NASA challenges public for ideas to make a Mars colony more sustainable
NASA has launched apublic challenge with the aim of innovating technologies vital forthe establishment of a colony on Mars. The agency is focusedon a mission to the Red Planet, and has already takenthe first vital steps. However, whilst simply reaching Mars with acargo of healthy astronauts would be a monumental triumph,maintaining a permanent presence on so inhospitable a planet couldprove to be a much greater technological challenge.
Development is wellunderway with regard to the next-generation Orion spacecraft and the impressive Space Launch System (SLS), which will evolveto become the most powerful launch vehicle ever created. The SLS isexpected to undertake its maiden launch some time in 2018.
Maintaining a colony onthe Red Planet will prove to be a leviathan challenge, compounded bythe knowledge that should a catastrophe occur, the nearest aid sitsroughly 140 million miles (225.3 million km)away. At best estimates, the shortest periods between resupplymissions from Earth would be around 500 days. It is inevitable thatmuch of the technology at the outpost will be reliant on resourcesfrom the homeworld, making any delays in the launch of a supply run apotentially life-endangering event.
To limit the risks,tech used by the first Mars colonists must be built with durabilityand self-sufficiency in mind, and that is exactly what NASA is askingfrom participants. Those wishing to put forward an entry are asked tosubmit an idea for one or more Mars surface systems or capabilitiesnecessary to achieve a continuous human presence on the Red Planet.
The submissions, whichcan range in scope from food and exercise to innovative sheltersolutions and beyond, must be geared towards sustainability with aneye to minimizing reliance on Earth re-supply runs. The writtenproposals must include a suggested program of testing and development,operation and implementation of the system/device.
The culmination of the competition will see the three most promisingcandidates granted a US$5,000 minimum award. Further details on what isrequired from applicants can be found on the NASA competition page.