A two-phase plan being developed by NASA to send humans to Mars during the 2030s may involve astronauts spending a year orbiting the Moon to test equipment and establish a launching point for trips to the Red Planet, according to Greg Williams, NASA deputy associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.
At the Humans to Mars summit last week in Washington, DC, Williams outlined the two-phased plan, which focuses on building a “deep space gateway” near the Moon that would serve as both a testing ground for new technologies and an eventual launch site for missions to Mars.
Phase one will involve four crewed missions to the region between the Earth and the Moon, known as cislunar space, between 2018 and 2026. These missions will deliver infrastructure crucial to a crewed Mars mission, including a logistics module for science research, a crew habitat, a power and propulsion bus, an airlock where other spacecraft can dock, and a robotic arm.
The final and most important item to be delivered will be the Deep Space Transport Vehicle, which will eventually carry astronauts to Mars.
NASA’s new Space Launch System, a giant rocket, and its Orion capsule will be used to transport both cargo and astronauts to cislunar space and lunar orbit.
Delivery of the Deep Space Transport Vehicle via an uncrewed flight will commence Phase 2 in 2027. Astronauts will then be transported to the vehicle, where they will spend a year orbiting the Moon.
“If we could conduct a yearlong crewed mission on this Deep Space Transport in cislunar space, we believe we will know enough that we can then send this thing, crewed, on a 1,000-day mission to the Mars system and back,” Williams stated.
Supplies needed for the 2030s Mars mission will be delivered by additional flights to the vehicle during the late 2020s, he said.