NASA has launched a
public challenge with the aim of innovating technologies vital for
the establishment of a colony on Mars. The agency is focused
on a mission to the Red Planet, and has already taken
the first vital steps. However, whilst simply reaching Mars with a
cargo of healthy astronauts would be a monumental triumph,
maintaining a permanent presence on so inhospitable a planet could
prove to be a much greater technological challenge.
Space may be big, but in our neck of the woods it's getting crowded. There are thousands of active and inactive satellites in orbit around Earth, and while Mars may not exactly be Piccadilly Circus, it now has five active satellites circling it. To prevent any unfortunate collisions around the Red Planet, NASA is working on a new traffic management system.
A team of five mechanical engineering seniors has been tasked by NASA to design furniture suitable for use in future habitats on Mars, the Moon, or in space itself. The Lunar Lounger project aims to address the lack of available space and the low-gravity in such conditions, while ensuring the comfort of astronauts.
Getting to Mars is a difficult, long and costly journey. However, Finnish scientists may have a solution based on combining an electric solar sail invented in 2006 with fuel stations orbiting around Earth and the Red Planet.
There's plenty to suggest that water exists in various non-liquid forms
on Mars, as well as signs that liquid water existed in the past
, but now scientists have unearthed the first evidence that microscopic pools of water are developing and evaporating just below the surface of the Red Planet on a regular basis.
Marathons may be an everyday occurrence for people on Earth, but are a little more noteworthy when you're a little robot on Mars. According to NASA, as of March 16, the Mars Opportunity rover has covered 26.219 mi (42.195 km) in the leisurely time of about 11 years and two months. or 3,968 Martian days. In 2014, Opportunity broke the record of any space rover when it passed the distance covered by the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 moon rover, which was launched in 1973.
In another hopeful sign that Mars was once habitable, NASA's Curiosity rover
has detected nitrogen in the soil of the Red Planet for the first time. While NASA doesn't think that the compounds are biological in origin, they are still significant to Mars having been more favorable to life in the ancient past.
NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has detected two unexpected phenomena in the short time since making orbit around the red planet – an aurora occurring deep in the Martian atmosphere, and an as of yet unexplained high altitude dust cloud. MAVEN is currently four months into a primary mission lasting one Earth year, during which time it is attempting to shed light on the characteristics of the Martian upper atmosphere and ionosphere, studying how they interact with our Sun.
Lockheed Martin has provided a glimpse at the next generation of commercial spacecraft by revealing its proposal for NASA's Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) program. The new cargo ships, which Lockheed compares to the US transcontinental railroads of the 19th century, are designed to not only resupply the International Space Station, but also support manned deep space missions, such as the first expedition to Mars.
Future missions to Mars may well be powered by carbon dioxide fueled engines, thanks to a recent prototype developed by Northumbria and Edinburgh Universities. Exploiting a phenomenon known as the Leidenfrost effect, researchers hope that their engine could be powered by the vast amount of dry-ice deposits found on the red planet, thereby reducing the need to transport fuel on interplanetary missions.