Washington – NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced at a press event from NASA’s Washington, D.C. headquarters on Thursday that the space agency is close to send humans to Mars, the Moon, and other space destinations in the Solar System.

The projections are based on President Barak Obama’s budget request for NASA, making NASA’s Orion set to be the first spacecraft to ever send men to Mars. Although the space agency is trying to keep an August 2021 date for the first crewed Orion flight, the timeline would be hard to keep, making April 2023 the year that men would most likely step on the Red Planet.

Photo: NASA

“We are further down the path to sending humans to Mars than at any point in NASA’s history” said Bolden, a NASA astronaut since 1981 and now Administrator of NASA. “We have a lot of work to do to get humans to Mars, but we’ll get there.3”

Associate Administrator of NASA, Robert Lightfoot said that “It’s not a very high confidence level, I’ll tell you that, because of the history,” adding that the need to ensure that the equipment can be reused from one mission to another and other factors led to complications in the program.

In addition to the testing of the Orion spacecraft for deep-space travel, two crew members, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, will examine the long-term effects of living in space. They are now halfway through a year-long tour of the International Space Station, to evaluate the psychological and physiological effects of long-duration spaceflight.

NASA is also designing an instrument as part of the Mars Oxygen ISRY Experiment (MOXIE) that will convert carbon dioxide from Mars into pure oxygen and carbon monoxide.

Last year, NASA flew its new Orion capsule, without passengers, about 3,600 miles above the Earth, proving it is possible to create the adequate conditions to send humans to Mars. That is why Bolden said he has no doubt the mission will be accomplished very soon.

“[Putting] boots on Mars is possibly the most exciting thing humans will ever do,” Bolden said. “We have been engaged in getting to Mars – getting humans to Mars – for at least 40 years, beginning with the first precursors.”

Students can participate

NASA has announced the Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge that will give university and college students an opportunity to be part of the agency’s journey to Mars.

The challenge is to create an innovative solution for slowing NASA’s massive payload with inflatable spacecraft heat or Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) technology.

“NASA is currently developing and flight testing HIADs — a new class of relatively lightweight deployable aeroshells that could safely deliver more than 22 tons to the surface of Mars,” said Steve Gaddis, GCD manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA“A crewed spacecraft landing on Mars would weigh between 15 and 30 tons.”

Interested students are asked to send their initial concepts before November 15th. If chosen, they’ll hand in a detailed paper on their systems next spring, and based on those, four finalists will be selected to present to a panel of judges at Langley.

The winners will be awarded a $6,000 stipend and offered paid internships at Langley, where they’ll work with the Game Changing Development Program (GCD) team.

Source: NASA