Landing is key puzzle in Mars trip, experts say

May 08, 2013 by Jean-Louis Santini
An art installation titled "Landing Excursion Module (LEM)," part of "SPACE PROGRAM: MARS" by artist Tom Sachs at the Park Avenue Armory May 16, 2012 in New York. Landing astronauts safely on Mars is one of the biggest technological hurdles for any future manned mission to the Red Planet, even more complicated than last year's daring rover touchdown.

Landing astronauts safely on Mars is one of the biggest technological hurdles for any future manned mission to the Red Planet, even more complicated than last year's daring rover touchdown.

NASA dazzled observers by landing the one-ton Curiosity rover on in August in a high-speed operation using a sky crane and supersonic parachute, but experts say the task would be even more challenging with humans onboard.

"The Curiosity landing was an amazing accomplishment," said Robert Braun, a former NASA engineer now at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"But it's really a baby step that we needed to take, on the way of one day walking on the ," he said at a conference in Washington on Tuesday.

The three-day meeting, which started Monday, has brought together NASA experts, university researchers and members of the for talks focused on exploring the neighboring planet.

"Curiosity has been described as a small car," Braun said of the six-wheeled that has been exploring Mars for the last nine months.

"What we are really talking about today is landing a two-storey house, and maybe landing that two-storey house next to another one that has been pre-positioned," he said.

Where Curiosity weighed one ton, engineers estimate a supply capsule to prepare for a manned landing would weigh somewhere around 40 tons.

Such a mission would require not only food, water and oxygen for the , but a vehicle powerful enough to get them back to their spaceship, which would likely remain in orbit.

Artist concept painting shows NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover on the surface of the planet, July, 2011. Landing astronauts safely on Mars is one of the biggest technological hurdles for any future manned mission to the Red Planet, even more complicated than last year's daring rover touchdown.

"The technologies we will use to land our systems on Mars will probably have little semblance to the systems we have been using for the robot program because of their scale," Braun said.

The first six robots NASA sent to Mars starting in 1974 were light enough that their descent was slowed by and their landing aided by balloons.

Curiosity was heavier, so it required a complex landing apparatus that included a supersonic parachute and a rocket-powered crane.

But neither method is likely to work, without significant adjustments, for the much larger vehicles required for a manned landing, nor would the technology used to land spacecraft on Earth work on Mars.

Atmospheric pressure at 25 miles (40 kilometers) altitude on Earth is equivalent to just six miles up (10,000 meters) on Mars—which leaves little time to slow the faster-than-sound speed of a Mars lander, Braun said.

"It's a challenge we have not yet faced, and we don't have yet a specific answer to," he said.

A colour image released by NASA on August 28, 2012 and taken on Mars by the Curiosity rover on August 23 shows Mount Sharp in the background. Landing astronauts safely on Mars is one of the biggest technological hurdles for any future manned mission to the Red Planet, even more complicated than last year's daring rover touchdown.

Adam Stelzner, one of the inventors behind Curiosity's space crane, is more optimistic, saying that landing the rover did not require NASA to "invent some new device technology."

Instead, the project required "just thinking a little more creatively in using the materials, the technological materials, that were at hand," he said.

Stelzner, an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, believes similar creative thinking—such as scaling up the —could bring about a successful manned in the near future.

He points out that in the summer of 2003—just eight years before Curiosity's launch—NASA did not know how to land the robot.

But Charles Campbell, an aerodynamics expert at NASA, said the technological challenges should not be underestimated.

"We need a retropropulsion system at mach two or three at Mars," he said.

"We know how to design a hypersonic vehicle, but reconfiguring this vehicle to a retropropulsion vehicle is a transforming event."

Campbell added that the costs would be great and the effort would likely require international cooperation.

"A human mission to Mars is going to require a vehicle of the scale of a space shuttle," Campbell said, with the mission requiring a jump "in order of magnitude from what we are used to dealing with."

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Doug_Huffman
1.4 / 5 (27) May 08, 2013
Rilly?[sic erat scriptum. Intentional sarcasm follows] It would seem the first "key puzzle" is wresting funding from social democrat welfare states that would rather sustain their electorate. The next key puzzle is precisely which way is Mecca from Mars, for the fard Salah, to enable Obama's director Bolden's charge to "... to help them feel good ..."
QuixoteJ
1.8 / 5 (12) May 08, 2013
I wish this SCIENCE article was written by someone who understands how to group sentences into paragraphs. Instead, it looks like a case of carriage return hyperactivity disorder, instead of well-organized information.

Aside from that, well, duh, the landing is kind of the main thing you want to be able to do.
Mumrah
1 / 5 (8) May 08, 2013
Might a space elevator would work out cheaper than the alternatives?

http://www.nss.or...obos.pdf
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) May 08, 2013
Might a space elevator would work out cheaper than the alternatives?

As long as we can't construct one: No.
unrealone1
1.4 / 5 (18) May 08, 2013
Sad all the money is being spent on Obama Care
GSwift7
2.6 / 5 (8) May 08, 2013
40 tons? That's huge. I'm not aware of anyone who's talked about more than 2 tons before.

Maybe the inflatable heat shield will increase the limits a bit, but 40 tons is immense for Mars. You're talking about something really big that you'd have to assemble in Earth orbit. Then because it's so heavy, you'd want to send it out to Mars orbit empty, and have your astronauts meet it there for the landing. Then you might even have fuel for the Mars exit launch shipped on a seperate ship. This kind of thing adds up to a project a lot bigger than the ISS, in terms of how many different launches from Earth it would take to get the whole thing airborn.

That seems like way too much for a 20 year timeline.
Mayday
4 / 5 (3) May 08, 2013
I suggest landing numerous small craft to spread the winning odds across the most assets. We might even consider sending the astronauts down to the surface individually, from a larger craft. And let's start by sending numerous robotic craft to master pinpoint landing navigation and to build a sustainable underground base for the human explorers. Plus do some work finding an easily accessible cavern. With billions of years of minimal Martian plate tectonics, the lava tube caverns on Mars must be utterly magnificent. We really need to get down there.
Jeddy_Mctedder
1 / 5 (10) May 08, 2013
The only way to terraform mars is to land huge amounts of equipment there. We cannot do that without more atmosphere. More Atmosphere can easily be created by adding massive amounts of energy to the martian surface. This can most effectively be done by finding a massive and very fast asteroid and diverting it into mars.

Bonus points will be also creating a science experiment for astronomers and planetary scientists to observe. And use to help protect earth.

Main mission of increasing martian atmosphere will be accomplished. It is probably preferable to push a more massive slower object into mars than a faster smaller one. The d8fficulty is in identifying an object whose trajectory tqkes it so close to mars already that our primitive solar powered rockets (ionizing the mass of the asteroid itself as propellant) could be sufficient to push the asteroid precisely through the impact keyhole.

Before the purists and environmentalists object...the goal is to GREEN mars
Sanescience
1.3 / 5 (10) May 08, 2013
Mars, it is like a burning bright light moths can't resist and die when they reach it.

The Moon is the strategic high ground of the future. If the free world looses it futzing with Mars, then that will be that.

The first successful off Earth "colony" is going to be a remote presence self sustaining base operated from Earth that has the surplus resources and industry to build underground centrifugal (artificial gravity) habitats for humans. From there they can take over operations from Earth control and continue growth.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (11) May 08, 2013
The only way to terraform mars is to land huge amounts of equipment there.

Terraforming is nothing more than science fiction, an unobtainable fantasy! Colonizing and having a sustainable society are equally unlikely regardless of technological advancement. Complex biological organisms cannot exists in such harsh conditions.
cantdrive85
1.3 / 5 (14) May 08, 2013
Might a space elevator would work out cheaper than the alternatives?

http://www.nss.or...obos.pdf


A real understanding of space and planetary science will end any discussion of space elevators. Just look to the Space Tether experiment that failed miserably due to the fact that the "theoretical" models try to assume space can be considered a rarefied gas. A similar fate will be experienced in any attempt to build a space elevator.
GSwift7
2.7 / 5 (7) May 08, 2013
A real understanding of space and planetary science will end any discussion of space elevators. Just look to the Space Tether experiment that failed miserably due to the fact that the "theoretical" models try to assume space can be considered a rarefied gas. A similar fate will be experienced in any attempt to build a space elevator


I assume you are talking about voltage spikes on conductive tethers? Non-conductive tethers do not have that problem. The US Navy kept a 6 km tether active for 10 years before mechanical damage cut it. Probably erosion from atomic oxygen, but that's not a problem at Mars or the moon. From what I can find, it might be possible to build one at the moon with existing technology, though some engineering would need to be worked out first. It would be a spinning tether rather than a fixed elevator of course.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (5) May 08, 2013
40 tons? That's huge. I'm not aware of anyone who's talked about more than 2 tons before.

Maybe the inflatable heat shield will increase the limits a bit, but 40 tons is immense for Mars. You're talking about something really big that you'd have to assemble in Earth orbit. Then because it's so heavy, you'd want to send it out to Mars orbit empty, and have your astronauts meet it there for the landing. Then you might even have fuel for the Mars exit launch shipped on a seperate ship. This kind of thing adds up to a project a lot bigger than the ISS, in terms of how many different launches from Earth it would take to get the whole thing airborn.

That seems like way too much for a 20 year timeline.
Hey I know - why dont you do a little research to find out whats really being considered, and why, instead of posting a big wad of guesses? Or is guessing that much more fun than learning?

A cadillac weighs 2 tons. You really want to take a cadillac to mars??
dan42day
1.7 / 5 (6) May 09, 2013
40 tons? That's huge. I'm not aware of anyone who's talked about more than 2 tons before.


The heaviest Apollo lunar module weighed over 18 tons and only carried 2 astronauts and supplies for 3 days. The 5 ton ascent stage only needed fuel to leave the moon with half the gravity of mars. I would be amazed if they could do a mars expedition with only 40 tons landed.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (6) May 09, 2013
Otto and Dan,

Yes, as the story says, it would take 40 ton landing capacity to get people down on Mars. I wasn't disagreeing with that. I was pointing out that nobody has done any engineering work on how you might get 40 tons down on Mars. Mars atmosphere is too shallow and too thin for parachutes and air braking, while mars gravity is too much for a pure rocket landing with that much weight. Nobody has done any of the engineering work to figure out what it would take to get 40 tons onto mars. The biggest load I'm aware of anyone working on so far is around 2 tons. I think you both misunderstood my comment, as though I was arguing with what they said. I was just pointing out how much work will be needed in order to pull it off, and that they'll be starting from scratch. It might not even be possible with current materials, but they haven't done any testing yet, so I guess they'll find out. The above story is attempting to get you to understand how hard it will be.
rwinners
2.6 / 5 (5) May 09, 2013
I still believe that mankind should develop the ability to live in space for indefinite periods and then head for the planets. Take home along....
Sanescience
1.9 / 5 (9) May 10, 2013
To whom ever doesn't like my dumping on putting people on Mars (make no mistake, rovers on Mars is awesome)...
Please discuss:

+How to overcome medical research that shows the human body can not survive micro gravity much more than a year, while proposed missions involves multiple years.
+How to protect against radiation exposure, especially the occasional lethal doses spewed out by solar flares and CME events.
+How to address psychological challenges of not just the healthy passengers, but the sickly and potentially dying ones.
+How to mitigate against the failure effect. In the event of failure, perhaps even spectacularly grizzly lingering death failure, there is always the pullback and questioning if the experts are competent. Space funding in general could suffer greatly for an extended period.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.7 / 5 (7) May 10, 2013
@sanescience
1) Mars is not microgravity
2) Shielding. Lots of rocks and dirt on mars. And water.
3) I don't know let's ask people living in Antarctica or on subs. There is always the internet you know?
4) I don't know let's ask any of those who have ever risked their lives exploring and colonizing remote parts of this planet. Afraid? DONT GO.

You are declaring these issues insurmountable while scientists are busy addressing and solving all of them. What is your problem?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (8) May 10, 2013
We will be colonizing mars because we HAVE to. The human race may not survive unless we do.
gwrede
1 / 5 (5) May 11, 2013
We will be colonizing mars because we HAVE to. The human race may not survive unless we do.
Actually, no. We are sending people there and planning on colonizing Mars because it's in our nature. It has always been what we do, and today is no different.

Now, if Earth became unlivable, it would be much smarter to just acknowledge the facts, i.e. that we will have to travel and then live in tin cans and cultivate our spinach in other tin cans. But it would be much easier to move everybody and the tin cans to Antarctic or Sahara or the middle of Australia or Siberia, than to build enough rockets to ferry everybody (or even one thousand privileged ones) to Mars.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (6) May 11, 2013
Actually, no. We are sending people there and planning on colonizing Mars because it's in our nature
uh Yes because our NATURE, as with any lifeform, is to survive to propagate. We survive by identifying potential threats and protecting ourselves against them.

Curiosity and exploration are pleasurable. So is sex. They are most pleasurable because they are most important for our continued existence.
But it would be much easier to move everybody and the tin cans to Antarctic or Sahara or the middle of Australia or Siberia, than to build enough rockets to ferry everybody (or even one thousand privileged ones) to Mars
But disease or war or impactors might make these desperate moves untenable. The only dependable solution as hawking and many others have pointed out is to establish totally remote and self-sufficient settlements elsewhere in the system. Seed pops do not have to be very large at all.

Which is what we are preparing to do, and what we are going to do.
Sanescience
1.6 / 5 (7) May 12, 2013
@TGoO
1) Mars not microgravity

And space ships don't teleport. But hey, lets say they do, Mars is 0.38g which I'll give you is not "microgravity", but none the less is insufficient to maintain human life. So we have to ship very substantial centrifuge installations for artificial gravity. Not likely any time soon.

2) Shielding. rocks dirt water.

No teleporting. Gotta spend between one and two years in space. Once on Mars clearly you have to go under ground. Would require substantial material infrastructure. Not likely any time soon.

3) ask people living in Antarctica, subs

Those are summer camp vacations compared to Mars trip. Help is not days away. Help is never coming.

4) Afraid? DONT GO.

Eh? A shuttle blew up NASA was set back years. Afraid nothing to do with it.

scientists are addressing... What is your problem?

Scientists best efforts fail in Space frequently. Politicians thinking they know better.
DirtySquirties
1.4 / 5 (10) May 12, 2013
@Sanescience: Gee, Negative Nancy, If you are just going to be whiny and complain about all the problems instead of trying to figure those things out, then STFU.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (6) May 12, 2013
but none the less is insufficient to maintain human life
No it is entirely sufficient for human life for unlimited periods of time. You don't source your bullshit so I don't have to source mine.

Advanced propulsion systems will get us there in 6 mos or less. Astronauts have already spent much more time in real microgravity with no irreversible ill effects.
No teleporting. Gotta spend between one and two years in space. Once on Mars clearly you have to go under ground. Would require substantial material infrastructure
Our entire civilization requires a substantial material infrastructure to exist. You seem unaware of the MAGNITUDE of this daily expenditure.
Not likely any time soon
Within a generation.
Those are summer camp vacations compared to Mars trip. Help is not days away. Help is never coming
These complaints are similar to the ones from the whiners who opted out of the Byrd expedition. You obviously lack the pioneer spirit.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) May 12, 2013
Gee, Negative Nancy, If you are just going to be whiny and complain about all the problems instead of trying to figure those things out, then STFU.

So it's suddenly forbidden to point out when others post stuff that is based on nothing but wishful thinking and try to inject a bit of reality into a discussion?

Yes: there is stuff that needs figuring out - and Sanescience listed a few. But before you know what needs to be worked out you need to be aware of what the problems are. And obviously some aren't too aware of how difficult spaceflight/settlement on other planets is.

It's more than just: "Get power and water down there and everything else will sort itself out". A LOT more.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.7 / 5 (7) May 12, 2013
Sanescience listed a few
No, sanescience listed a few currently unresolved conditions and declared them unsurmountable. You seem to be of this same mindset.
But before you know what needs to be worked out you need to be aware of what the problems are. And obviously some aren't too aware of how difficult spaceflight/settlement on other planets is
And you seem to be unaware of the MAGNITUDE of what this civilization of ours does EVERY DAY. We are constantly excavating and transporting and constructing cubic miles of material. We are constantly living in inhospitable environs which without our tech would kill us just as quickly as on mars.

And lives are lost every day doing these things in the course of earning a living. THIS world is already a very dangerous place for humans.

Here is an interesting interim solution for those too timid to consider nuclear power for creating space underground:
http://d1jqu7g1y7...late.jpg
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.7 / 5 (7) May 12, 2013
Buried inflatables could be constructed remotely and robotically. They would be equivalent to living underground. Inhabitants would rarely need to venture outside as machines would be doing all the work.

But transporting heavy nuclear-powered equipment to mars will be the only way of providing the sort of space and materials processing required by a truly independent and self-sustaining settlement.

The current US nuclear sub arsenal:
"Ohio class (18 in commission) — 14 ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), 4 guided missile submarines (SSGNs)
Virginia class (7 in commission, 3 under construction, 4 on order) — fast attack submarines
Seawolf class (3 in commission) — attack submarines
Los Angeles class (43 in commission, 2 in reserve) — attack submarines"

-Impressive yes but only a fraction of the miltech we operate every day. Borers and factories and their transport would be at roughly the same scale but would be simpler as they would be robotic and wouldn't need to support a crew.
Silverhill
5 / 5 (2) May 12, 2013
@cantdrive85
Terraforming is nothing more than science fiction, an unobtainable fantasy!
Other examples of (once-upon-a-time) science fiction: photography; heavier-than-air flight; wireless communication; space travel; lunar landings; directed-energy emitters (lasers); powerful computers that you can carry in your pocket...technology has advanced, sir, and shall continue to do so.

Colonizing and having a sustainable society are equally unlikely regardless of technological advancement. Complex biological organisms cannot exists in such harsh conditions.
But we won't be trying to live in harsh conditions (such as obtain on the Martian surface). We'll be living in artificial, (relatively) comfortable conditions. As is usual with humans, we need not let the environment shape us; we shape the environment instead.
Sanescience
1 / 5 (6) May 13, 2013
I edit but the quotes still wrong..
none the less is insufficient...[\q]
No it is entirely sufficient for human life for unlimited periods of time. You don't source your bullshit so I don't have to source mine.[\q]
Dude, chill out. Have a source: http://settlement...pt3.html

Before more hormonal responses pile on, how about we make sure we're talking about the same thing. I'm not saying in two centuries we won't solve these problems. But in two decades a cavalier project is very likely to fail.

Advanced propulsion systems will get us there in 6 mos or less[\q]
Not sure what system that is. A quick Google search yields gravity drive theories or secret UFO technologies.

Assuming you mean something like Prometheus, schizo funding from Congress and politics of sending reactors up on rockets has killed that avenue of development. I'm a little hopeful for FDR, but Congress' funding record is very poor. Ion drives are efficient but very slow.
Sanescience
1 / 5 (6) May 13, 2013
Edit via phone irritating!
none the less is insufficient...

No it is entirely sufficient for human life for unlimited periods of time. You don't source your bullshit so I don't have to source mine.

Dude, chill out. Have a source: http://settlement...pt3.html

Before more hormonal responses pile on, how about we make sure we're talking about the same thing. I'm not saying in two centuries we won't solve these problems. But in two decades a cavalier project is very likely to fail.

Advanced propulsion systems will get us there in 6 mos or less

Not sure what system that is. A quick Google search yields gravity drive theories or secret UFO technologies.

Assuming you mean something like Prometheus, schizo funding from Congress and politics of sending reactors up on rockets has killed that avenue of development. I'm a little hopeful for FDR, but Congress' funding record is very poor. Ion drives are efficient but very slow.
Sanescience
1 / 5 (6) May 13, 2013
Ack, and it duplicated! Apologies, and onward:
whiners who opted out of the Byrd expedition. You obviously lack the pioneer spirit.

The Byrd I'm familiar with had a whole bunch of expeditions (not 'The Byrd expedition') and was super human awesome. Anyone with a small fraction of his spirit would have been an over achiever.

Argumentum ad hominem aside I want space exploration to succeed. Public expectations and opinion are crucial to success, and must be managed better if further decades of delay are to be avoided.

Politics and the intolerance for rational descent is creeping back into space policy. Those and the champions of cavalier attitudes doomed two shuttles and 14 people in the past. It also continued the shuttle program long after its first stated goals had been abandoned.

if Mars fanatics prevail and another meritless program takes over NASA budgets for decades it might just outright be the end of NASA. That would be a shame.
GSwift7
1.8 / 5 (5) May 13, 2013
As the above story says, the landing is probably the biggest technical challenge that we haven't got an answer for yet. The final answer might not be a very good one. If we find out that we're going to have to land the return ship and habitat in multiple pieces, and assemble it on Mars, the that's going to hurt ($$$$$).

As for the medical problems, I think we'll probably try regardless, and ask for volunteers who understand the risks. Here's a NASA page about some of the problems:

http://science.na...02aug_1/

I know that's from 2001, but most of that is still state of the art. We just haven't made much progress in those areas since then, despite the fact that we've been working on it.

The six month trip there is the biggest problem I can see. A single solar storm could end the whole thing, but assuming they get lucky with the weather, they'll be arriving at Mars suffering from 6 months of zero g effects, needing to recover.
Sanescience
1 / 5 (6) May 13, 2013
But we won't be trying to live in harsh conditions (such as obtain on the Martian surface). We'll be living in artificial, (relatively) comfortable conditions. As is usual with humans, we need not let the environment shape us; we shape the environment instead.


Wow. I can only imagine what kind of posh environment you were raised in. Humans are master relativists. We convince ourselves that what we are provided with was easy to come by because it is so readily available.

The cure is reading. Read all the literature you can on it. You can start with this recent bit of info:

"Reports from "Humans 2 Mars Summit" suggest dust may prevent human settlement of Mars"

http://phys.org/n...ent.html

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