With NASA’s funding cut incredibly short it seems future manned missions to mars have been put on indefinite hold. Not so, says one company which claims to have independently developed a rocket that could propel a human crew to the Red Planet in less than 40 days. The company, founded by former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz is one of several that are attempting to close the gap between the budget cuts NASA has been suffering and the private sector. And it says it has the technology to do it.
The new rocket, according to Franklin Chang-Diaz uses electrical energy and magnets to propel the rocket forward using superheated plasma, which is fired out the back. The plasma rocket is more efficient than current jet fuel, and as a result less is required. In the void of space between the planets there is less potential for gravitational interference, meaning the initial blast off required to reach terminal velocity and get off the planet is the part of rocket lift-off that requires the most energy. Therefore, an ultra-efficient plasma based rocket could lift the module off of Earth and actually travel into space with plenty of fuel left over for the long journey to the red planet’s surface.
It has been known widely in the field of jet propulsion that an electrical delivery method would be required before serious exploration with the potential for return to Mars would be feasible. Of course the technology is only the first step in a long journey to get a human footprint on Mars’ surface, but it’s an endeavor NASA as well as space agencies from the international community have been looking into since the Lunar Lander first touched down on the surface of the moon.
Previous estimations suggested that humans aboard a spacecraft traveling to Mars would have to be onboard for a period of time in excess of half a year in order to get to the surface of Mars. In addition to the obvious problems of muscular deterioration, there is a very real problem of radiation poisoning from prolonged exposure to the sun with no known means of protection. Even the most advanced shielding, in the event of a solar event could mean death for the crew during this time. The window is expected to be significantly shortened if the new rocket technology is implemented into the journey.
Of course NASA has not entirely given up its potential conquest of interplanetary travel by human passengers. The potential for a human mission to Mars is one that has been long coveted by those with a spirit of exploration and a defiance to those who tell them what can and cannot be accomplished by human ingenuity and invention.
Still, there is an obviously large amount of work that must be accomplished before a manned Mars mission becomes feasible. Even the company coming out with the technology admits there is a serious need for much work in the area as well as several calculations which must be made before the journey can be undertaken. One problem that has arisen is the need for a long term battery solution for the system and the perfect crew to undertake what will no doubt be a dangerous, yet historical journey into the stars.