NASA really wants to go to Mars in the 2030s. Last week, the agency released a report about its progress and plans for the #JourneyToMars. Though the report is mostly filled with optimism and abstract goals, it does outline a few of the awesome/important technologies that NASA hopes to develop in the coming decades. Here are a few:
  1. Really Big Rockets
    At 382 feet tall, NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) will eventually be the largest launch vehicle ever built, and even more powerful than the Saturn V rockets that carried the Apollo astronauts to the Moon. "This payload capacity far exceeds the capability of current and planned commercial launch vehicles," says the report. Along with the Orion crew capsule (also in development at NASA), the SLS could eventually carry astronauts to Mars and other deep space destinations.
  2. Experimental Propulsion
    The method (which is being called Solar Electric Propulsion) would move the spacecraft by shooting ions out its backside. Electrons break down xenon gas into plasma, & an electric field accelerates the particles until they shoot the back of the engine at high speeds. Solar power provides the electrons to make it work. Solar electric propulsion doesn't provide the enormous thrust of rocket fuel. Instead it builds up speed slowly over time, eventually propelling the spacecraft at up to 200,000 mph
  3. Deep Space Habitats
    If we want our astronauts to get to Mars and back in one piece, we can't just cram them into a Humvee-sized Orion capsule for three years. NASA wants a deep space habitat that attaches to the Orion capsule to provide more living space (and a bathroom) for the astronauts on board, as well as a habitat for them to live in on Mars. Such a habitat would need to provide life support, fire prevention, and radiation protection, in addition to giving the astronauts room to exercise and do their work.
  4. Flexible Spacesuits
    New spacesuits will need to protect against Mars' damaging radiation and cold, thin atmosphere, while still allowing the astronauts to do their work. Today's spacesuits are a lot like balloons, making it hard to move around--especially the hands. But researchers are designing outfits that are easier to get around in. They may also incorporate augmented reality, self-healing materials, and interwoven bio-monitors.
  5. Frickin' Laser Beams
    At its closest, Mars is 33.9 million miles away from Earth. The Internet connection is pretty lousy out there & it needs to get better. NASA's new report notes that the Mars rovers can send & receive data at a rate of about 2 million bits per second. By comparison, the ISS' data rate is 300 million bits per second. In order to navigate to and land on Mars, NASA's gonna need a stronger connection--something on the order of a billion bits per second (1 Gigabit per second). The solution: lasers.