A Trip to Mars


Source: NASA

By: Zach Conroy

Humanity has always reached toward the sky. First it set its sights on the skies, with the invention of the airplane. Then, before we knew it we had made it to the moon and back. Now, humanity has set its sights on a new goal: Mars. Mars is the fourth planet from our sun and has a geographic makeup similar to the other terrestrial planets in our solar system. Its mysterious past and geographic features have intrigued scientists for years, and now humanity is looking to send the first people to Mars.

To accomplish the feat of inhabiting Mars, there are many obstacles that engineers must overcome. The first problem is how to get to Mars. A huge challenge of flying to Mars is the extreme distance between it and Earth. To put it in perspective, the distance from Earth to the Moon at its best is 363,000 kilometers from Earth. Mars’ closest orbit is 56,000,000 Kilometers. In addition to traveling this far, a rocket going on this journey would have to sustain a crew. A settlement on Mars also needs storage space for buildings and equipment. This makes it difficult to get to Mars with all that equipment.

An artist’s rendition of Earth and Mars

Something that could solve the problem of the travel to Mars is the SLS. The SLS or Space Launch system is an ambitious project started by NASA. The SLS was designed to be the most powerful rocket ever with plans to send Astronauts to the moon and deep space. The SLS is also designed to be versatile, with different configurations to fit the needs of most missions. The SLS is planned to have an unmanned test flight past the moon to deploy small satellites to collect data. A manned mission is currently scheduled for 2024 to send humans to the moon for the first time in decades. The SLS is a possible contender for the transportation to Mars but the project is said to be running over budget, with setbacks everywhere. Currently, NASA is also considering a private built rocket to take its place.

Concept: Space Launch System Launch (NASA, Space Launch System, 06/28/12)
Concept art of the SLS.

The crew capsule for a Mars mission is another very important part of the journey. The Orion crew capsule is probably the best fit for a Mars mission. The capsule is one of the newest being tested and is bigger than the Apollo capsules. The capsule features an innovative abort system that jettisons the crew capsule from the main boosters should a problem arise. There is also a support module that is attached to the Orion. This provides life support and has an engine to propel the Orion on its journey. While the Orion is the most promising current crew capsule, a trip to Mars may require a modified Orion with more space and storage for supplies.

Artist’s impression of the Orion spacecraft
Concept art of the Orion crew capsule and its support module.

Getting to Mars is the easiest part, setting up an actual base on Mars or just landing there is harder. This is the hardest part of the mission because the payload needs to be able to be lifted by the SLS. The Crew capsule and all the supplies it would be carrying would also leave less room for a base. The best way to remedy this is to send multiple rockets in advance to set up the base or at least give additional supplies to the base. The rocket can only do so much though. To solve this weight problem new solutions to a base on Mars will have to be found. After that, the hardest part to a Mars trip will be finished.

One more thing will have to be decided before humans go to Mars: What will the base be like? While there is not yet a definite plan by NASA, because a landing is at best happening in the 2030’s, there are some good concepts. One idea is to create a Space station that would orbit Mars, but this seems far in the future due to the limited capabilities of our rockets. Another possibility is to use one of Mars’ moons as a staging point and send astronauts to Mars, but this would require many trips. Finally, NASA may just send a lander similar to the lunar lander this could be difficult because it is not permanent and may weigh too much to take on one trip. Engineers will have to continue working on these problems so humanity can finally set foot on Mars.

… Mars landers
An Artist’s rendition of what a Mars lander might look like.

In conclusion, a Mars landing is not happening soon. Even though it is not happening, our technology is slowly getting better every year and innovations like the SLS are proving themselves, slowly but surely. If all goes well, humanity can be setting foot on Mars within the next decade or two. That first human on Mars will bring up new questions. People might ask; Where should we go next? How can we make a colony on Mars? While we can’t answer these questions now, one thing is for sure: humanity will, eventually, accomplish those feats with our ingenuity and imagination.

This article is related to engineering because it shows how technologies have evolved and improved. An example of this is the Orion module. The Orion has improved upon some safety mechanisms for the space shuttle. This will hopefully eject the crew and prevent a disaster like Columbia from ever happening again. It also improved on the Apollo capsule by increasing the size and improving the technology on it.

Picture Credits:

Featured Image: NASA on The Commons


NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

European Space Agency

Cornell SPIF

James Vaughan


Some of the dangers of mars: Human Exploration

More info on the SLS and Orion Rocket building process: SLS and Orion

More info on SLS Rocket: Space Launch System

More info On the Orion Crew capsule: Orion Crew Capsule
Distance from Earth to Mars: Earth to Mars

Distance from Earth to Moon: Earth to Moon

Info on the SLS Moon launch: US returns to the Moon

Mars Landing Idea: A crewed Mission

Video resources:

Requirements to get to Mars
Animation of the Orion abort system

Animation of what the SLS could look like.

Inside of the Orion spacecraft model.