The Mars mission is something that scientists have dreamt of since mid-20th century. Immense amounts of time and money have been invested in the past decade to make this dream real, and for the first time in history, everyone can see with their own eyes that we are, slowly but surely, getting there.
Although probes and rovers have been trekking on Martian land for a while, the aim has always being for mankind to step on Mars with their own feet. An idea that has only shown up in science fiction and documentaries so far is finally becoming tangible through the progress that NASA has made with the Orion space shuttle.
Every great idea comes with challenges when attempted to be put in practice, and the Mars Mission is the boldest yet. The key factors that NASA has to take into account have been the focus of the research, and some of them still prove to be out of reach. Probably the greatest challenge remains the financial factor – the cost of sending people to Mars has been estimated to 6 to 500 billion dollars. Secondly, the space poses a lot of threats on the lives of astronauts such as radiation or the effects of prolonged exposure to zero-gravity environments. Considering that a mission to Mars would take 245 days in an optimal scenario, limited resources and ability to react to malfunctions is one of the scientists’ greatest worry.
The first test flight of the Orion space shuttle is scheduled for launch on the 4th of December 2014 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, without a human crew on deck. Its goals are to evaluate the shuttle’s capabilities to launch off the surface of the Earth and how well it can hold up to re-entering the planet’s atmosphere. All key systems of the Orion spacecraft will be tested in a 4.5 hour long two-orbit mission that will take it 3,600 miles away from the surface, to then return and land in the Pacific Ocean. After the capsule is retrieved, scientists will assess the flight’s effect on it and will be able to determine whether a human crew would have survived the trip. Although Orion is equipped with a 16.5 feet thick heat shield, the mission will subject the spacecraft to 20,000 mph speeds and temperatures as high as 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit upon re-entry.
Scientists feel optimistic about the mission (Exploration Flight Test-1) and hope for eye-opening insight upon Orion’s return. The manned Mars mission is not scheduled for launch until late 2018.