By Travis Vatland
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Neil Armstrong said as he took his first few steps on the moon. Apollo 11 happened a little over 48 years ago and was one of the greatest accomplishments not only by the U.S. but mankind during the 20th century. Having landed on the moon over 48 years ago, I couldn’t help but wonder on NASA’s next astounding goal in space exploration. NASA’s upcoming mission is to send humans to an asteroid and have samples brought back sometime during the 2020s. Once the asteroid mission is complete, NASA’s next goal is to send humans to Mars by 2030.
The goal of sending humans to an asteroid (also known as NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission or ARM) will be on top of NASA’s agenda for the next decade. To break the mission down, NASA will send a robotic spacecraft to a nearby asteroid. Once the spacecraft has landed on the asteroid, robotic arms will grab hold of a multi-ton boulder on the asteroid’s surface. The spacecraft will then release from the asteroid carrying the boulder with it, and make its way towards the moon where it will begin lunar orbit. Next, astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft will dock on the robotic spacecraft and start exploration of the boulder. Finally, after the astronauts have gathered their samples they will exit lunar orbit, and make their way back to earth. Why is this mission important you may ask? Well during this mission NASA will be testing their new solar space crafts. These solar spacecrafts will be very beneficial to future space exploration because they will lessen the need for fuels, which currently take up large amounts of space, not to mention fuel is highly combustible. Also during ARM, new docking technologies are being explored. A new sensor system will make docking almost fully automatic which lessens the likelihood of human error. But in all, ARM will prove to lay the strong foundation for a new form of space exploration. Also ARM will expedite NASA’s goal of landing on Mars.
Once the Asteroid Redirect Mission has successfully been completed, NASA will then turn their full attention to Mars. There is no clear plan that NASA has developed yet, mainly because of the many challenges they still face. The journey to get to Mars is over 300 million miles long and the spacecraft will have to land on a very small target because of the rough terrain covering most of Mars. These astronauts will also have to be completely “Earth Independent,” meaning that the astronauts will be responsible for growing their own food. But once the spacecraft lands on Mars, there are still many challenges they face. The terrain is very rocky, with sharp jagged rocks, and cliffs covering most of Mars making travel an obstacle. Mars also is filled with unpredictable weather; dust storms ravage most of Mars’ surface. Dust storms are a great threat to the astronauts because if any particles happen to get into the computer’s chip, it can cause systemic failure. The temperature fluctuates greatly on Mars; surface temperature can be high as 86°F and low as -284°F. Oxygen is also lacking on Mars (Mars’ atmosphere is over 95% carbon), thus astronauts will have to bring their oxygen with them and perhaps grow enough plants that will be able to provide oxygen for them. Then comes the treacherous journey of bring the astronauts home, which would last over 300 days. These are just a few of the many challenges NASA is facing.
NASA’s space exploration program is constantly evolving. The Asteroid Redirect Mission will help further new technologies and systems that will pave the way for space exploration. Although NASA’s goal of sending humans to Mars by 2030 is a little over a decade away, many challenges still face NASA and only through more testing and constant retesting can these problems be fixed. But it was once believed that colonization on other planets was impossible, now however, that idea doesn’t seem light years away.
Travis Vatland is a student at Mabel-Canton High School. He is one of seven area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 19th year.