Oct. 23, 2017, © Leeham Co.: New Orleans: Going to Mars is a daunting task, says John Shannon, a Boeing vice president and program manager of the SLS
But it’s one of the greatest and most exciting challenges of today’s science community.
In a speech before the annual conference of the Aerospace Alliance Oct. 12 in New Orleans, Shannon used illustrations to explain the challenges of going to Mars. Some of the art he used are contained in this presentation (NASA Space Launch System). Boeing did not make its presentation available.
The SLS, or Space Launch System, is larger than the Saturn 5 rocket used in the Apollo astronaut and Skylab space programs in the 1960s and 1970s. It was used to send Apollo to the moon and it was the only rocket capable of launching beyond low earth orbit.
Boeing is building the rocket, which will be capable of sending supplies to Mars, followed by astronauts.
Supplies have to be sent to Mars before astronauts, Shannon said. It’s impossible for the astronauts to take enough supplies, or equipment to manufacture basic needs, air, food and water, for a 15 month stay on Mars. So an advance supply mission is necessary.
Why 15 months on Mars?
Astronauts must stay on Mars for 15 months while its orbit realigns with Earth’s. It takes 8 ½ months to get to and from Mars, for a total of about 32 months.
If the astronauts don’t follow this schedule and planet alignments, they’d miss the return to Earth, or the alignments, they’re dead, Shannon said.
To get the supply mission, and the astronauts, to Mars, a huge rocket is needed. This is where Boeing and other manufacturers and suppliers come in.
“The SLS is designed in Alabama, built in Louisiana, tested in Mississippi and launched in Florida,” Shannon said.
This is true space exploration, Shannon said. The International Space Station (ISS) is about science, not exploration. The ISS is only 250 miles above Earth; Mars at its closest is 47m miles away and 233m miles at its farthest.
“As big a challenge as going to the Moon was, it’s not going to Mars,” Shannon said. Mars needs 15 supply missions.
Although not entirely accurate, the movie The Martian gives a good, general understanding of the logistics and orbital considerations involved. (Shannon liked the movie, but noted the book went into far greater detail of the challenges and problem-solving involved in a Mars mission.)
The SLS, as all NASA rockets since the dawn of the US space program, are tested at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. I spent last week touring and meeting aerospace facilities and officials from Mobile to New Orleans, including Stennis Space Center. In the coming weeks, I’ll have more reports about this trip.