In 2010, then President Barack Obama stated that he believed we could put a man in Mars’ orbit and that a Mars landing would follow directly afterwards by the year 2030. Famously a fan of Star Trek, President Obama was a great champion for the space program and this speech, among many other things, have inspired some of the great minds of our time to realize that space travel to Mars may just be a matter of, as Matt Damon says, sciencing the heck out of it.
But manned missions to Mars are not new. German born astrophysicist and all around brilliant guy, Wernher von Braun made a detailed technical study on how to get a man to Mars shortly after the close of WWII. In 1952, he published a book called The Mars Project. He subsequently published articles as a follow-up to that initial offering and eventually released a revised version in 1956 with the help of his friend and fellow space-enthusiast, Willy Ley.
The mission called for the launch of over 400 vehicles into space and a crew of about 70 people that would essentially ferry people between points along the route between earth and Mars. The mission also called for winged vehicles that would safely transport people down to the surface. It was thought, at the time, that the Mars atmosphere was not as dense as we know it today, so the winged vehicles made sense as a way to take advantage of the lighter air molecules and use physics to land on the planet rather than waste precious fuel. It was an ambitious and interesting plan.
Over the years, countless others have proposed their own plans of how to get to Mars, including hundreds of engineers at NASA, and the Russian and German space programs. Even internet-billionaire Elon Musk with his colleagues at SpaceX is trying to beat everyone to the punch by having a manned mission to Mars ready to go by 2024. There is also a group called Mars One, led by a Dutch engineer who wants to land on Mars by 2020, but never return.
In 2015, NASA published its official plan on how they were going to get to Mars. The goal for the department is to land someone on the red planet in the year 2030, giving them about 15 years after the publishing of the study to get it done. A couple of highlights on the mission include the fact that the Mars Rover Mission of 2020 is the first mission that is specifically designed to begin prepping the planet to sustain human life. Further missions will utilize robots, drones and other unmanned vehicles to survey the surface and decide the best course of action. Interestingly, NASA is planning on a long stay for astronauts and after years of study have concluded that in order for humans to survive on Mars, they must live underground. That will be the job of the robots and rovers that descend on the planet over the next ten years.
Perhaps most interesting about this whole endeavor is how worldwide space travel has become. During the race for the moon in the late 1960s, it was the American and the Russian governments who were largely the only ones vying for the moon. Now, it seems, people from all over the world are coming together to find a way to travel to Mars and further stretch the bounds of space exploration. If landing on the moon can bring a country together, could landing on Mars do the same for the entire world? 2030 seems a long way off, but it’ll be here before you know it and it will be fascinating to watch the world, and the universe, change.