When you stop to ponder about putting humankind on Mars, two the biggest names in the space industry that come to mind are NASA and SpaceX. Both have expressed detailed plans of their own for initializing human presence on the red planet within the next few decades.
Despite all the enthusiasm, are we prepared to tackle such a task? That’s a question that doesn’t just cross our minds, but also that of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk; and now it’s showing. SpaceX appears to be scrapping some older plans to rethink how humans will visit Mars.
Originally, the plan was to utilize a Red Dragon capsule. While it's an impressive proof of concept for a lander-based interplanetary transportation system, it just isn’t an ideal travel platform for larger space crews to perform extended missions to Mars.
Image Credit: SpaceX/Twitter
"The reason we decided not to pursue that heavily is that it would've taken a tremendous amount of effort to qualify that for safety, particularly for crew transport," Musk said at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference that took place in Washington this past week.
“There was a time that I thought the Dragon approach to landing on Mars, where you’ve got a base heat shield and side-mounted thrusters, would be the right way to land on Mars,” he continued. "Now I'm pretty confident that is not the right way and that there’s a far better approach."
Instead, SpaceX will need to design something larger and more suitable for space crews. It will still need to follow stringent safety standards to ensure human visitors arrive at Mars safely.
“Plan is to do powered landings on Mars for sure, but with a vastly bigger ship,” Musk said in response to a Tweet about ditching Dragon propulsive landings.
These changes don't mean that a visit to Mars is completely off the table forever, but we will see delays in achieving a manned Martian landing as new technologies are developed. Although no one likes delays, they give SpaceX more time to tackle research and development and to get things right the first time.
As of right now, no one knows what such a 'vastly bigger ship' might look like or the differing capabilities it will have compared to the Red Dragon capsule.
SpaceX will continue to focus its efforts on reusable Falcon 9 rocket launches and landings all while perfecting the Falcon Heavy rocket, which will enable the commercial space company to send heavier satellites into orbit around the Earth.
SpaceX may revisit the Mars idea in the future when the technology and resources align with the goals, but today just isn't that day.
Source: Popular Science