NASA releases 50 key objectives to tackle on its first human mission to Mars

And the Moon will be crucial.
Chris Young
An artist's illustration of humans on Mars.NASA/Pat Rawlings, SAIC

NASA has provided a few tantalizing details describing its first crewed mission to Mars, which is expected to take place at some point in the 2030s.

The U.S. space agency recently announced its top objectives for a 30-day, two-person Mars surface mission and asked the public to provide feedback on the process. The deadline for that feedback was recently extended to June 3 from its original date of May 31.

Preparing humans for Mars

NASA hopes to launch humans to Mars in the next decade or in the early 2040s, and the first human to set foot on the red planet could be a woman, according to former NASA chief Jim Bridenstine.

Before that can happen, the space industry has to think up solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing the first humans to reach Mars. Gravity, for example, will be an issue, with humans facing tough conditions as they acclimatize to gravity on Mars after months in microgravity. Mars has roughly one-third the gravity of Earth, but astronauts' muscles will have degraded to the point they may struggle to walk when they first reach the planet.

"We want to maximize the science so we allow them to drive around before they become conditioned enough to get in the spacesuits, and walk and maximize that science in 30 days," Kurt Vogel, NASA director of space architectures, said in a YouTube video NASA released alongside the new data.

'Mars testing and science objectives' will take place on the Moon

In its objectives, released to the public here, NASA points out that it wants to create lunar infrastructure that would allow "U.S. industry and international partners [to] maintain continuous robotic and human presence on the lunar surface for a robust lunar economy without NASA as the sole user, while accomplishing Mars testing and science objectives." The Moon has long been considered a stepping stone by NASA, and the upcoming Artemis missions, as well as the agency's lunar Gateway project, will help it go on to reach Mars.

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In its published objectives, NASA also describes a habitat-like spacecraft used to ferry astronauts to Mars using a hybrid chemical-electrical propulsion rocket stage. Supplies and hardware will be sent ahead of the crew, including a crew ascent vehicle for the astronauts to eventually make their way off the red planet's surface. NASA also said it will have a workshop in June "with partners from American industry and academia" as well as one for international organizations in July.

NASA's objectives identify 50 points under four distinct categories of exploration, including transportation and habitation, Moon and Mars infrastructure, operations, and science. These will be key to outlining its future plans ahead of its historic Mars missions set for next decade. Right now, NASA is focusing much of its attention on getting its Artemis I mission off the ground. In the near future though, the agency will continue to reveal more details about the first crewed mission to ever reach the red planet.

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