressive professional feats, but on psychological factors, like the ability to live with the same small number of people under stressful conditions.
Mars One aims to launch its mission in 2024, and their approach includes sending rover scouts to the Red Planet first, to find the best location and set up shop before the earthlings even arrive. After that, groups of four astronauts will be sent every two years at the staggering cost of $4 billion per trip. Such private ventures have some sceptics, since they will require continuous large sums of money to keep the mission afloat. Sceptics argue that private ventures might be more susceptible to go bankrupt, leaving the people on Mars without support.
Although Earth and Mars were relatively close together when Opportunity launched, the rover’s trip out was twice the average distance between the two planets.
Additionally, the voyage itself will be trying. As well as radiation risks, it will involve 200 days of eating astronaut food and working out several hours a day to maintain muscle-mass in a zero-gravity atmosphere. It may also mean never setting foot on Earth again. Though communication between Mars and Earth is possible with a delay of between three and twenty-two minutes, an eventual return to Earth is unlikely, since the logistics still haven't been completely worked out and it would involve many more resources than a one-way mission. However, this isn't to say that a return is impossible. While organizations like Mars One seem intent on setting up a permanent colony, rumour has it that NASA is set on resolving the issue of return by 2030.
Regardless of whether the first humans to set foot on Mars are from Mars One, SpaceX, NASA, or another venture, it will be an unparalleled feat. Nearly half a century from the day Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, we may be less than a decade away from witnessing the next great leap for humankind.
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