Blue Sky Science: When will a human trip to Mars be possible?

Leo Edelstein


When will a human trip to Mars be possible?

We could send humans to Mars whenever we want to. We have the technology to do it today, though we would need to build new rockets that use that technology.

We could build rockets similar to what we used during the Apollo program that can put large pieces of hardware and spacecraft into space, and then assemble it for a trip to Mars.

Though we have the technology right now, it’s not a very good way to send humans to Mars. It would be very expensive, and it would take a long time. And taking a long time means that the astronauts would spend a lot of time in space.

New technologies are coming along for propelling rockets, such as ion engines, that can help speed up the trip. We’d like to reduce the amount of time astronauts actually spend in transit in space, because it’s a very hazardous situation for a number of reasons.

Nevertheless, there have been plenty of schemes proposed for sending humans to Mars.

One commonly discussed idea was portrayed partially in the movie “The Martian,” in which supplies and spacecraft are sent out ahead of the astronauts. There are things waiting for them upon arrival. They do their explorations and come back. In that movie, they also used ion propulsion.

Spacecraft using ion propulsion is still a few years away and investment in that kind of space technology is needed to send humans to Mars effectively.

But if we actually wanted to send humans to Mars today, we could do it with our current technology.