Written by Staff Writer
20 Jun, 2016 | 4:53 pm
Dreaming of a trip to Mars? You’ll have to wait at least 15 more years, until all the technology needed for such a venture has been developed, the head of the European Space Agency said.
“It takes about two years to go there and come back… this is a huge challenge to land on Mars because it has a higher gravity than the moon,” Jan Woerner told Reuters in an interview.
“It’s also very, very difficult to leave again,” said Woerner. U.S. billionaire Elon Musk has said he plans to fly unmanned spacecraft to Mars from as early as 2018, and aims to launch a human mission to land on Mars in 2025. The U.S. space agency NASA’s goal is to land U.S. astronauts on Mars in the mid-2030s.
The ESA’s Woerner said he believed it would take longer to develop the technology necessary for such a two-year journey than Musk’s plan foresees.
Firstly a spacecraft sent to Mars would need powerful rockets and fuel to lift back off for the return trip, while humans inside the spacecraft would need protection from unprecedented physical and mental health challenges, as well as from radiation.
In the meantime, Woerner has been advocating an idea of setting up a an international public-private network of research labs on the moon, which he calls the “moon village”, to replace the International Space Station after its lifetime ends and to test technologies needed to make the trip to Mars.
The idea of the “moon village,” said Woerner, is “to bring together different interests of companies and countries, meaning for instance robotics and humans but also totally different interests like mining, tourism, but also especially science.”
“The moon village is a pit stop on the way to Mars,” Woerner said, adding that 3D printing technology could be used to build material and structures out of rocks and dust, doing away with the costly need to transport everything needed for a mission.
In March Europe and Russia launched the ExoMars mission, in which a spacecraft will use an atmospheric probe to sniff out signs of life on Mars and deploy a lander to test technologies needed for a rover scheduled to follow in 2020.
Woerner also said that Europe has no plans to try to catch up with efforts by Elon Musk’s SpaceX to develop relatively cheap, reusable launch vehicles. “We have to avoid a new race in space. Competition is good but race in space because of prestige we should avoid,” Woerner said.
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