A manned mission to Mars was once the stuff of science fiction, now it is the equivalent of this generation’s Apollo Program. It will take a Herculean effort to send astronauts on a journey of hundreds of millions of miles to another planet. NASA plans to have such a mission take place in the 2030s. Lockheed Martin has now announced plans to help this along by placing a space station in orbit around Mars in twelve years. They call it the Mars Base Camp.
What Will the Space Station Look Like?
It appears that the current plan for the Mars Base Camp is to string together a series of modules in a fashion similar to the International Space Station (ISS). The personnel main components seem to be two Orion deep space vehicles, a habitat module and a lab module. It also has fuel/oxidizer tanks, solar arrays, heat radiators and propulsion. One of the coolest things is the second Orion vehicle. It appears that the plan is to use it for space joyrides to places such Mars moons Phobos and Deimos.
Why a Have a Station?
Before NASA landed astronauts on the moon, there were missions to orbit it first and get NASA’s collective feet wet before pulling off the much more difficult maneuver of landing. If we are going to do some “dry runs” on Mars first, why not take advantage of having people there and get some additional stuff done? Lockheed wants to use the station as a scientific and exploration platform. Additionally, having a station represents a nice safety net in case a surface mission runs into trouble.
Command and Scientific Center for Rover Missions
Today when a Mars rover mission is sent a control, it takes between three and 22 minutes – depending on its relative position to Earth – for signals from Earth to reach Mars. Can you imagine trying to run a remote control car by sending an command, sitting down for 30 minutes, sending another command, etc.? Not that it can’t be done, obviously, but waiting as long as 44 minutes between rover commands isn’t efficient. Additionally, getting soil samples off of Mars and back to Earth is a difficult and time consuming endeavor. For a mission to get to the planet, get down to the surface, get samples, then make it all the way back home, it will take an extraordinary amount of time. If instead, multiple soil samplers/rovers are staged at the station, then if a target of opportunity presents itself, astronauts would be able to send one down and get it back for analysis relatively quickly.
Humans will be going to Mars well within our lifetimes. Lockheed Martin is investing heavily in hardware and technology to help make this happen. The Mars Base Station represents a very natural and practical step in achieving humanity’s next major goal in space.
Image credit: Lockheed Martin
“I’m not embarrassed to admit it. I hadn’t read very far into Casimir Bridge, the debut novel from newcomer Darren Beyer, before I realized I’d just found my newest favorite sci-fi author.”
Dr. Wesley Britton – Book Pleasures – Full Review