> posted by   on January 6th 2016
 

A manned mission to Mars

A former computer programmer named Andy Weir, who enjoyed writing for its own sake and posting fiction to his blog, started a serial about a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars. The popularity ultimately led him to turn it into a successful novel, “The Martian”, which has been made into a movie that was released in October 2015. The Martian, based on the book with the same title by Andy Weir, is set in the 2030s, when NASA astronauts are regularly travelling to Mars and living on the surface to explore the planet’s resources. By coincidence (?), the film was released in the same week that NASA announced that evidence of water had been found on Mars. “The Martian” merges the fictional and factual narratives about Mars, building upon the work NASA and others have done exploring Mars and moving it forward into the 2030s. Although the action takes place 20 years from now, NASA is already developing many of the technologies that appear in the film.

Nine real NASA technologies in ‘The Martian’

1.Habitat

On the surface of Mars, Watney spends a significant amount of time in ‘the Hab’, the habitation module which is his home away from home. Future astronauts who land on Mars will need such a home to avoid spending their Martian sols lying on the dust in a spacesuit. At NASA’s Johnson Space Center, crews train for long-duration deep space missions in the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA).

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2.Plant Farm

Today, astronauts on the International Space Station have an abundance of food delivered to them by cargo resupply vehicles, including some from commercial industries. On Mars, humans would not be able to rely on resupply missions from Earth – even with express delivery they would take at least nine months to reach the planet. For humans to survive on Mars, they will need a continuous source of food. They will need to grow crops. In 2014, astronauts used the system to grow “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce and just recently sampled this space-grown crop for the first time. This is a huge step in space farming, and NASA is looking to expand the amount and type of crops to help meet the nutritional needs of future astronauts on Mars.

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3.Oxygen Generation

Food, water, shelter: three essentials for survival on Earth. But there’s a fourth we don’t think about much, because it’s freely available: oxygen. On Mars, Watney can’t just step outside for a breath of fresh air. To survive, he has to carry his own supply of oxygen everywhere he goes. But first he has to make it. In his Hab he uses the “oxygenator,” a system that generates oxygen using the carbon dioxide from the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) fuel generator. On the International Space Station, the astronauts and cosmonauts have the Oxygen Generation System, which reprocesses the atmosphere of the spacecraft to continuously provide breathable air efficiently and sustainably.

4.Mars Spacesuit

The Martian surface is not very welcoming for humans. The atmosphere is cold and there is barely any breathable air. An astronaut exploring the surface must wear a spacesuit to survive outside of a habitat while collecting samples and maintaining systems. NASA is currently developing the technologies to build a spacesuit that could be used on Mars. Engineers consider everything from traversing the Martian landscape to picking up rock samples. The Z-2 and Prototype eXploration Suit, NASA’s new prototype spacesuits, help solve unique problems to advance new technologies that will one day be used in a suit worn by the first humans to set foot on Mars. Spacesuit engineers explore the tradeoff between hard composite materials and fabrics to find a nice balance between durability and flexibility.

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5.Rover

Once humans land on the surface of Mars, they must stay there for more than a year, while the planets move into a position that will minimize the length of their trip home. This allows the astronauts plenty of time to conduct experiments and explore the surrounding area, but they won’t want to be limited to how far they can go on foot. On Earth today, NASA is working to prepare for every encounter with the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). The MMSEV has been used in NASA’s analog mission projects to help solve problems that the agency is aware of and to reveal some that may be hidden. The technologies are developed to be versatile enough to support missions to an asteroid, Mars, its moons and other missions in the future.

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6.Ion Propulsion

Slow and steady wins the race, and ion propulsion proves it. In “The Martian,” the Ares 3 crew lives aboard the Hermes spacecraft for months as they travel to and from the Red Planet, using ion propulsion as an efficient method of traversing through space for over 280 million miles. Ion propulsion works by electrically charging a gas such as argon or xenon and pushing out the ions at high speeds, about 200,000 mph. This technology allows modern day spacecraft like NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft to minimize fuel consumption and perform some crazy maneuvers.

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7.Solar Panels

There are no gas stations on Mars. No power plants. Virtually no wind. When it comes to human missions to the Red Planet, solar energy can get the astronauts far. The Hermes spacecraft in the book uses solar arrays for power, and Mark Watney has to use solar panels in some unconventional ways to survive on Mars. Orion, NASA’s spacecraft that will take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before, will use solar arrays for power in future missions. The arrays can gather power while in sunlight to charge onboard lithium-ion batteries. In case no sunlight is available – for instance, if Orion were to go behind the Moon – there would still be plenty of power to allow it to operate.

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8.RTG

For more than four decades, NASA has safely used Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) to provide electrical power for two dozen space missions, including Apollo missions to the Moon. Spacecraft such as the Mars rover Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 rover use an updated, next-generation model for electrical power. RTGs are “space batteries” that convert heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238 into reliable electrical power. The RTG on Curiosity generates about 110 Watts of power or less – slightly more than an average light bulb uses.

9.The Journey to Mars

Human space flight is a dangerous business. NASA is working to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, but there are many milestones to accomplish to ensure that astronauts come back to Earth safely. Astronaut Scott Kelly, currently aboard the International Space Station for one year, put it perfectly: space is hard. The margin for error is virtually zero for every aspect of spaceflight. However, we learn so much along the journey to Mars that furthers our understanding of the universe, and everything we do and learn is brought right back to Earth to benefit humanity.

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Courtesy: nasa.gov

 
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